If you’ve checked out my channel page, then you’ll already know that I have exactly one semi-popular video: the Summer Camp Island analysis piece.
I like the video fine and I think it said some mildly interesting things about the show. But after that video, I started to get some very specific requests from viewers, mostly through the website, to talk more about the show and to analyze or explain the meaning behind specific episodes.
I decided not to do any of that, and there were plenty of reasons behind that decision, but the biggest reason by far is that those suggested videos felt waaaaay too close to ‘explainer videos.’
So rather than analyzing and talking about a specific show or movie in this video, I’d like to talk about why I will never do explainer videos and why I just kind of hate them in general.
If that sounds fun, then come on in.
What Are Explainer Videos?
So we need to get some background out of the way, especially since there are probably some people out there who don’t know exactly what explainer videos are.
As with any variety of online content, it’s really difficult to pin down when explainer videos started to become a big thing.
As far as I’ve seen, the really popular ones talk about big movies, and specifically the endings of big movies.
If the movie’s plot or ending is even vaguely non-traditional or ambiguous, there will likely be a lot of explainer videos made about it.
Inception is a great example. There are a loooot of explainer videos for the ending of Inception. Arrival? It’s the same deal. Tenet. The Witch. Interstellar. Annihilation. The Matrix Trilogy. Us.
In fact, there are entire YouTube channels dedicated to creating explainer videos, and yeah, they tend to be just a teensy bit clickbaity. Loud thumbnails, lots of capital letters and exclamation marks.
But in recent years, explainer videos have spread out into TV land as well, and I don’t mean the television channel. (Is TV Land still around?)
And this is where I need to distinguish what I see as the two main types of explainer videos.
Type A basically just explains plot points you might have missed and wants to tell you how the movie ended in a literal sense.
Type B, on the other hand, is more about analysis and interpretation. It doesn’t just tell you what happened in the story, it tells you what each piece of the story really means, at least according to whoever made the video.
I have problems with both types, but I definitely have more problems with Type B, which I’ll be explaining in a bit.
For now, I’ll just say that I’m not going to be naming any specific channels. This isn’t a callout video, and a lot of these channels have found some success doing this kind of stuff, and good for them. That’s great.
But I also can’t see myself creating this kind of stuff, and I guess it’s time to explain why.
My Problems with Explainer Videos
Let’s talk first about Type A explainer videos. Yeah, these are very clickbaity, and I have some separate problems with clickbait content in general that I won’t go into here. But I can understand why they exist and especially why they have appeal.
Maybe you just saw a movie in the theater (remember theaters?) and it had kind of a weird ending and you’re not used to weird endings and you’re just really curious about it.
You could hop online and look at the Wikipedia plot synopsis, or you could check out YouTube, where several videos will be ready to spell everything out for you.
Now, from my perspective, it’s more enjoyable and more rewarding to sit with those questions for a while and try to figure it out for yourself. It also makes your brain do some work. Some famous person said, a truly great movie really starts when you leave the theater. I forget who said it, maybe Ethan Hawke? It definitely feels like the kind of thing Ethan Hawke would want to say. But I agree. A movie or a show that gets you thinking is really special, even if those thoughts are just about the different plot points.
But I can totally understand someone just wanting to get the lowdown real quick and move on with their life. And the explainer videos that do this job can actually be pretty good. They point out small details and aspects of the filmmaking. In this way, they’re almost like appreciation videos.
The worst Type A explainer videos, in my opinion, are the ones that explain the endings of movies that have very simple endings. There aren’t many excuses for these to exist. In particular, I was pretty confused when I saw a lot of explainer videos coming up after Arrival was released. I mean yeah, it’s a bit of a strange ending and non-linearity is kind of the point of the movie, but I don’t think it was hard to grasp. At all.
But now we need to talk about Type B explainer videos, which ……
So these are the ones that go through a movie or a TV episode, usually not just the ending but the whole thing, and they point-by-point interpret the media for you. They “explain” the symbolic significance behind certain imagery and comment on the themes.
I don’t like these, and it doesn’t have as much to do with the content itself as much as how that content is presented.
Let’s talk very briefly about media criticism and authority.
When you perceive someone as being an expert on a certain topic, then you’ll probably be more likely to believe what they say about that topic. You give them a certain amount of credibility. You might even let that person set your opinion on that specific topic.
Political ads do this all the time. There’s an ad that wants you to vote for more tax dollars to be given to donut shops, so they bring in a guy who says he’s been running donut shops for the last 100 years and he tells you that if donut shops get more money it’ll be good for everyone. The donuts will get a lot better and crime will go down and climate change will be reversed.
Your knowledge of donut stands is really limited, you just work at a car dealership, so you say, yeah I trust this guy, and his opinion is now my opinion.
This dynamic also exists very strongly in media criticism, especially when it comes to professional critics who work for big publications.
When some guy from Variety or BBC or the New York Times says a movie is bad, you’ll at least be tempted to think, ok, that movie is probably pretty bad. Because that person has a great deal of authority in your eyes. After all, they must be pretty smart if they’re working for that very recognizable brand.
The same thing happens with YouTube videos, especially when a person presents themselves in a very professional manner or even if they just seem very relatable.
When a really smart, professional online critic says anything, there’s a certain amount of authority attached to that statement. This person has crossed a barrier of entry, and that gives their words a certain amount of value, and for some viewers, it gives their words a great deal of value.
Now, good online critics will admit that everything they say about a movie comes down to personal preference and their unique viewpoint. But as a viewer, it doesn’t always feel that way. It can feel like each critic is making definitive statements about a piece of media, and if you’re not very confident in your own opinion of that piece of media, then you’ll take what they’re saying as definitive. You might even get into arguments with other people just to defend some critic’s opinion of a thing. That’s just theoretical of course, I’m sure no one has ever done that before.
Ok, so now we’re ready to get back to explainer videos.
The content of Type B explainer videos is usually just fine. It’s very similar to the video essay format, and as you might have noticed, I like that format just fine. It’s a great chance for one singular person to explain their unique take on a thing. In fact, that’s what I’m doing right now.
But here’s the squeaky wheel on this one: presenting your analysis and interpretation of a work as an EXPLANATION of that work is basically coming right out of the gate saying, this is definitive, this is what the work means. It’s saying, I have figured out and now I will tell you how you should view this thing.
And I hate that. I really do. From MY PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE, it’s a very bad thing to do. In fact, I’m worried that it discourages discourse and discourages people from trying to interpret art in their own way.
In fact, I’m pretty sure it contributes to camp-based arguments about art that happen online constantly, where you basically just choose a side and go to war, instead of, ya know, coming to your own conclusions and just living with the fact that other people might disagree.
Just to illustrate how silly I think it is to suggest that there is a correct way to interpret any piece of art, let’s head back to my high school days.
Oh boy, what a time. It took us until senior year to read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. When it was time to start discussing Rodeeun Romanoffsky Ramuvinzskezinsky, sometimes referred to as a completely different name for no reason, our teacher very diligently explained that a certain object was meant to communicate the character’s mental state and that the horse in this one dream symbolized this and that this other character actually represented a larger group of people.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized what an insane way this is to talk about a piece of literature. Even if only subconsciously, it sets a precedent that a piece of art means exactly one thing and that you’d better memorize that meaning so you can ace the quiz next Tuesday.
And hey, there’s nothing wrong with presenting the dominant interpretation of a work, whether to students or the general public. And there’s nothing wrong with presenting the author’s intentions for the work, if we know exactly what those intentions were. But in either case, that should be the very start of the conversation, not the end of it.
Here’s another kind of embarrassing example from my personal past. I used to go to art museums and wonder which paintings were good and which were bad. This is real. I was a child at the time, but I’m still kind of ashamed.
I was waiting for someone to tell me which art was good and which was bad and to explain why.
Nobody had told me that I was allowed to feel however I wanted about each piece, that I was allowed to think whatever I wanted about each piece.
Sure, historical context and commentary on technique would have been helpful and would have informed my thoughts, but I wasn’t getting that stuff either.
There are a lot of people out there right now who watch movies they don’t quite get and who wait around for someone else to essentially create their opinion.
And here come so-called explainer videos, having done the work for you. And even if they don’t explicitly say it, they certainly imply that their interpretation is the right one.
Again, I’m not gonna yell at anyone for watching any kind of explainer video. It’s fine, I can see the appeal.
But I feel that interpreting art isn’t just a fulfilling way to spend your time; it’s also a lot of fun.
In terms of plot, it can be a kind of puzzly thing where you try to put the pieces together, and on the meaning and interpretation side, it’s incredibly creative and open-ended.
And that’s exactly why I’ve tried to be very careful about how I present my thoughts on a movie or show. I always want to make it clear that it’s just my read of the media and that you’re allowed to think whatever you want about it.
As an example, I’ve really enjoyed seeing the response to my little Blood of Zeus review. For me, the show was bereft of compelling characters and story, and plenty of people disagree with me.
There have been some angry comments on the video, and I love them because most of them focus on the show in question and people state their own feelings about it. That’s great!
Sure, when people stop respecting differing opinions, online bickering gets ugly, and anyone participating is contributing to a bad situation, but I think at least part of this dynamic comes from this weird, prevailing idea that there are right and wrong ways to look at art.
Maybe it comes from our educational backgrounds, maybe it comes from the real-world prevalence of confirmation bias, but I still see explainer videos and forceful, aggressive reviews as enforcing this belief, whether explicitly or implicitly.
Yes, critics can have very interesting stuff to say, and at their best, critics can even help you see something from a different perspective, but you’re allowed to think whatever you want. You’re allowed to come to a very different conclusion, to interpret a book or movie or TV show in a completely new way. No one is enough of an expert in anything to tell you how you should think.
In other words, I’m not really planning on doing any explainer content at the moment. Do YOU have any ideas for what kind of video I should make next? Leave a comment about it. I might read it after having three shots of bourbon.
Also, YouTube just announced that it can monetize literally any video on the platform, meaning place ads on it. Uh huh. We will need to talk about that later, but for now, I’m so sorry if you had to watch ads before and during any of my videos. I have no control over it and I’m not making money from the ads.
I make money from ads on the website, though. Last month it brought in 60 cents, so I’m basically set for life.
But that’s all for now, thanks for stopping by.