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Jonathan Compo reviews Adele Marie’s YouTube channel, a voice of Generation Z.
If you search Texas at time of publication, the results will be still be dominated by the mass shooting in El Paso. But the search will also bring up some hopeful stories and, even better, some stories completely unrelated to the shooting. This article was written in part to keep the ratio moving in that direction.
This is a review of Adele Marie’s self-titled YouTube channel. Writing vlogs following the progress of her novel make up most of the channel’s output, but her most popular video is an account of her experience getting braces as an adult. All the videos feature the same eponymous protagonist and the same simple set-up: Marie sits, most often on her bed, and monologues to the camera—uninterrupted but by quick cuts. Marie is of Generation Z, from Denton, Texas, and though her Instagram persona has the imperious cool of a young Donna Tartt, on YouTube she’s warm and energetic, with a kindness all her own. She is a young adult only in age, 21, not in genre specification. Her WIP is adult fantasy.
Her most recent video, Waiting for Happiness // REAL TALK, discusses the tendency she has diagnosed in herself to project fulfilment into the future making it impossible in the present. The green light. When I get a phone, when I get a car, get to college, she says she thought, then I’ll be happy; when I get married, when I have kids. This, she says, is a barrier to real, right-now happiness. She isn’t preaching: her observations are all based on her own experience: “I’m not an expert,” she reminds the audience repeatedly.
I was a literary intern at a theater last summer. Among other grunt-work, I read the slush pile, submissions to the theater’s one-act play competition. Given the circumstances of the competition—no entry-fee, no given prompt or required subject—one would expect the whole range of human creativity to be on display. I hoped I would read some wacky stuff. I did, but those entries that were truly off the walls were few and far between.
The vast majority of the entries were turgid and formulaic, an impression of what the playwright thought was a well-formed play. The paradoxical cardinal flaw of novice writing is that it, though free from the incentives which make professional writing boring—deadlines, genre conventions, publishing expectations, market research, screen tests in the case of television, all the sentinels of convention which make writing safe (read: profitable) and therefore dreary—novice writing still manages to be boring.
This is frustrating, because one can imagine any one of the playwrights who submitted could, if asked in casual conversation, produce anecdotes with plots more compelling, with characters more real and jokes funnier than those in their plays.
Adele Marie has not yet published her first novel. When she does, I’m sure, the writing will be funny, original and compelling, avoid the pitfalls I describe above. I’m sure, because I’ve already read her writing. Her YouTube channel is her debut: a massive, multi-installment chronicle of a life, capturing its ups and downs and with an attention to detail and to the beauty in mundanity that would make the capital-R Realists proud. Though Marie has set out, largely, to talk about writing—through talking about writing she ends up discussing her faith, her family, her long-term boyfriend, her mental health, her outfits, the layout of her town and the hours of the local coffee shops all with the easy, accessible style of a writer with nothing to prove, shot through with Gen-Z neologisms.
Marie is, in a way, the tip of an iceberg. There are more vlogs on YouTube than there have been books published, ever. Every kind of life, every interest, every human emotion is somewhere online—if not in video than in a text post. In the early 20th century, the proliferation of photography made representational painting effectively obsolete. At the beginning of the 21st, blogging and vlogging have done the same to realist writing, any literature attempting to capture the world as it is. The world has been comprehensively represented.
Given the multitude, I’ve singled out Marie’s channel because it has, unlike most, a stated mission. When discussing her WIP, Project Orion, Marie shares the novel’s intended theme: “it is okay to reach out.” This serves as an implicit theme for her YouTube oeuvre. It is okay to reach out. Whether its advice about being confident with braces, how to write or how to be happy, Marie has worked her theme deep and consistently into her work. She reaches out to show us that we can we reach out.
I know how hard writing is. That’s the other reason I want to highlight Marie’s work. I know how hard it can be to finish an article, let alone a novel, especially when mental health and its banner men, the forces of bourgeois unhappiness, mount a campaign against your success. I know, for as a literary intern I was the executioner of so many hopeful plays, the trimmer of so many buds, that most people’s dreams do not come true. I know that even though Marie’s writing may be funny and original and compelling, she may never publish and if she does, she may never sell, and if she does, she may end up beholden to a company that cares little for her humanity beyond her immediate marketability. I know that even if Marie is miraculously successful there will be many more who can’t be, that classism, misogyny, racism, homophobia and transphobia will continue to punish people for dreaming their dreams. But despite all that, regardless of her future success of lack thereof, Marie’s YouTube channel proves she has already invented a world and a character as deep as anybody’s, is already an author, has already broadcast her message—and she’s just one of so, so many. The internet of art has outpaced and will outlive us.
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