Yes, from the 'We're Going to VidCon' music video
When my fourteen-year-old son, Jack, ran ahead of me into the gleaming, Oz-like Anaheim Convention Center for the third annual VidCon, he left me with much to ponder. Sure, the revolutionary aspects of online video fascinate me (“YouTube isn’t something you look AT, it’s something you participate IN”) and after two days of attending panels, meet-ups, and performances, I’ve got a lot to mull over. But I’m thinking mostly about my son’s tribe.
It is a bittersweet thing, watching your kid find his crew. The YouTube kids, like pen pals connecting for the first time in real life (IRL), are charming, so that’s the sweet part. The bitter part reveals itself when I do something kind of dumb: My better self knows my son would really rather not have me groom him in front of his new friends, yet some pathology, some need, compels me to straighten the lapel of his natty blazer, to his great chagrin. He’s kind, and he appreciates his parent-funded attendance to VidCon, so he mutes his irritation, but he cannot wait to ditch me and bolt into the breach to further discover who he is, what he can do, without his Dorky Dad interfering.
When I spy him in the distance, in fact, he is as happy as I’ve ever seen him, fully engaged, singing, laughing, dancing. And it is time to go get my ass another cup of coffee, and mind my own business. Find some other business to mind. Luckily, I am not the only functioning adult here, and there is much to do and see.
My empty-nester friends, who long for the days when their kids were home to irritate, have no time for my sulking. Just as further-along parents used to be jealous when my son clung to me like a spider monkey, I’m doing the same at parents wrangling tots in the hotel lobby. This feels correct like lactic acid in stressed muscles feels correct; it’s not altogether unpleasant pain. It’s part of the deal, says my Jiminy Cricket, spare me the bitching.
I am glad my son is throwing his lot with this group, whose desire to communicate seems a shared cardinal trait. Of course VidCon also offers opportunities to witness aching hunger for attention, naked avarice, and various other dark strains of humanity, but all that is just predictable undertow. Most attendees—like Jack—aspire to use YouTube (and whatever comes after it) in the way my generation used/uses the printed page, recording gear, radio, et al, to get their work into the world.
And even though VidCon rides on technology, I recognize his tribe from my distant analog past; bookish, passionate about music, alternately thrilled and repulsed by their percolating bodies, occasionally hostile to/impatient with dimwits, and fiercely loyal to one another. Heartbreakers, all of them, whether they know it or not. And if anything is truly, uncontrollably viral, it’s that.