Ill-Conceived Notions

An experiment in digital humanities

ContraPoints (aka Natalie Wynn) is a prominent YouTube creator who covers a myriad of topics in philosophy, politics, psychology, and the human condition, and is considered a trusted and insightful spokesperson for the LGBT+ community. She is celebrated in particular for her ability to articulate complex ideas on difficult but highly relevant matters to a massively diverse audience, with her target being those with barely entry level appreciation of those matters, and who genuinely want to educate themselves. At present she has 461,040 YouTube subscribers, 7,693 patrons on Patreon, 142,000 Twitter followers, 24,224 Facebook followers, and a fan-made sub-Reddit with over 20,700 subscribers. This channel is relevant to my dissertation because I find her methods for knowledge-sharing to be refreshingly unique, engaging and extremely successful, and my goal at present is to explore alternatives to formal learning institutions (facilitated by the digital) for more authentic and valuable learning experiences, and making self-driven learning processes more transparent and approachable. I believe ContraPoints achieves this by embracing the outrageous, and caricaturing absurd truths of our existence, which demands more and more of a direct response from her growing audience wherever their opinions may lie, but she also directly invites individuals with limited or misguided understandings to broaden their perspective. As I will demonstrate, she has increasingly achieved this for several reasons.

Creating the Chart

  1. I collected data on the 47 videos currently on her main channel, including views, comments, likes, dislikes, video length and whether she appeared in the thumbnail for each video, and used the video title and release date to sort each one. This data was collected in the afternoon on 25/2/19, as I’m writing this I know the numbers have already changed.
  2. I omitted the thumbnail data since there were only 10 she did not appear in, and if I did want to explore this factor this would be a very different report (as I’ll explain later, there are many noticeable changes through her YouTube career).
  3. I quickly chose Flourish to create the visualisation, since other platforms either could not interpret the data I entered, or were very limited in style, and style is everything in anything to do with ContraPoints.
  4. After some messing about, I chose to visualise the proportion of views, likes and video length using a horizontal stacked bar chart, including a marker for the release of her video “I Am Genderqueer (And What the #@%! That Means)” (which coincidentally was the halfway point). The colour scheme represents those which appear most in her videos and media profiles. Finally, I had to manipulate the numbers into something that made sense (comparing views in 100,000s to video length in minutes did not make a nice graph) so I altered the values to all be in 100s (divided views by 1,000, likes by 100, and multiplied times by 10). This was not ideal but there did not seem to be a built-in function to allow me to represent data using multiple scales at once.

Story

Despite her being a self-proclaimed ex-philosopher, I often argue that ContraPoints is one of the most important philosophers of our time. She brings so much glamour to what is often thought of as a boring field of study reserved for wilting white men and therefore irrelevant to the majority of people. In the nine months since a friend recommended her channel, I’ve come to appreciate politics and gender identity, in particular, in ways I never thought I would. Having looked at the data from the 47 videos available on her main channel, I can see I’m not alone.

What I think this visualisation most represents is overall buzz on her videos (views and likes), with respect to how much effort she puts into creating them. The videos which received the most attention are “Incels”, “Jordan Peterson” and “Are Traps Gay?”. The first two are the most viewed, but “How to Recognise a F@scist” actually has about 100k more views than the traps video, just fewer likes (510 compared to 740). We can also see that “Incels” received almost twice as many likes as “Jordan Peterson” (over one million compared to 590k). This suggests that there is some underlying factor which prompts viewers to like a video after they view it.

Perhaps it’s in the audience that is drawn. For example, both incels and Jordan Peterson are hot topics online, and the simple video titles combined with ContraPoints having established herself as a reliable source by this time would place these fairly high in recommended results for anyone searching these terms, naturally giving them high views. But perhaps the Jordan Peterson video drew more fans of his, meaning they weren’t fans of the content. Perhaps more people had no idea what an incel was, having seen it as a buzzword, and were more glad to have been given an accurate and thoughtful account of the phenomenon, rather than scare tactics and news stories which don’t necessarily explore what it means to be an incel or why one might choose to identify with such a group.

Notably, the Jordan Peterson video also garnered the most dislikes (5,500), the second most being “Incels” at 3,300. These were the only interesting stats for dislikes which is why I excluded it in the final graph – both comments and dislikes otherwise changed proportionally with views. But for the Jordan Peterson, we again see it was likely that fans of his made a significant chunk of total viewers, and they did not enjoy the portrayal of his ideals. The video certainly contains some food for thought for both fans and the opposition, and ContraPoints even agrees with some of his ideals, but there are certainly some less-than-savoury scenes which may make his fans uncomfortable (the video is shot as a conversation with Peterson – a dummy with his face – some of which is set in a bath).

There are only four videos which exceed 30 minutes in length: “Autogynephilia (48.9mins), “Incels” (35.1), “Pronouns” (31.9) and “Are Traps Gay?” (44.9). The first, also the longest video overall, was not notably popular in terms of views or likes, receiving about as much attention as 15-20 minute videos, which is a possible reason she did not make another video of this length for some time (this and the next longest are just over a year apart). However, we can see that this is roughly the point where the videos change from a variance of 10-20 minutes to that of 20-30 minutes, and the gaps between videos slowly begin to increase. The gap between the two most recent videos has been the longest, at about 6.5 weeks, with it being just over 6 weeks since the last video. With a growing budget, following and expectation to provide relevant and exciting content, we can expect the long waits between releases to continue, but also perhaps both the length of videos and the quality to increase with it.

I created the line for “I Am Genderqueer (And What the #@%! That Means)” out of curiosity at first, and was interested to see it is the current halfway point in her YouTube career, and near the point from which videos become longer, and gain more attention. This is still a short video (12.7 minutes), did not gain massive attention (377k views, 20k likes) but what I think is important to note is the rise of introspection as a main theme in the videos from here on out. Prior to this point she does utilise personal experience to explain cultural phenomena (e.g. “Why I Quit Academia”), but the difference after “I Am Genderqueer” is that her personal connection is no longer a surface theme. The titles become more obviously concerned with political or philosophical debates (e.g. “The Left”, “Violence”, “Degeneracy”) but her direct experience and consequential understandings are what drives the content. Gradually, the thumbnails become more glamorous, colourful and provocative, contrasting the directness of the titles, reflecting her style of generating reliable content containing hard facts and evidence, multiple perspectives, a history of those perspectives, and her personal position.

Ironically, prior to her coming-out video, the most viewed video was “Alpha Males”, in which she (he at the time) uses fellow YouTuber “The Golden One” as a (satirical) source of inspiration of how to be a modern alpha male, before going on to explore harmful beliefs that often coincide with such identities, and possible cultural motives that lead to these thought patterns. I believe this highlights the change in approach to educating the internet on how to be weary of certain ideologies, since the video is predominantly comical, and not nearly as colourful.

What might be missing?

I specifically avoided mentioning comments, which like examining the imagery in the videos, would have made a very different essay deserving of far more attention. But in short, top comments are wholly positive, either fans commending her ability to ‘destroy’ fascists, the alt-right, capitalists, etc., or from individuals who are coming from the opposition and thanking her for the new insights and perspectives to consider before passing judgement on others. These are particularly prominent in videos concerning gender identity and feminism.

A lot of these numbers have changed since I collected the data just three days ago, making my representation already outdated (though not significantly so). I think this nicely highlights the ever-evolving nature of the digital, and the importance of time stamps in these types of projects.  This could be re-created as a more interactive visualisation, perhaps with more information in there, the video titles appearing as you hover over bars (I could not get this to work), and maybe even the numbers updating in real time. Unfortunately I don’t have the skills or the budget to do so immediately, but would love to see this for ContraPoints and other high-profile digital creators in the future. I do think the main flaw in my visualisation is that the titles have to be viewed separately, which I hope to overcome in future projects.

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