Where I’ve Been

The Internet is a very funny place.

It’s an ecosystem, where people can find themselves and make themselves by turning to platforms like YouTube for a voice. The results can be quite impressive: at best, you could crossover and become the new Justin Bieber or, at not-that-best, you could become a thriving YouTuber, popular only to a niche market. It’s a fascinating world.

For a minute, I was in it. Not as talent but as a producer as I worked on a now bygone show that took the TRL philosophy and applied it to the online teen entertainment landscape. I worked with a lot of great, young, talented kids and a lot of awful, young, untalented kids. It was literally the best of times and worst of times.

That era has seemingly ended and not even the original TRL can recapture the teen magic that once was. Still, a few people came out on top and some were chewed up and spit out, hoping to find themselves somewhere in between. It’s a now-classic YouTuber trope, popularized by the very public quitting of Essena O’Neill, an online star who left everything in the hopes of making real change in the world. It was a testament to young people being aware of how ridiculous these entertainment ecosystems are and the need to take back their narrative, in whatever small way they” can.

Surprisingly, that story is being played out once again with Lohanthony, an online teen star who shot to stardom by essentially defining the contemporary definition of “basic.” Lohantony (Real name: Anthony Quintal) went on to make music and rub up against popular queers like Marc Jacobs. He even hosted the show that I produced.

There was something about him when we worked together. He was nice but not entirely…there. He, like many other YouTubers, had a common Hollywood vacuousness that was marked by having everything and nothing, being in a position of fame but without the means to actually do anything. It’s arrested autonomy. It’s something I’ve seen again and again working with celebrities of all sorts: there’s a moment when you, the celebrity, are in charge and a moment when you, the celebrity, are an accessory to the idea of a celebrity. The former is in control and settled, with a direction that they have made themselves. The latter is being pushed around by managers and agents, squeezed dry of life for money that they will only see a fraction of. Unfortunately, Lohanthony seemed to be the latter.

He hosted five episodes of the show I worked on and, as the lone gay man on the show who is thirteen years his senior, I did my best to try to connect with him or at least appear cool, in case he ever needed anything. Such big brother/little brother interactions never happened, the shows went on, that was that. Flash forward two years and something interesting has happened: Lohanthony must have seen the writing that I saw on the wall above him since he has quit YouTube in the way he was once known for. Outside of his channel, this is most notable on his Instagram where a toned down, demure Quintal is just himself. A teen. A kid. There’s little performance, there’s little need from those watching: he just is, with or without them.

Unsurprisingly, this is all on purpose: like O’Neill, Lohanthony quit it all. Why? Because it fucking sucked. Life online, in fake-but-real Hollywood was too taxing. It dripped life out of a literal teenager to where pre-twentysomething depression and idleness coalesced into something toxic – and he had to get the fuck out. Now, he’s living back East, offline, after some eat, pray, loving of himself that has landed him in college. A little under a week ago, he officially broke his silence by sharing what he’s gone through and why he’s done what he’s done.

“Being depressed in the city, a very populous, relevant, exciting city sucks,” he explains in a video. “I felt like I didn’t even live in LA. I was in some weird version of hell.” He explains the dissatisfaction that came with trying to get inside the TV, be it on his own or with the help of others. This ultimately was disappointing. So, he left. “I want to create something real and substantial,” he says. “I want to be fucking normal – and live a life with a sense of community behind it. And be a part of something.”

It’s funny how being so successful and so public seems to be such a covetable thing until you are there – and it sucks. Scoff as you may that you don’t know who he is (or was) but Lohanthony was at one point a big deal: he nearly topped the Billboard chart by doing making a mixtape and got the sort of digital zoo treatment via stories about his mother parenting a YouTuber. You can see how weird this can be. No wonder he decided to reclaim his life: it wasn’t real. I can’t imagine being his age, going through the shit of getting through school and friends and sexuality, in a format where you have to let everyone in on everything. That’s…gross. Even if you, social hounds, don’t know that, it very much is. We weren’t designed as people to wear everything on the outside.

What Lohanthony has done is find himself and reclaim a life that was stolen or co-opted or steered by someone else. To that, I wish him many a congratulations – and here’s hoping he continues on in the direction he wants. You can hear his thought process below in a video titled “Where I’ve Been.” It’s worth a watch, whether or not you’re familiar with the online universe: it’s a testament of existing in parallel to the Internet that is rarely done in such a candid way.

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