We all use YouTube, quite a lot of us on a daily basis, but I’ve found that as a conversation piece it usually falls flat. Often one of the parties is struggling to grasp just exactly what made a certain video or user worth mentioning, and the other is desperately trying to make their case whilst ultimately conceding that “you just have to watch it” to understand.
Here I’ve compiled my own list of the channels which have recently been of interest to me. If you’re intrigued at all by the preamble I’ve provided prior to each clip then just click the link. Maybe you’ll discover something new, maybe you’ll hate it, but hey at least now I’ve told you!
- Ikea Heights
Ikea Heights is a soap opera spoof filmed almost exclusively in the beloved Swedish home furniture store without the company’s permission. A failing husband tries to mend his marriage to his unfaithful wife whilst struggling to come to terms with his reunion with a long lost brother, who suffers from acute amnesia. Meanwhile, a frustrated police detective attempts to untangle a vast and pervasive criminal network at the heart of the lawless hell-hole of “Goddamn Ikea Heights!”
- The Yafa Show
This channel was of personal interest as a language student. Yafa interviews people on the street, asking their opinions on certain topics and focusing on the perception of nationality – particularly, German. Although the answers can seem repetitious, and the interviewer shows a pretty shallow understanding of capitalism and socialism, the casual technique offers a valuable international perspective on issues of identity and collective mentality.
- Crash Course
Don’t be put off by the 11 minute average length of these videos – they are crammed with quality content. If you want a quick, yet surprisingly comprehensive overview of a given topic in history then John Green would probably be a good place to start. Of course, there are drawbacks to this approach, and not everybody will be a fan of his at times shouty and flippant style, but these are extremely well put together programmes, each neatly wrapping up a coherent argument and providing a succinct gloss on the areas of controversy.
Once you manage to see through the gap in his teeth (haha, see what I did there?) you quickly realise the utility and interesting nature of this more amateur-ish channel of an accomplished linguist. Whenever I’m low on motivation to improve my language skills, this channel is there to give me fresh incentive. Good if you’re interested in languages more broadly, for theoretical discussion as well as practical advice.
- Tom Richey
Yes, it’s another history one – but I appreciate accurate, well-researched history channels! Plus I think that they have been pretty useful personally for my university course. YouTube is too full of painful inaccuracies and sweeping generalisations fuelled by “reactionary” comment sections, and this is a peaceful isle of considered reflection in a turbulent sea of often vitriolic misunderstanding. Anyway, if you’re into 18th/19th century stuff then this is the place to go.
- Alt Shift X
This is a bit of a wildcard, but I think after a 2015 which saw the rise of an internet TV/Film “theory” cult, this channel is worth a mention. The calming sonorous tones of this well-informed Australian coupled with impeccably researched textual evidence and excellent visual presentation is enough to convince me that any of his wild Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire speculations could conceivably be true. The more obvious R+L=J theory is presented eloquently alongside interesting musings on the prophecy of Azor Ahai and the bizarre suggestion that Varys is a mermaid.
KEXP is a radio station focused on the promotion of alternative and independent label music, hosting many live studio sessions a week. Although the quality of artists featured varies dramatically and the audio mixing can be a bit hit and miss, there is a good chance that you’ll stumble across something golden every once in a while, which makes the whole trawl worth it. The radio station is comprised of two main branches, one in Seattle and the other in Reykjavik, Iceland – showcasing some serious Scandinavian talent.
- Owen Jones
Guardian journalist Owen Jones’s YouTube channel is a good place to go for a discussion of the day’s most divisive current affairs, in particular international news and UK politics. He does present an obvious left-wing bias, and acknowledges the perspective frequently, however, he tries to counter this by deliberately interviewing those he disagrees with so that their points of view are shown in contrast. His coverage of the recent general election in May has been enlightening, especially considering the apparent lack of coverage in the UK mainstream media.
- Victorious Sponge
Now for something of a lighter consistency; my favourite YouTube comedy channel, Victorious Sponge. If you like sketches, especially surreal sketches, then you’ll probably like this. The recent vlogs aren’t the best representation of their work in general, but their earlier material is exemplary of the bizarre genre of hilarity.
- School of Life
Finally, my top YouTube channel of the year is The School of Life. This is principally a philosophy channel, first established to provide potted guides to great thinkers and to make the subject more accessible. Philosophy has had a reputation for being full of jargon and as quite impenetrable for the great majority of people. The School of Life tries to change this with its excellently produced videos narrated by the kindly and authoritative Alain de Botton.
If I must make a criticism, it would be a tendency to oversimplify and generalise; occasionally the ideas of certain figures are warped to fit the channel’s obvious (but ultimately benevolent) agenda. However, The School of Life is worth sticking with because it so often finds that niche in our psyche which is silenced by the intellectual conventions and prejudices of today’s society. Not to mention that alongside philosophy, it covers topics of government, political theory, art, literature and history. It is a haven of the humanities which offers a pleasing ratio of refreshment and reassurance resulting in a roaring success.