These two boys are allegedly making $730,000 a year reviewing toys on YouTube, and a Google spokeswoman says that hundreds of thousands of other YouTube users are making six figures as well. Why not be part of the trend?
How about because it’s a fishy story involving an unscrupulous and somewhat pathetic father, survivor bias, and the appearance of payola from one multinational corporation to another in exchange for positive journalistic coverage?
This family business isn’t child abuse, but neither is it wholesome. The dad has his kids ham it up for the camcorder in a mock television news studio. It has a kind of Jackson Five/Jon-Benet Ramsey feel to it. If their parents are employable in any capacity not involving the exploitation of their own six- and eight-year-old children as online video stars, they should probably pursue it instead of making such a spectacle of their kids. Anyone who pays attention to child stars knows that they end up exhibiting all sorts of weird, tragic pathologies in adulthood, everything from serious drug problems to plastic surgeries that no ethical surgeon would perform to death by propofol at the hands of a private “cardiologist.” The problem is that some parents are either too dense to notice this or just don’t fucking care. When advertising residuals pushing three quarters of a million a year are at stake, the lines between childish enthusiasm and parental pressure get blurred. Can parents who goad their children in that direction be expected to graciously take no for an answer when their kids’ disinterest in playing with some toy means leaving ten, twenty, maybe fifty thousand dollars on the table? $730,000 a year is somewhere in the range of what a skull base surgeon earns; I’ve heard figures of half a million or so for less specialized neurosurgeons. It’s a safe bet that if you’re directing your kids in a high-volume home video toy review business, you have neither the expertise nor the time to do remote-control neurosurgery around anyone’s eye socket.
There’s a serious cui bono problem with John Blackstone’s entire segment about these kids Gabe and Garrett. Of course the spokeswoman from Google wants CBS viewers to believe that they can join the hundreds of thousands of people making six figures by posting shit to YouTube. And of course she didn’t specify who or where these YouTube breakout successes are. Are they living somewhere where no one watches the CBS Evening News, like Sydney or Taipei? Are they backed by major record labels or television studios? Do they have sponsorship backing from, say, toy manufacturers or retailers? Psy has an extremely popular YouTube channel. He’s also a huge international rap star. The truth is that “hundreds of thousands” doesn’t mean jack shit without the context. There isn’t even any way for people who don’t have sources inside Google to know whether this claim is true or flat-out made up. Google certainly has an incentive to lie about something like that.
Here’s another thing that no one from Google has the decency to mention: You, precious snowflake, will not make six figures, let alone $730,000, posting cutesy-ass videos of your children on YouTube. Why? Statistics. That’s why. No one wants to have any realtalk about survivor bias. Talking about failure is such a buzzkill. I have something like 1,100 lifetime views on this blog, and I’ve been at it for nearly a year and a half, supported the whole time by a major blogging platform. Bitch, I am not going to make a living doing this shit, and neither are you.
This freelance self-promotion concept is so fucking stupid even by child stardom standards. Parents who try to pimp their kids out as movie or television stars at least have professional backing. They hire agents who, having studied and worked in the business, probably know their asses from a hole in the ground. If the kids achieve any success as actors, they get additional backing from the Screen Actors Guild. There’s a lot of penny-ante talent in Hollywood that has union representation and private agents on retainer to work back channels with the studios. Telling people to make a killing as YouTube hustlers is like saying, yeah, you could buy a ticket to that luau, or you could skydive out of a 747 God knows where over the South Pacific and magically float down onto an island where the locals happen to have just put a fresh pig on the spit and one of their ladies is walking over right now to offer you an “appetizer” back at her place.
Trying to break into the entertainment business with eyes wide open is reasonable enough. The problem is that CBS and Google are cultivating a pool of pathetic suckers. Gabe and Garrett are popular on YouTube. If put your kids on YouTube, nobody will give a shit. A handful of child stars have cornered the home video cuteness market, and if you have your kids imitate them, they’ll just look derivative. Occasionally some bullshit goes viral without anyone orchestrating it, and morning show hosts make asses of themselves by cooing over it, but that won’t happen to you, either. It was sui generis. It can’t be replicated on command. If you try, you’ll just make yourself look like a slobbering fool.
Americans do not understand survivor bias. This is by design. Given the amount of nonsense loose in the ether, there’s a surprisingly finite demand for it, and most of that demand has already been filled by someone else. Two-bit attention-whoring doesn’t get very many people rich. It works for prominent dipshits like Kim Kardashian, whose late father Robert was a prominent Los Angeles entertainment lawyer and a personal friend of O. J. Simpson’s. It doesn’t work for upstart competitors who are not already renowned for going about in public with oil on their ample behinds or whatever the hell it is that is so resonant about Kim Kardashian. Context matters. I’m not admonishing anyone not to publish sexually crude home videos as a matter of principle; America is an immature and hypocritical country that needs to stop fixating on the sexual activity of others like it’s an undersexed eighth-grader at a church lock-in. What I am arguing is that if putting dirty home videos on YouTube is your thing, it’s an avocation, and it will not be lucrative enough to eliminate the need for a different, better-than-ridiculous source of income.
Yet we keep being bombarded with brightside stories about people who struck it big: movie stars, porn stars, lottery winners, Alex from Target. It’s popularly understood that large parts of Hollywood are a post-hedonic hellscape littered with junkies and divorce lawyers, but this seems to be construed mainly as a sort of karma that mere mortals in flyover country justify because it fits with their resentment of celebrities.
We never hear about the losers. In any noncelebrity capacity Lindsay Lohan, sauced to the point that she’s functionally unemployable in any job requiring minimal responsibility and has apparently been turning tricks with other Hollywood big shots in order to service her family’s debt, would be a loser, but she’s entrenched in the Cathedral: that’s why she’s able to use back channels to arrange overnight dates with well-vetted B-listers in the first place. What I mean by losers are people no one has ever, ever heard of because they’re still waiting tables at Umamiburger in their forties even though they totally didn’t move to LA for the advancement opportunities in the food service industry. God knows there’s worse than that hanging around Hollywood Boulevard, forlornly hoping for their ship to someday come in. Take a look around the Los Angeles Craigslist room share board sometime if you don’t believe me. We don’t hear about the people who give up and go home, never having gotten anywhere as stars or even as junior SAG members. Maybe we hear about them in maudlin Bob Seger songs, but even then no one but Seger himself will admit that maybe it has something to do with an external locus of control, like there’s something wrong with the guy’s girlfriend and with a lot of other things in Hollywood, and maybe he should pack up and head for the subway because the Southwest Chief leaves for Chicago at 6:15 sharp.
This overly sunny mindset has policy ramifications. If it were widely understood and accepted that most people won’t make it in Hollywood because the industry is corrupt and fickle and overrun by people with serious drug problems and personality disorders, there would probably be more public support for public policies that make a concerted effort to protect the working classes from disordered markets and the asshats who take advantage of them. The idea might be that most people, even most talented people, who try to break into the entertainment industry are going to fail and fail and fail some more and quite frankly never succeed by any reasonable definition, so they’re going to be working shitty, menial food service jobs for a long time, maybe for the rest of their careers, the point being that long-term employment in food service may make them losers, but respectable losers, and that public policy ought to repay that respect in some measure, maybe by seeing to it that no one who’s able to hold down a regular job on the Panera sandwich line will be forced by sheer economic necessity to hotbunk in some rundown tenement on North Lankershim.
The technical term for this is “public housing.” Of course, most Americans assume that public housing means god-awful projects in South Central where all the crackheads and all the drug cops have been put in the same neighborhood for two generations. Most Americans also seem to find it cute and scrappy that young people end up living indefinitely in what amount to unpermitted hostels or flophouses while they try to get their careers going in cities where they’ve been shut out of the formal rental market. If there’s serious disorder in a housing market, Americans will be lining up to insist that working around it builds character. For other people, mostly.
You aren’t going to get rich by pimping out your kids in stupid internet videos. I’m not going to have Dagmar Midcap cold-approaching me in some bar and taking me home for a one-night stand. None of us is going to find a fully trained unicorn in the front yard. The problem is that Americans believe too much in unicorns and too little in morally grounded and effective public policy. We’re all temporarily embarrassed millionaires.
Some temporaries are longer than others. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that YouTube royalty check.