Monday, November 24, 2014

Tops Bestseller lists, global media superstar, on Band Aid single (but can’t sing) & you’ve probably never heard of him

He’s topped The Sunday Times Bestseller Book lists for weeks, appears on the Band Aid single (but never sung a note) and has a global reach that put most stars to shame. Yet you’ve probably never heard of him.
Alfie Deyes is his name and YouTube’s his game. He used to live in the next street from us, a nice kid who went to school with my son. “Alfie!” he says, “Alfie Deyes! It’s mad!”. For once the apostrophes are necessary.
Pointless Blog
Alfie’s a phenomenon – and I use that word pointedly. His Pointless Blog, on YouTube, has 4 million subscribers and over 136 million views. That’s not counting his 2.4 million followers on Twitter and over a million followers on Instagram. Alfie is huge. Alfie can’t go anywhere without being mobbed.
Far from pointless
But here’s the thing, his Pointless Blog is far from pointless. Alfie’s right on point. He ain’t taking life too seriously and the fact that his Pointless Book is top of bestseller lists undermines the whole notion that they, The Sunday Times, actually matter. Newspapers for this generation – forget it. But it’s not just newspapers, it’s radio, TV, the whole damn bankrupt media spectacle. They’re not interested in the old world; old political parties, old attitudes, old media. Don’t mistake their fun and ironic interests for indifference. They’re not revolutionaries, that’s just old armchair Marxism, but that doesn’t mean they’re not changing things.
YouTube isn’t the new TV, it’s beyond TV
Alfie’s video blog is funny, observational, and this is the important bit - honest. Alfie’s just Alfie - a nice, charming bloke, who sees the adult world as it is, a bit crap, a bit weird and sometimes dull – much of it pointless. It’s not like any TV genre you’ve ever seen. It’s short, sharp, you view it when you want, its free, there’s no story – he’s just like a good mate, sounding off for a few minutes. He’s also mercifully free from that ‘yoof’ TV presenter thing. Alfie's just Alfie.
And don’t think he’s lacks smarts or just got lucky. He was smart enough to do this when it was new, that took guts at his age (helped by living in Brighton, as his mates and parents encouraged rather than ridiculed him). The title’s smart, it’s pointless, that’s the point. His audience don’t want profundity, they want something that’s real, and reality is often absurd and pointless.
It’s his own creation, no auditions, not manufactured, no interference from media types, not over-produced – it’s just a bloke in his bedroom with a camera. He didn’t have any marketing budget, just a bit of a personality and some perseverance. It’s this authenticity that’s far from pointless. In an unreal world of scheduled, controlled media, he cuts like a diamond right through the screen (mobile, tablet, computer that is). Jib Fowles in Why Viewers Watch, a book about TV, calls this ‘social surrogacy’. Alfie’s an imaginary friend. The difference between the soap operas and sitcoms Fowles was talking about, is that Alfie is real. His audience don’t want plots, narratives, a start middle and end, they want Alfie. Compared to that clapped-out, fast-dying, vast wasteland they call TV, he’s a standout guy.
TV is dying
Remember that these kids have been fleeing TV. The UK shows a 22% drop among 4-15 year-olds and a 15% drop in 16-34 year-olds in the last 1.5 yrs. Recent US (Nielsen) figures show that weekly average viewing among the young dropped across 10 consecutive quarters with viewing by 18-24-year-olds in Q2 2014 down 11.7% and in Q2 2011 to Q2 2014, weekly viewing fell by 21.7%. They’re watching YouTube, using social media, playing games, streaming stuff, using Bittorrent. TV’s not a thing they ‘watch’ , drowning in it’s own old genres and topics – ballroom dancing, buying and selling junk, house buying, cooking, baking and Downton Abbey. The TV as a screen is dying, the industry is dying as is TV culture.
Alfie went to an ordinary comprehensive school, he didn’t go to ‘Uni’ -  thank god. Like many of these Brighton kids I know, he’s smart, articulate and remarkably unaffected. As you can tell, I think the ‘Brighton’ thing is relevant. These kids have had some room to breath down here. They’re not all driven to work as lawyers, in finance and consultancies. As Bertie Bassett would say – it takes all sorts. There’s more to life than bits of paper and marching in lockstep towards university, a debt and a boring profession to get you out of that debt. There’s room for many other things, the kids who take a chance, do something different, express themselves. So good on you Alfie. Pointless my arse.


Stuart Sutherland said...

Thanks for this Donald. I think that the trends you mention here, of young people completely walking away from broadcast TV, are even stronger amongst kids younger than Alfie.

My two youngest are still at primary school and their cultural reference points and stars and icons are almost all YouTubers - many of them with an audience way in excess of those being achieved by children's television.

And what these preferences and habits also carry along with them, as you suggest here, is a sense that we can all be producers. Half of the kids in my 10 year old son's class have their own YouTube channels. The quality of what they do doesn't matter right now. What's culturally most significant is that they all see themselves as potential producers of media. That's not pointless at all.

Rob Alton said...

I looked at the Pointless blog after reading this guys. It really is pointless guys. Sorry guys - don't get it at all, but then again I'm 60 and still watch tv guys. At least he doesn't say 'like' after every other word. Harrumph guys:)