I am the father of a fourteen-year-old boy named Jack, and he, his mother and I are journeying from our home in the Catskill Mountains to JFK Airport, where we will fly to L.A./Anaheim for the third annual VidCon.
VidCon is the brainchild of musician Hank Green and New York Times bestselling author John Green, known collectively as the Vlog Brothers. At VidCon, online video enthusiasts—fans and creators alike—meet in real time to schmooze, gawk, praise, and otherwise engage one another. (Smackdowns are possible but unlikely.) Panels include “Redefining Celebrity in the Post-TV Era,” “The Evolution of Storytelling on the Web,” and, of particular interest to you, dear reader: “The Parent’s Panel: Encouraging, Protecting and Enabling Your Kid/Teen’s Passion for Internet Video.” In addition to panels, VidCon offers constant meet-and-greets and a never-empty performing stage; it’s kind of a mash-up of SxSW, Fan Fair and ComicCon.
The plan for this trip was hatched last year, when Jack, an avid YouTuber, asked us to combine several present-giving occasions— Christmas, birthday, middle school graduation—into one splurge, so he could meet the pop-culture icons who fire his imagination. These include authors, musicians, commentators, actors, personalities who do all of the above, plus the occasional ill-defined YouTube celebrity.
Like most of his peers, Jack looks to YouTube as radio, television and My Weekly Reader, all rolled into one. For comparison’s sake: it’s like fourteen-year-old me getting a chance to meet S.E. Hinton, Rush, John Belushi, and John Hughes, under one roof, down the street from Disneyland. (We’re going there, too.)
Meme creators The Gregory Brothers, whose Songify This (AKA AutoTune The News) made stars of Antoine Dodson (“The Bed Intruder Song,” 102 million views) and Yosemite Bear (“Double Rainbow Song,” 30 million views) will be there (as will Dodson and Yosemite Bear). Like many other performers and panelists, the Gregory Brothers have ascertained and perfected the science of “going viral,” and monetized it. They recently freelanced with Sony. Also on hand will be hundreds of vloggers, who, via their laptops, webcams, and FinalCut Pro, are storming the castles of Stewart, Colbert, and SNL.
While it is a gift for our son, this trip also offers my wife and me—both writers— chance to check out the expanding world of various online platforms (and an opportunity to meet Yosemite Bear). While our TV gathers dust, screen-oriented entertainment, promo and social networking are an ever-bigger part of our household, and not just in Jack’s room. VidCon is an opportunity to meet the mover-shakers behind this tectonic shift, in all their nerdy glory.
Much is afoot. As you may have heard, YouTube is morphing from user-generated content to original programming, with Netflix, Amazon and Hulu following suit. Companies that provide and/or enable that content will be on hand at VidCon. Jack, incidentally, scoffs at them. Like his mother, who once stored her punk rock singles in a balsawood crate and abhorred all notions of “corporate,” he is drawn to scrappy indies, especially when they are changing the entertainment world free of influence, and fielding offers from advertisers who seek not to alter them, but to co-op some of their DIY street cred. (Some YouTubers affix ad banners and pre-rolls to their vlogs, some don’t. See VidCon panel “How YouTubers Can Be Professional With Brands.”)
It’s a good we got our tickets months ago, as VidCon is sold out. Jack is more excited than he’s been since Santa Claus days, which of course is a thrill for his parents. I will be reporting from the floor of the Anaheim Convention Center and thereabouts, where the ground, no doubt, will be moving beneath my feet.
Robert Burke Warren is a writer-musician currently residing in the Catskill mountains with his wife and teenage son. He blogs at Solitude and Good Company. You can find him on Twitter at @RBWUncleRock