Tuesday, October 20, 2015

YouTube’s ‘My Daily Routine’ Is a Beautiful Lie

[ed. No idea. I knew about ASMR and haul and unboxing videos but this is a new one to me.]

A YouTuber’s morning is better than yours. While you’re still hitting the snooze button, they’ve made a healthy breakfast, put together the perfect outfit for the day, walked their dog, and tweeted a flawless selfie to hundreds of thousands of fans. I know this because I’ve seen it, in a “My Morning Routine” video.

The “My Morning Routine” video plays like this: Our heroine—routine videos are almost invariably shot by female YouTubers—wakes early to the sound of an iPhone alarm, or a small adorable dog arrives and licks her face. She narrates the motions in a voiceover: She gets out of bed to let the dog out, then she puts on a pot of coffee and prepares a pious breakfast invariably including chia seeds. She washes her suspiciously already-perfect face and applies makeup. She smiles, scrolling through alerts on her phone, pausing to snap a selfie, then leaves for the gym, or college, or work. (The “night routine” is its inverse: The subject changes back into pajamas, chamomile tea instead of coffee in hand. We see her tucked up in bed clutching her phone, still perfectly made up but yawning, before the lights go out.)

YouTube is full of “routines”: “My Morning Routine,” “My Night Routine,” “My Routine for School,” or “Morning Routine: Fall Edition,” with “My Daily Routine” being the most generic, filmed almost exclusively by teenage girls and women in their 20s in the U.S. and the U.K. Over 500,000 results surface for the query “My Daily Routine.”

Some feature product placements or a Cribs-style fridge tour. Some contain knowing shots of their subjects in the shower, framed to cut off anything below the shoulders. Others play like soporific instructionals for life, narrated in a benign yet blathering style common to ASMR videos. We watch our heroine walk into the bathroom, then into the kitchen to make coffee and oatmeal, informing us at every step of what she’s doing in pedantic detail:

“I head over to my Keurig, and while that’s heating up I make breakfast… While that’s cooking I’m going to get my coffee ready. I’m going to go in our cupboard and pick out a mug, which we’re lacking as we just did dishes. I’m going to put in a K-Cup. I love hazelnut coffee…”

The routine video presents itself as self-expression, a way to get to know its maker and her individual quirks. Yet almost every routine is the same, telling us more about the culture they exist in than about an individual subject. They repeat a series of Stepford-esque domestic tropes, a retrograde vision of online femininity.

Yet there’s something undeniably comforting to the daily routine video: It plays like Pinterest in motion. Slights like “basic bitch” carry no weight here, because what’s basic is rendered aspirational. Simultaneously, each example brings you closer to the YouTuber who makes it: Beforehand, they’ll do “homeware hauls” and make their world beyond the initial video setting camera-ready. Then they’ll progress to routine videos, as if to declare that they live, now, on the Internet rather than IRL. Their life will become more and more “managed” even as the access granted increases. Finally, every day will be a good day.

The job of YouTubers is to perform a more down-to-earth role than mainstream celebrities (or their cousins, reality TV stars.) The routine video sees their box-shaped world expanded: It raises and addresses the question of what a YouTuber does all day beyond their videos. The most honest clips feature their subject slouched for long periods in front of a computer screen, getting up at some point to reassure us that they see sunlight and go to the gym. Those moments of on-screen screens are the most interesting; there’s something eerie and obviously fake about the YouTuber who portrays herself cheerfully reading comments, rather than censoring and weeding out the inevitable abusive ones.

But “routine” videos can be so twee as to be insufferable. The subject has reached such a point of satisfaction, comfort, and security that she can commit her “routine” to video. Even if she still lives at home with her parents, here she rewrites her life as independent. The video acts as an exercise in curated perfectionism, a demonstration that its creator has her shit together. They offer a 360-degree vision of competitive normality, auditioning their star as a trainee housewife.

This vision of life is also a commercial one. Given the advent of “beauty gurus” schooled in PR and sponsored by companies, the daily routine has become a parody of real life where every moment is opportunity for product placement, paid or unpaid. Starbucks, Netflix, and iPhones feature as standard items. Other placements include face wash, toothpaste, makeup, and iPhone apps. Life is dismantled into a series of products and processes.

by Roisin Kiberd, The Kernal | Read more:
Image: J. Longo and YouTube