Tale of two YouTubes: A spectrum



Opinion columnist Kevin Wiggins discusses the balanced political discourse that has found a home platform through YouTube, and the amount of political representation that is present there.


It was the best of nights, it was the worst of nights, it was a time of tweets, it was the time of podcasts, it was the epoch of endless knowledge, it was the epoch of lazy opinion, it was the season of love, it was the season of ceaseless loneliness, it was the spring of supreme opportunity, it was the spring of perpetual oppression. So is the time of our age, but all of these opposites seem to come to a head on no other platform than that of YouTube. The digital world has produced a political forum that has been unprecedented in its freedoms and possibilities since the Athenian Stoa.

While the old city still exists, which is comprised of cat videos and frat boys punching each other in the crotch, the political engagement of dedicated viewers on YouTube would make any CSPAN executive squirm in their seat. We’re talking about views in the millions! The beauty of the age is that YouTube tracks the duration of which viewers watch content. A number of “content creators” and “commentators” post videos as long as three hours, which Gen Z’ers and Millennials are rabidly consuming.

The most intriguing thing about this phenomenon is that it is politically balanced. Acolytes of Sam Harris, Slavoj Zizek, Jordan Peterson, Then & Now, Sargon of Akkad, Ben Shapiro and Contrapoints haunt the halls of every academic building in the United States.

The diversity of this group is striking: from an anti-communist activist-turned-Marxist philosopher, to a conservative orthodox Jew, to a trans-woman equipped with extraordinary makeup skills, this crop of characters run the gamut from moderate to extremely fringe. Yet, they command the adoration of millions of fans.

First, let us address those which fall broadly into the arm of the “political left.” The trophy for the “mainstream media” equivalent on YouYube without a doubt goes to the “The Young Turks.” The network is unironically named after the genocidaires who orchestrated and executed the Armenian, Greek and Assyrian genocides in Turkey between 1912-1921. Lovely. Yet, the left is so often discounted in media reviews of the YouTube scene, it has abounding brilliance to offer.

One of the most striking examples of this is the channel ContraPoints. ContraPoints is a progressive-leftist who offers stinging cultural critiques of what she believes to be the failures of both the left and right. As a trans-woman, she relates her own struggles in what she views as an embattled academic world with a poignant critique of Americans who “refuse to question the system that produces this idiocy we have now.”  

Another example is “Then & Now,” the project of a philosophy graduate. Arguably one of the most academically literate on YouTube, the channel deals with everything from the problem of Heidegger to psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s work.

On the right, the “mainstream media” equivalent is conjured in the aspect of Ben Shapiro’s outlet “The Daily Wire.” The polemical firm is infamous for aphorisms such as “facts don’t care about your feelings.” While not named in honor of genocidaires, the channel has been embroiled in controversy due to the nature of its content. Other right-wing commentators ranging from objectivist Yaron Brook to classical liberal “Sargon of Akkad” produce high caliber and engaging content that fans are willing to spend hours of time with. The level of engagement and political know-how showed by some of these creators is astonishing.

Not only do young people find this content worth engaging with, but they are also enraptured by it. What is truly startling about the YouTube revolution is that there is a level of political engagement present that has not been seen by young people for ages. A cab driver from Kenya suddenly has the opportunity to become intimately aware of 14th-century Armenian church politics, while an American teen can become aware of the status of Kenyan white rhinos, all at the cost of a click. What an amazing world we live in. It is a world that in 2018 alone reduced extreme global poverty to less than 8 percent globally (10 years ahead of UN targets), slowed mass extinction events and become awake to climate change (Niger alone planted 200 million trees in 2018). All of this, and ever more, we are reminded of one truth: To be politically engaged is the best of times, and the worst of times.