Careful of anthropological click baits
In recent years, a genre of YouTube videos purporting to document implicit human opinions has quietly dominated one corner of the platform. Channels like WatchCut and Jubilee are regularly releasing videos that attempt to put people in situations where their implicit biases will be revealed through a series of heightened questions.
Cut is known for a few different games, including Truth or Drink, where people with varying types of relationships are forced to answer uncomfortable questions or take a shot; 1000 to 1, in which groups of people determine who amongst themselves should receive $1000; and, in particular, Line Up, which forces individuals to categorize people they’ve just met.
Channels like Cut and Jubilee bill themselves under the idea that watching their videos will make you a better person and the internet a better place. Jubilee, whose videos include “Strangers Rank Themselves by Attractiveness” and “Blind Dating Six Guys Based on Their Outfits,” opens many of their videos with the phrase “Hey good humans!” Cut, meanwhile, says of themselves on their website that “Small questions have powerful effects when they go viral. Cut spreads stories for fun, for serious, and for real – bringing the internet together one awkward moment at a time.”
There is an implicit belief in these companies, or at least a marketing push, that they are inherently creating empathy and probing at stereotypes by portraying awkwardness on screen for many eyes.
One of Cut’s former producers, Christopher Chan, is a trained “visual anthropologist” and has said that Cut is creating a version of anthropology that is consumable for mass audiences. By portraying awkward situations, situations that wouldn’t exist in typical life, or situations that wouldn’t typically be on camera, they are creating something eminently watchable yet informative.
Yet, what’s difficult about this version of what Cut or Jubilee are doing is that it’s not really a version of anthropology. At their most interesting, these videos represent the raw data collection that would make up anthropological analysis. These videos include “Black Parents Explain How to Deal with the Police.” Simply the process of putting this act on camera can be helpful and interesting in terms of analysis., but there isn’t any analysis in that video.
Anthropology, or any social science, is not simply a process of collecting raw emotion and information; it’s also about contextualizing it. Cut doesn’t typically include contextualization in their content. Instead, they simply allow that data to be consumed by mass audiences, with it regularly going viral due to their enticing titles.
“Black Parents Explain How to Deal with the Police” is a harrowing watch. Many of the children cry, many of the parents are at a loss for words, and the need to explain police brutality is shown for the horror that it is. “Black Parents Explain How to Deal with the Police” has also been acknowledged by Cut as one of their most hated videos.
I bring up the hate, not in an attempt to persecute Cut because racists watched their videos; they cannot prevent that. What I do think is worth noting is that those same people are going to be the actual anthropologists in this situation.
Cut has a particularly active comment section, and many of their posts go viral on Facebook as well as on YouTube, prompting even more discussion there. Given the “raw data” nature of their videos, it’s unsurprising that so many people turn to the comment section in hopes that other viewers can provide the context that the video lacks.
Sometimes that can be helpful, but it can also be extremely hurtful, as commenters are not guaranteed any level of expertise. For “Black Parents Explain How to Deal with the Police” to be one of their most hated videos means that those commenters are doing the work for their readers that Cut isn’t. They are explaining the data.
Presenting trauma in this way is guaranteed to stir up emotion, and emotion translates to virality, which is great for Cut. What emotion is not synonymous with is insight. Many of the comments on “Black Parents Explain How to Deal with the Police” are recent, though the video came out in 2017, and include sentiments like “the fact that this was made 2 YEARS ago really says something.” A well-meaning comment, yes, but one that does not acknowledge the systemic violence that the video is the result of. Two years is minor in the scheme of police brutality because it’s part of a system that has existed for centuries. Cut does not educate in videos like this one. They stir emotion.
I don’t mean to demonize these videos or disregard any potential for good that they might do. But, I do contest the mission statement that they intend to “bring the internet together” or that they have the ability to create inherent understanding through this content. What they’re showing is that they have the ability to stir emotion, which is valuable, but it necessitates a dual process of education to be truly effective.
Previously, Cut has produced videos such as “Chansplaining” that contextualized some of their choices in the past, but that series was canceled due to low views. If they want to be more than clickbait, they should probably Chansplain some more.