Video Essays to Beat the January Blues

There’s a slightly unreal feeling to January, as we settle into the new year following the holiday rush. With new movies, shows, and such coming at a slow pace, here are some engaging video essays to keep you busy. In this edition of our regular column, we have videos on gold, YouTuber trends, artificial intelligence, and more. 

“Why YouTubers Hold Microphones Now” by Tom Nicholas

Have you noticed that video-makers across many different platforms now tend to talk into their mics on camera? Things like that don’t happen accidentally. What drives trends in internet creation? Tom Nicholas argues that the aesthetics of more popular social sites like TikTok are filtering back to YouTube. For a while, it was considered paramount to maintain polish and hide the seams in a video. Openly displaying a mic defies that older trend; less-professional visuals (or as Nicholas calls it, “internet ugly”) can in fact signify trustworthiness. 

“Why This Choice Can Define Your Entire Film” by Thomas Flight

YouTube video

Thomas Flight makes consistently thoughtful videos about cinema. Here he uses several of 2023’s most popular movies — including Oppenheimer, Barbie, and Killers of the Flower Moon — to elucidate how the perspective from which a film is told affects an audience’s experience. Like any other artistic element, a film’s point of view is a deliberate choice, and one that should be constructed with care.

“AI Is Making Us Less Human” by Lily Alexandre

YouTube video

The recent rise of technologies like ChatGPT have brought issues of artificial intelligence to the forefront of public debate. There’s a lot to untangle, but Lily Alexandre focuses on one topic in particular: empathy for the machine. As she points out, while we have not actually created a true AI yet (and that may never happen), companies deliberately design their robots and tools to appeal to humans. But this appeal can distract from the ways these devices threaten human work, privacy, and civil rights. 

“The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall of X” by Grace Lee

YouTube video

Can you really go in depth in unpacking the semiotics and history of a single letter? Grace Lee does! “X” can represent everything from an alluring unknown element to a pornographic rating to an undefinable “cool” factor, and so much more. As usual for Lee, this short video is endlessly rewatchable, thanks to its densely packed visual gags and Easter eggs.

“About That Idris Elba Gold Documentary” by Folding Ideas

YouTube video

Originally a general pop culture YouTuber, in recent years Dan Olson has pivoted toward dissecting internet-based grifts and conspiracy spaces. Here, he uses the recent “informational” documentary Gold: A Journey with Idris Elba (produced by the World Gold Council) to go into the myriad social and environmental impacts of gold mining and the gold market, how corporate propaganda spins these topics, and how the public at large views them.

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