Last week, Polygon posted a story about how Shane Dawson is making must see YouTube documentaries.
I didn’t believe it. They sounded dumb! They sounded too YouTuber-y, that is to say entirely teen Internet TMI, ADD edited and dumb to appeal to people who want to see “the real” as a performance. The genre of the YouTube video is typically boring, stream of consciousness, and ultimately flat: like a podcast, it’s watching a person do something that you should just do yourself. It’s a sad surrogate for your own lived experience.
These documentaries are not that though. Somehow, Dawson – a famous YouTuber who has very much subscribed to the content factory style just detailed – was able to break the mold and create long form content, legitimate documentaries that feel like real television, as if you’re actually getting information and a slice of life. That may not necessarily be true as far as “the real” but it feels authentic enough.
Take Dawson’s major interview with makeup guru and personality Jeffree Star. Star is known for their androgynous, gender bending beauty but also their extremely polarizing personality and racism. Star is very problematic and has a lot of reconciliation to do and this little production seems to aspire to that. Whether that is successful or not is neither here nor there because people have thoughts; yet the stretched out conversation between the two YouTube stars feels like a legitimate interview or exposé or documentary.
Yes, of course, there is probably a slew of produced conversation within but Star lets Dawson into his life for hours, a full day, that is caught and shared through multiple videos. I’ve worked in reality and in news and can tell you that it would take a lot of work and a team of story producers to “fake this.” Star is likely a little media trained and knows how to handle such a sprawling interview but the sprawl is the secret to success: it unearths everything. (And, in Star’s case, you see a person-child who eats junk food, can only say the word “Gucci,” and has worked hard to get where they are. Does that make them a recovering racist? Not necessarily but the subject is covered.)
The star here is Dawson who seems to have found a crossover moment. I read the Polygon story quite skeptically but watched and couldn’t stop watching: it’s Dawson’s down-to-earth nature, being a queer window in which you can see the world. Who knows if he can sustain the magic here but, for what its worth, this documentary series is worth the watch: it’s fun, it’s weird, and it offers a peek into a window you never cared to look into. That is what makes a good documentary and, unexpectedly, Shane Dawson has done just that.