Culture Feature

Down the Rabbit Hole: Exploring Weird YouTube

From terrible dating advice to Shrek culture, Weird YouTube has it all.

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With nearly two billion active users and over 300 hours of content uploaded every minute, it's no surprise that YouTube houses a lot of weirdness.

Beneath its colorful surface – one full of music videos, Fortnite gameplay, and attractive people reacting to mundane things – YouTube brims with bizarre content. From obscure subcultures to strange ideologies, YouTube is rife with proverbial rabbit holes. These tunnels of interrelated videos offer perspective outside of anything close to day-to-day reality.

Embark on a journey along YouTube's "Up next" sidebar, jumping from video to video, ever deeper into algorithmic oblivion. Experience media oddities the likes of which you've never seen before, from the funny to the strange to the dangerous. Welcome to Weird Youtube.

The Funny

While it's easy to find great sketches and comedy bits on YouTube, a lot of the funniest content has been published entirely in earnest. Hidden gems lay waiting to be found amongst endless expanses of workplace introductions, local commercials, and how-to videos. Luckily, hilariously bad videos rarely exist in a bubble, so finding one usually leads to a whole lot more.

A prime example of this misguided hilarity is the how-to channel, expertvillage. Claiming to be "powered by eHow," expertvillage had been posting "user-generated instructional videos" since 2005, with their most recent video released in 2015.

Bafflingly, most of expertvillage's "experts" seem to have no idea what they're doing. They also don't seem to cut or reshoot footage after making mistakes, and the videos themselves are barely coherent, let alone instructive. For example, here's a man teaching you how to draw a cartoon whale "to add to your portfolio of cartoon sea creatures," whatever that means.

Easy Cartoon Drawing : How to Draw a Cartoon Whale www.youtube.com

Sure, art may be subjective, but it's hard to imagine anybody in the world could think this man is a qualified art teacher.

Expertvillage's videos are so terrible that entire "fail compilations" sprung up highlighting their most cringe-worthy offerings. But despite all the wonky home improvement, failed science experiments, and sad piano playing, nothing comes close to their instructional flirting videos for men. Meet Alan, co-founder of the long-deceased AskRomeo.com, who's here to teach you "How to Pick Up Female Employees at Grocery Store."

How to Meet Women in the Grocery Store : How to Pick Up Female Employees at Grocery Store www.youtube.com

At first glance, Alan doesn't seem like the kind of person who should be doling out dating advice––he's slovenly, resembling a guy who woke up hungover after a night at the club and didn't bother to change, and his stilted reading of cue cards doesn't exactly inspire confidence. At second glance, he doesn't get much better, advising that "employees are great people to talk to because they have to be nice to you, they're paid to be nice to you." It would all be incredibly problematic if it weren't so absurd. Still, it gets worse. Here's "Conversation Tips for Meeting Women at Grocery Store."

How to Meet Women in the Grocery Store : Conversation Tips for Meeting Women at Grocery Store www.youtube.com

In this informative segment, Alan walks viewers through a mock conversation about assorted donuts ("because it gave a great opinion piece") with an uncomfortable-looking woman. To be fair to Alan, he does genuinely seem very passionate about donuts, suggesting that potential flirts stay honest while talking about the food items near their target. "You shouldn't be lying about the donuts you like."

Alan's not exactly Romeo, but at least he's not "social dynamics instructor" Alex MacRae (kindly recommended by YouTube after watching Alan's offerings), who suggests going up to a girl with blue eyes and saying, "Wow, your eyes are like blueberries. I'm kind of hungry. Can I have?" as he pinches his fingers closer and closer to the camera.

How to Pick Up a Girl in a Bar : How to Flirt With a Girl www.youtube.com

That, in essence, is a rabbit hole––the experience of watching one video that leads to another and another, leading you deeper and deeper into a channel or sometimes an entire online subculture you never imagined existing.

The Strange

If you spend enough time in any forum online, you'll eventually come across some memetic reference to Shrek, the most well-known being: "Shrek is love, Shrek is life."

On the surface, this may seem like a jokey reference to Dreamwork's 2001 hit movie, and while that's partially true, the rabbit hole goes much, much deeper into an entire subculture based on bizarre, ironic (or possibly post-ironic) odes to the big green ogre.

Should you search the phrase on YouTube, you'll come across this 2014 video, jankily animated in Garry's Mod, depicting a young boy having an intense sexual encounter with a deity-like version of Shrek.

You can look this one up yourself.

The video directly translates a 2013 green text story posted on 4chan, which originated the phrase "Shrek is love, Shrek is life."

Digging deeper reveals an entire community of self-proclaimed "brogres," people modeling themselves after "bronies" in testament to their Shrek fandom. Except unlike bronies who genuinely love My Little Pony, brogres don't actually love the Shrek films. Rather, they love Shrek as a meme, propagating distortions of his image as a sort of anti-fandom.

As such, Shrek-related content on YouTube tends to blend other nostalgic properties incorporated in similarly nonsensical ways, like this animation of Shrek walking through a haunted house, set to the opening theme from the Goosebumps TV show.

Shrek captured on Film www.youtube.com

But why Shrek? The answer lies with a YouTuber named "CBoyardee."

Active from 2006 through 2013, CBoyardee was an amateur animator and game developer who gained recognition for his grotesque animations created using Microsoft Paint. While much of his post history has since been lost (he set his videos to private in 2013 and deleted his entire account in 2014), dedicated fans have reuploaded his most popular content.

One such video, titled "Let's Play Shrek" and originally uploaded sometime in the late 2000s, is the earliest known example of Shrek being used as a form of weird humor outside of a Tim and Eric sketch from 2007. Parodying YouTube "Let's Play" videos, CBoyardee uses an emulator to run Shrek 2 for Gameboy Advance, purposely playing poorly while pretending to get sexual gratification from the game.

Let's Play Shrek (cboyardee reupload) www.youtube.com

CBoyardee mentions Shrek again in his most famous video, Dilbert 2, the original upload of which garnered over a million views in 2011. In it, an existentially broken version of the comic strip character Dilbert tweets, "wwhy shrek is piss. why shrek is piss #italiano [sic]."

Dilbert 2 (Highest Quality) www.youtube.com

But all this was just a primer for CBoyardee's true Shrek masterpiece: "Re: Shrek is Dreck," a video in which CBoyardee rehashes a fictional argument with a user on a made up forum called "shrekfaqs.net" over the user commenting "Shrek is dreck." An outraged CBoyardee insists that "there's some people who Shrek matters a whole goddamn lot to" and calls the user a "subhuman piece of shit."

Shrek is NOT Drek! www.youtube.com

"Shrek is NOT Drek" instantly transformed Shrek fandom into a popular meme on weird corners of the Internet, soon resulting in a real Shrek-based forum called "shrekchan.net" which launched in 2012 but has since been taken down.

In many ways, "Shrek culture" can be viewed as the prototype for other ironic fandoms like Bee Movie and Cory in the House, the latter of which is considered by many to be the best anime of all time.

Cory in the House Anime OP www.youtube.com

But while many of YouTube's rabbit holes, even the weirder ones, are ultimately harmless, some run especially dark and deep.

The Dangerous

In February 2017, The Verge published an article titled "Adults dressed as superheroes is YouTube's new, strange, and massively popular genre." The article details a prolific trend of videos featuring adults dressed up as fictional characters, usually Spider-Man and Elsa from Frozen, who engage in violent and sexual acts often involving peeing, pooping, pregnancy, physical abuse, simulated intercourse, and needles. While this would be disturbing enough on its own, the kicker is that these videos are being strategically tagged and marketed towards children, frequently appearing as recommended videos on Kids' YouTube and generating millions of views. Moreover, the videos were all monetized, meaning the creators were making tons of profit.

The issue ballooned from there, as people uncovered more and more YouTube channels gearing themselves for children while depicting bizarre, violent, and sexual content. BBC profiled a slew of videos depicting Peppa Pig getting all her teeth pulled out by the dentist. Another child-oriented channel called "Toy Freaks" had somehow become the 68th most popular channel on YouTube with videos of a 46-year-old man seemingly forcing his two young daughters into disturbing toddler roleplay and peeing videos. There were gory claymation and trypophobia-triggering content (fear of small holes), all featuring popular characters from Disney, Marvel, Paw Patrol, etc., with nonsensical keyword-ridden titles explicitly intended to game algorithms to show up in children's video feeds on YouTube Kids.

The controversy came to be known as Elsagate, spawning an entire subreddit dedicated to preventing these bizarre channels from reaching young audiences.

Influential YouTubers like Phillip DeFranco provided breakdowns.

Why We Need To Talk About The Insane YouTube Kids Problem… #Elsagate www.youtube.com

Ethan Klein from H3H3 brought Post Malone on his show to discuss the phenomenon.

Post Malone and H3H3 Try to Make Sense of "Elsagate" www.youtube.com

Other channels, like "Investigating Youtube" sprung up solely to provide in-depth coverage and calls to action on the topic.

Elsagate - A Call to Action (Top Ten Worst #Elsagate Channels) www.youtube.com

YouTube ultimately responded by hardening its guidelines on content involving family-friendly characters, purging or demonetizing over 50,000 channels and over two million videos.

Still, conspiracies persist, with many believing these videos were much more sinister than an exercise in gaming YouTube algorithms for profit, but rather an attempt to normalize children to sexual abuse and pedophilia. The scariest part is that these conspiracies might not be so far removed from the truth.

Many videos of children on YouTube garner incredibly disturbing comments and some parents seem even to welcome it, allowing (or potentially even compelling) their underage children to upload sexualized content to the platform. One such instance was recently documented by "PaymoneyWubby," who discovered an ASMR (Autonomous sensory meridian response) channel featuring a little girl, often dressed in skimpy outfits, blatantly alluding to sexual acts in her content.

Kids doing ASMR is a problem www.youtube.com

All of this is to say that YouTube houses vast expanses of content, much of it largely unexplored. For every popular channel with millions of views, there are hundreds of thousands more with only a few. The diversity on YouTube is as expansive as the diversity of people––there are vibrant communities dedicated to niche hobbies and interests, unwitting hilarity, sad outposts, lonely bastions, and in some cases, grave danger.

In many respects, YouTube functions as a wonderful hub for irrelevant content. Without YouTube, the Internet would be missing a lot of its weird memes and alternative humor. Comedic anomalies like CBoyardee might never have found an outlet, let alone an audience. On the other hand, YouTube amplifies larger social concerns that didn't exist before the Internet Age.

Our laws aren't yet properly equipped to handle issues like Elsagate. Outside of YouTube's own policies, there are no explicit legal means of stopping people who want to publish dangerous content geared towards children, or possibly even worse. There are no real laws against parents encouraging their kids to publish pedophile bait. Even well-meaning parents aren't always equipped to comprehend the dangers their children face on a seemingly innocuous app like YouTube Kids.

Journey down the rabbit hole, but do so with caution. There's plenty of treasure to be found, but also a whole lot of dirt.


Dan Kahan is a writer & screenwriter from Brooklyn, usually rocking a man bun. Find more at dankahanwriter.com



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