The rise of the video essay: a study in loneliness

Courtesy+Creative+Commons

Photo: Courtesy Creative Commons

Courtesy Creative Commons

By Kaitlyn Fehr, Chief Copyeditor

I think we’ve ALL seen the eight-hour-long Victorious video essay on our YouTube recommended page. If you haven’t at least heard of this two-part series, you must be living under a rock.

Admittedly, YouTube recommended this video to me because I would die for a good, obscenely long video essay. The longer and more obscure the topic, the better in my eyes. 

Clearly, I’m not the only one, seeing as “The End of Victorious” currently has over three million views. This infamous video essay united Tumblr, and Victorious trended on the—somehow not yet dead—site for days. 

If you asked me this time last year, I would have told you that consuming 30-second videos on TikTok had destroyed everyone’s ability to sit through anything longer than a minute, let alone an eight-hour-long video. 

On average, YouTube videos tend to be around 10 minutes in length—the ideal length to keep viewers’ attention, while simultaneously hitting the minimum time to monetize a video. The years 2021 and 2022 truly marked the rise of video essays, despite the odds set against them from dwindling attention spans to the expected length of videos on the platform. 

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My love affair with video essays began with YouTuber Jenny Nicholson, and her video titled, “I did it. I found the worst book.” As a book lover, and someone who loves to consume shitty media, I was drawn in by the clickbait-y title. The 23-minute run time is certainly not the longest of her video essays, but it was the perfect length to hook me. 

For a long time, I had grown bored with YouTube content. Every video seemed the same. Once-humble stars turned vloggers hanging out with their rich, famous friends and constantly causing scandals became the norm. 

Nicholson’s content was wildly refreshing to me, even as a YouTube veteran. The entire video broke down and trashed what might genuinely be the worst book ever—Troll, a novel following the story of a woman and her online stalker—instead of vapidly praising an author who paid for promotion or doing Patrón shots with millionaires. To put it simply, her video felt like something new on a platform that had grown old and stale.

I didn’t watch Nicholson’s video when it originally came out. Instead, I found myself falling into the rabbit hole of her content as the pandemic rapidly changed the world around me. I was locked in my room at home in Pennsylvania, separated from my friends, and feeling melancholy over my abrupt departure from Kasteel Well. Nicholson’s video let me escape this isolation and dive into a video where I wouldn’t be comparing my life to that of an influencer. 

I quickly pillaged my way through her content, listening to it like a familiar friend talking in the back of my head, as I played Animal Crossing New Horizons on my Nintendo Switch or colored at my childhood desk. Her video essays were there for the quiet moments where I would otherwise be alone. 

Eventually, I had to find new content to keep me company when the world was too quiet to bear. I turned to people like Sarah Z, with even more niche videos about internet lore like “The ‘Author’ of My Immortal Emailed Me, And Then It Got Worse.” 

I had always been a weird kid obsessed with internet lore and drama, and suddenly there was an untapped trove of hours of content created by people who had the same love for internet weirdness and were talking about it passionately. 

Obviously, I was not the only one finding solace and comfort in these long videos, as the rise of the video essay began during the pandemic. Many of these long-form video essays have views in the millions. 

I think there is something so uniquely human and inspiring about watching another human be consumed by something they love. 

I can’t deny the fact that a lot of people, and myself one of them, likely clicked on Quinton Reviews’ eight-hour-long Victorious video out of pure curiosity about how there is even eight hours worth of content to discuss surrounding this early 2010s Nickelodeon show. I watched Victorious as a kid, but never thought I would sit through a 13-hour total, two-part video series about the show. 

I clicked on the video expecting to mildly chuckle and turn it off, and instead found myself consumed by the content, turning it on every time I needed background noise or something to watch while I ate. Yes, I started watching video essays because I was lonely and bored during quarantine, but along the way, I fell in love with the genre. 

Watching Quinton Reviews talk at-length about every single episode of Victorious in existence is hypnotizing, mostly because of how passionate he is about this (subpar) Nickelodeon show.

Because of the passion shown by these creators, certain video essays transcend the need to watch the original content entirely. I’ve sat through an entire six-hour three-part video series on Pretty Little Liars, despite the fact that I have never so much as seen a single episode of the show. 

Pre-pandemic, YouTube, and the internet as a whole, was in a weird place. It felt like all the creativity had been sucked away, leaving an empty shell of what once was. The loneliness and the free time of the pandemic gave it that spark back.

Seeing content creators make content that they genuinely love, and are passionate about, is something that will never get old. It’s something YouTube lost for a while. 

At first glance, hours-long videos about niche content seem kind of dumb. But, when you sit and break it down, it gives you a glance into how passionate humans can be, and how we can shield each other from loneliness even when we are physically alone.