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Why controversial youtubers are successful in Asia

One of the few things that has always puzzled me since moving to Asia is why ‘controversial’ youtubers or social media icons are so successful. The beginning of 2018 now brought us a case where Asia, and the world, lost their shit over another controversial youtube video by a guy who’s infamous for making ‘controversial’ videos which happened to take place within Asia.And while the outcry was huge and loud, his channel still gained lots of subscribers, many of them from Asia.

A little surprisingly Logan Paul is not the only famous youtuber to make fun of Asians and Asian culture in order to increase his clicks, views, and subsequently, ad revenue. Many of those notorious youtubers are even living within the very country they make fun (e.g. “My Mate Nate” in Thailand amongst many others). I don’t really want to link to all those people in order to avoid giving them even more reach, hence I’ll try to break their approach down into three categories that seem to have common approaches.

Look at how stupid they are

A very common type of vlogs out there, especially by foreigners, seems to be the kind of vlog that shows how ‘stupid’ a different culture is from the one that the vlogger is from. We had this here in Thailand with a few guys, one of them becoming ‘famous’ over the last year for making fun of Thai’s (lack of) English skills. He would go around, ask questions in English and then make fun of the Thai people trying to answer his stupid questions. Congratulations, you da man. Making fun of people who are trying to be nice to you.

Unfortunately that’s not a rare case of the vlogger phenomenon though. It’s easy to make fun of people and get some quick laughs and clicks in and hence those types of videos seem never to die out.

Look how I can bully them

The second kind of video that seems to be rather common out there in the wondeful vlogging world are videos that show how vloggers behave like, excuse my French, assholes and get away with it. Vloggers doing inappropriate things, bullying locals or cheating on them and making a quick buck off their idiocy by filming it and sharing it with their fanbase.

Decency doesn’t generate clicks, being an asshole and bullying others seems to do though.

Look how I exploit them

The third kind of vlog that’s often out there highlights how to exploit a certain culture or a certain type of people. Not too long ago there was an example of a ‘famous’ ‘pick-up artist’ (wtf is that word btw?) who shared how he picked up Asian girls, all while filming it and then later on sharing is ‘conquests’ on social media and his youtube channel to grow his voyeuristic audience and increase ad revenue. It doesn’t only need to be dating though of course, there are other examples as well how people ‘manage to survive without paying a dime in Thailand’ or similar stories like that.

While I despise the people creating those vlogs I also wonder what kind of person follows such wankers?

Now I am rather sure that I am not the first person to make such observations. The question however that persists is, why are those kind of vlogs still working? Why do they even have a big following – not only amongst their peers, but also amongst Asians themselves?

In order to answer that we have to look at a few different view points in my opinion. Firstly, at the culture, secondly at the different audience groups.

The Culture

When talking about Thai culture I don’t mean this, obviously. I also talked quite a lot about culture here on my-thai.org and I don’t want to repeat myself within this article so if you want some more detailed breakdowns, follow this link to Thai culture explained on my-thai.org. To break it down rather quickly for the sake of continuity within this article though: Culture is very much oriented towards ‘getting along’ with each other. This means you won’t see people arguing or saying ‘no’ a lot. You’re supposed to say ‘yes’ to almost everything as you don’t want to ‘lose face’ and don’t want others to feel bad – even if this means you have to do something that you don’t necessarily want to do (also see: Kreng Jai explained).

Knowing this now makes it easier to understand why there’s not more outrage when a stupid vlogger from abroad comes along and does stupid shit, insults locals, exploits them and behaves like a jerk – the cultural norms simply dictate that one shouldn’t get angry and accept whatever life throws at one. I am actually pretty sure that most vloggers know that and hence decide to exploit those norms in order to attract more views which makes them even bigger assholes.

The Audience

When taking a closer look at subscribers and audiences in general it comes as no surprise that expats are among the ones who watch such vlogs the most. This might be because they are miserable living abroad and can’t find local contacts / friends / joy. Just take a look at any typical ‘expat forum’ or ‘expat’ facebook group and you know what’s going on. Those are also mostly the kind of people that give foreigners living abroad a bad reputation and they seem to enjoy when things ‘go wrong’ in their host country and when they can feel superior or find ways to exploit their hosts.

While the above mentioned audience doesn’t surprise, it does surprise that also many locals seem to follow such ‘controversial’ vloggers. The majority of said audience seems to be younger and in the (pre) teen age. If I now take my non existent degree in the humanities and my basic knowledge of sociology as a base I would suggest that this probably stems from those young viewers trying to ‘rebel’ against their upbringing. Over here it is still often times rather strict with parents telling young children exactly what they can and can not do and that adhering to local culture is one of the most important attributes one can possess. Here in Thailand the term “Thainess” was coined in order to describe people who embrace and live by what Thai culture embodies. So those young viewers who follow obnoxious vloggers on social media might do so because they see young people not giving AF about norms and what others expect of them and just do whatever they want. That resonates with young people (remember when you were young?) – especially if you grow up in a very demanding, obedient, culture.

Another reason as to why so many locals follow those vloggers could be the simplest of them all. I asked quite a few people why they watch those videos and one of the reasons that was always given along with the ones stated above was: “They look good….”. They look different, attractive, have a nice smile while doing stupid things…it’s as simple as that.

Social Media & Asia – Escapism & Coolness

Taking both aspects discussed above (audience & culture) into consideration and adding what we know about the social media usage here (Asia rules social media!) it is easy to understand why social media fads catch on rather easily and find a large following. The cultural part above explained that many of the ‘cool’ things that trend on social media aren’t allowed here in Asia. Either due to government laws (e.g. indecent exposure) or due to the cultural background and upbringing by parents and family (see examples such as the underboob challenge, the barebutt challenge, etc). Therefore it is easy to understand that many, especially young internet users, are looking for a way to express themselves, become part of something global and escape local cultural pressure. Therefore it should be of no surprise that even when we all agree that people Like Logan Paul or My Mate Nate (just to name two rather current examples) are terrible role models and shouldn’t be allowed to produce their insulting vlogs – and promote them on youtube (while making money with it!) – their subscriber numbers are still increasing and their ‘coolness’ level amongst their hardcore fanbase continues to go through the roof.

Then again, instead of giving them more exposure and acting like the old parents who don’t understand their young kids and try to ban idiotic vlogs, what else is there to do?

Sascha Funk

Founder / Editor at My-Thai.org
Sascha is the publisher of my-thai.org and switched from an online marketing agency life in Europe to a teaching and education life in Thailand. He also writes about Teaching & Technology.

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