The newest Internet phenomenon, according to the mainstream media1, is the haul video. Haul videos, for the uninitiated, are videos people upload on the Internet to show off the fruits of their latest shopping trips. Sort of how like back in Ancient Times, people excitedly insisted on showing everything in their shopping bags to their roommates.
Now, I say this in full recognition of the fact that I not all that long ago excitedly announced to the world that I had found a totally awesome dress and would be posting pictures of it soon: Haul videos don’t really seem like something which would interest me. I watched a couple of them so that I could write this post, but they’re not for me. I am, don’t get me wrong, interested in fashion, but I am more interested in deconstructions of fashion and in discussions about the impacts of fashion than I am in videos of people showing off the clothes they bought. I’m also, as we know, not a big fan of capitalism, and the haul video is pretty much capitalism perfected.
What interests me about the haul video phenomenon is the way in which it is being framed by the media. You will note that above I managed to avoid using gendered references to the videos and to the people who make them, despite the fact that haul videos are primarily produced by people who appear female-identified and in their teens. Not so, I am afraid, for the media, which is explicitly labeling the haul video not just as “girlie,” but specifically as something which is centred around teen girls.
If there’s one thing I know about society and teen girls, it’s that anything teens do is automatically devalued by virtue of their age. If teen girls are doing something, that must be because they are mindless automatons who have been pressured into it by their borglike society. And it’s valueless, has no ramifications for society at large, and boring. Because that’s what teen girls are, am I right? Teen girls are not people, they are alien beings. Teen girls are silly. Teen girls have no worth.
How is the media framing their coverage of haul videos? As silly teengirlishness. As objects of satire and derision. ‘…the perfect marriage of two of Generation Y’s favorite things: technology and shopping.’ The media buries information about the skyrocketing pageviews for people who post haul videos at the bottom of the page, around the same spot they toss in a passing reference to the megabucks people can rake in with video content like this. First there are partnerships with video providers like YouTube, and then there are the sponsorship opportunities. Superstars in the genre with big followings are mighty appealing to advertisers who would very much like to get product placements and many of the makers of haul videos are well aware of this and can work out savvy deals for themselves.
How good are those deals? Well:
The sisters say they are so successful that Blair is now home schooled so she can concentrate on making more videos.
Suggesting that the haul video might be, in fact, brilliantly entrepreneurial is simply not allowed. After all, the “unboxing” phenomenon, which the media incorrectly genders as male, hasn’t achieved a commercialised status. If men can’t make this kind of video content work for them as a commercial opportunity, why should teen girls be allowed to? These articles also ignore the fact that people in their teens are an extremely powerful demographic with considerable spending power all their own; they are, in fact, a market which many companies very much target, and teen girls in particular are a highly coveted demographic.
These articles will admit that the haul video can be used to network and establish connections with other Internet users. That, evidently, is ok to acknowledge because it is sufficiently girlie, and networking doesn’t threaten the male hegemony. It’s also perfectly ok to talk about female-centred communities which have arisen around fashion, the exchange of fashion information, and discussions of fashion tips. These things are also all “girlie,” just like those magazines which make billions of dollars every year selling to, you guessed it, young women and teen girls.
Journalists who ‘bravely venture into the world of haul videos’ for their readers take special care to note that they are filled with frippery and foolishness. ‘Enthusiasm,’ evidently, is something to be avoided, and the creators of haul videos should be properly derided for providing fashion tips, trying to have a little fun, and sending shoutouts to their viewers. They dare to use emoticons in their captions!
Haul vloggers can have a profound impact on fashion. For their viewers, the opinion of a vlogger probably outweighs that of a fashion magazine. Their viewers feel connected to them. They enjoy the opportunity to engage in comments and on their sites. They feel like they are actually interacting with real human beings, which is something that the Internet has really facilitated. No longer are consumers passive targets of lectures: Instead, they are engaging with each other and building communities in which people interact and share information. One-way delivery of fashion tips just doesn’t do it anymore.
How many people can say this:
Just 24 hours after posting a review of a watch they bought, it sold out in every color, and the company’s Web site crashed from the boost in traffic.
About a recommendation in Seventeen?
It shouldn’t surprise me that the media coverage of the haul video is as scathing as possible; women are rarely allowed to enjoy the fruits of their success, and clearly the same goes double for teen girls. But it still disappoints me that not one media source I found discussing haul videos could actually present evenhanded, interesting reporting which could bring itself to admit that perhaps, just maybe, these young ladies are on to something.
- Which means that it’s probably old news at this point. ↩