YouTube: Rise of the Celebrity Pranksters by Andrew Savage
NOTES: Origins and Context | See Also
[ X ]
Origins of this content
Written for LFYT 2015 final.
YouTube pranksters know no limits, and often times their success is directly correlated to the inappropriateness of their pranks. The more controversial the prank, the more it provokes the type of hostile comment-section arguments YouTube is infamous for. This ultimately leads to an increase in viewership, and the most successful pranksters know this and take advantage of it.

Most YouTube pranks are filmed by a camera man hiding nearby filming the main 'actor' who goes around wearing a wireless microphone and goes up to random people and tells them or asks them something specifically designed to take evoke a reaction, whether it be anger, laughter, or fear depends on the context of the specific video.

Recently these YouTube pranksters have begun conducting, in their words, "Social experiments." These are essentially pranks as well but they usually comment on larger issues in society, such as the objectification of women/men, racism, and more. The controversy over peoples' reactions to a given social experiment ignites a firestorm of fierce debates over YouTube, boosting the view count of the video exponentially.

With the rise of popularity of any genre on youtube, also comes the fall of it. After many people, such as the previously mentioned Fouseytube, blatantly make fake and staged content, the fall of the genre was in effect. As the genre that made people millions fall, their mental state also takes a toll. Fousey Tube had this to say, "In a single summer, I managed to lose all my money, cars, public respect, self-respect, love, worth and even almost my parents' home. Most importantly I lost the identity that I had built for myself to mask who I really was since the age of 21." [cit]

YouTube Pranks have existed almost as long as the site has been alive, but this genre of YouTube content would eventually fall victim to many things. While the original pranks during early YouTube were real, they gained a huge following and became more profitable, and some of these pranks would be more staged or take things too far, which no doubt left a bad taste in many mouths. With the evolution of these types of videos, we can extrapolate a very fitting quote from the Burgess and Green textbook in Chapter 2, "Because it compared types of content across these measures of popularity, this content survey tells us more than just what was 'on' YouTube at this point in its early history" (62), which is very fitting for the evolution in the rise and fall of prank videos on YouTube. [cit]
The unique culture created by YouTube has produced numerous communities within the site, some bigger than others. Within YouTube's view-based organizational structure, a new video genre has recently exploded in popularity: pranks.

The video camera is a tool that YouTube has given an immense amount of communicative power in today's world. The mere presence of one emboldens pranksters to successfully and (usually) safely accomplish a wide variety pranks that often involve angering, scaring, or confusing random people in public places. As the prank community has grown, and as prank channels have become increasingly profitable, the process of planning, filming, and editing pranks became increasingly sophisticated.

YouTube user FouseyTube is an Internet prankster who specializes in creating and filming social experiments designed to make the viewer think about societal norms by exposing the hypocrisy behind them. He currently has 5.5 million subscribers and that number is rapidly increasing in response to him publishing highly controversial public experiments. One of his less controversial, and best known, social experiments involves him putting on yoga pants and obstructing his face from people passing by to expose the way women are often flagrantly objectified in public.

Vitaly Zdorovetskiy, better known by his YouTube username VitalyzdTv, is an internet prankster who has well over 8.1 million subscribers and almost 1 billion total views on his primary channel. He produces a wide variety of prank-related content, however, he is most famous for his videos that expose gold diggers (men/women interested in men/women for their financial success) and videos that depict him picking up girls in different, often challenging, and inappropriate, ways. He took one of his pranks to such an extreme that he ended up spending several months in jail, however, he began producing new content immediately after being released and is considered to be the most famous internet prankster.

"Smile more" is the slogan of a prankster named Roman Antwood who has amassed over 6 million followers and almost 900 million total views. He initially started off as an amateur doing sketches. Then, after a year of minimal success he made the transition to doing pranks. He has filmed pranks that involve him pretending to syphon gas, steal tires, flash children, and more elaborate ones like him pretending to pee on a guy's Ferrari, or telling his girlfriend of 5 years that he cheated on her.

Nowadays, there are tens of thousands of people filming themselves in public doing provocative things, trying to become the next YouTube celebrity prankster. However, what separates this new wave of amateurs from the already established professionals mentioned above is their understand of YouTube culture. These professional pranksters are experts at producing highly controversial content designed to stimulate aggressive and passionate arguments in the comments section. They know this will lead to the video being shared more, which translates into more views, which ultimately translates into more subscribers and, therefore, more revenue. This understanding allows them to play into YouTube's popularity-oriented organizational structure, allowing their videos to be the ones easily searched for, often times obstructing other more useful, beneficial, and important videos from reaching a substantial audience.

It is important to mention, however, that these channels devote resources towards giving back to the community in various and creative ways. Roman Antwood gave homeless people Christmas trees and gifts for the holidays, Vitaly helped a homeless man turn his life around, and FouseyTube has helped provide food for the homeless and helped individual fans with life threatening illnesses pay their medical bills.

These successful prank channels seem to be the best at adapting to the current culture of YouTube, and playing "the game" in accordance with the rules YouTube has integrated into its virtual environment. Looking at the content pranksters choose to produce, and the success of that content, is a good indicator of change within the structure of YouTube itself. Since both YouTube and pranksters will constantly be reacting to one another, it will be interesting to see the direction both go in, and how the greater online prank community will be affected be any future directional changes.