My relationship with YouTube is a complicated one.
Like most people, watching YouTube videos has become a part of my regular media consumption regimen. I turn my TV on in the morning if no one else’s still asleep, load the app, and start going through my home screen to see what interesting fresh new content there is. I don’t defer naturally to my subscription box as some people do. Part of what makes the platform interesting to me is that I’m able to see what else is out there without having to make a concerted effort to find it. Since most of it isn’t serialized, and is in short-form, it allows me the comfort to settle upon a video, watch it, see if I like it and then hit the subscribe button; fully reserving the right to unsubscribe later if I lose interest.
I’ve always thought one of the most interesting and creative corners of YouTube has always been vlogging. What was internet’s craze in the past decade, in written form, has now taken on a life of its own. It started living, it started breathing, it started to walk and talk, and it spoke to me in ways I never thought were possible.
Four years ago, when mom and dad got a divorce, I was in a bit of an existential slump. I’d recently graduated high school, and was on track to enter college pursuing a business degree, specifically in economics and management. At that time, I was under all kinds of emotional hell and my only mission was to set out and find vloggers I can vicariously live a better life through. I started impulsively subscribing to vlogging channels. I would then obsessively watch every single video of interest they’ve put out; feeling morbidly curious, but also, unfulfilled. I back then thought my life was heading in a dark direction it would likely never recover from, and I would project my own wants and needs upon what other people are doing, and lose sleep over the fact many (or so it would seem from my biased perspective) were leading much better lives than I did. I turned out to be a failure at school due to unforeseen health-related circumstances, so I eventually dropped out, and focused on getting my mental and physical health back on track with a journey that’s now just officially well over three years long. It was a long road of strife, padded with YouTube videos of brethren getting their shit together, that at a certain point, made me realize just how much I’d lost over the years. From friends, family, my own sanity to death and pain; as well as emotional and physical distance.
As the wounds started to close, the volcano within me went dormant, old pains remiss. Things started to change, for the better. And as I regained a glimpse of a past me who wouldn’t feel the slightest bit fazed by remarks of inadequate decorum, the need to siphon off others’ happiness started to wane.
YouTube has changed so much, for the last little bit. For better or for worse, it created through misfirings of its own, a huge rift between the bigger creators, and the smaller ones. The Shane Dawson’s, the Tyler Oakley’s, the Jenna Marbles (you’re welcome to pluralize it), the Casey Neistat’s among others, were totally fine in their own right. But their commitment to an existing audience prevents them from further experimenting with the formula they’ve already pioneered and milked billions of views out of. However, in the YouTube gutter, something interesting was brewing. A cultural shift was starting to take shape.
The smaller channels, were suddenly pumping out “Big Channels” grade level of content. It was a gradual shock for me. At first I didn’t realize what it was, but I started digging deeper into it, I quickly clued in to it — some were putting out home page worthy videos with a hundredth of the budget, and a thousandth of the audience. The concept of appealing to a small viewership with that big of a production value was astonishing to me. It never felt foreign, it never felt repulsive, it felt welcoming, and it felt like I was right at home. I could watch vlogs again without the emotion leech that was sucking in on every last drop of documented happiness it could find. I could finally intake in this beautiful experiment of humanhood as the thing it really is, an artform of sheer expression.
Yes. To the snobby school of traditional entertainment’s chagrin, vlogging is an artform. It’s an artform that Iz Harris mastered in every way imaginable.
One day, I was flipping through the app, until I saw Johnny Harris’ unmistakable face on a thumbnail that wasn’t Vox’s and I was like “Wait, Johnny has his own channel?”, but I looked down, and it said “Iz Harris”. This took me by surprise because this was the first time I got to see a Vox videographer appear on anything other than a story they ran for the site. Me being curious, and always on the lookout for something new, enriching and refreshingly exciting, I decided to give Iz Harris’ content a shot and man… it is everything I wanted it to be and more.
It’s tricks we’ve come to already know from the vlogging space but with a hint of self-awareness and festivity to it, in a way. Even if not explicitly stated, there’s clear manifestation of storyboarding and intuitive scripting. The video flows so naturally. From slow-mo expository shots, to establishment shots, to upclose quick cuts, to the narration that sets up and closes a scene, forward-then-rewind quick cuts, the brilliant choice of music, immaculate color-grading, to the vulnerability and authenticity shrouding it all. For all her awesomeness, Iz doesn’t make a pretense about being in a constantly positive mood, as she brilliantly shed in her “It’s Okay to not be Okay” video. She’s not the archetypal vlogger. Her pains, while largely misunderstood by almost everyone other than herself, take center-stage in an endearing and a most definite human way. There are no illusions to shatter; what you see is what you get, and what you get, is a whole hell of a lot of great videography, intercut with earnest, and candid personal moments of levity, and occasional despair.
The whole catalogue is a bundle of joy to watch, and every single video has a DNA of its own that never repeats itself from outing to outing. It’s as if there’s a bottomless well of creativity she’s constantly reaching to. It so happens that it absolutely boggles my mind how Iz portrays a sense of ease and comfort with her editing skills, while at the same time communicating that very strife throughout. It’s as if you were watching a long feature-film where you felt everyone behind and in front of the camera were shedding rest for their art. Only with Iz, and to her and every vlogger’s detriment, that’s often looked at as a taboo. That the vlogger must never exude signs of emotional weakness, otherwise, they break the cardinal rule of “fake-pretend happiness”, which I never felt more, at any moment of my life, was so unneeded and counterproductive to our growth as increasingly more aware audiences.
With an increasing count of distress amongst YouTubers, I started to feel -the very real- ethical implications of me watching someone literally lose their sense of sanity over their work. Iz Harris never struck me as someone who overworked themselves to exhaustion just to meet an unspoken release quota, or an audience demand. Her devotion to making the vlog, even if irregular, not a gimmick, really comes through. The cities she, and sometimes along with her family visits pop out of the screen in a way I never felt like they did in other YouTubers’ travel vlogs. It’s more about Iz’s experience than a boilerplate of commonly known truths about a given location. From Portland, to Toronto, to Hong Kong, to Edinburgh, to Amsterdam, to Stockholm; these locations would almost look all too familiar if it wasn’t for Iz’ meticulous style of editing. I’d pick the inventiveness of Iz’ short-form award-worthy travel vlogs over the ‘Travel Channel’ any day of the week.
This is a bit personal and quite close to me, so bear my fully admitted bias— the pledge to ending the stigma on mental health was going to either break or make my relationship with the content. I’m someone who prides themselves on having embraced their mental woes, and I multiple times on this platform, like Iz does on hers, take to a page, like she does to a camera, and would talk openly about the issue of depression. That, coupled with the publicly shared journey of accomodating for her autistic child, she set the standard for openness and vulnerability — one that I’ve come to cherish, in my journey as I further explore how my mental illness affects my day to day. It’s such a rare currency to deal online, and I was more than happy to see someone of her rigor touch on it, as best illustrated as she could.
I’m thankful YouTubers like Iz Harris are starting to be more common. No more of this “everything is sunshine and roses” bullshit. There’s nuance and granularity to this world, and I’d rather spend my precious time intaking its full might, than convince myself of a heightened state of existence the world never primed us for. I love it. I truly do, and I hope Iz Harris’ footprint doesn’t slip by unnoticed.
Whether it’s the music choice, the editing, those brief moments where the veil of camera pretension is taken off or a combination of it all — I legitimately felt like I gained a whole new perspective on vlogging. Something about filmmaking always scratches my creative itch, and I found it really interesting that Iz has the number of subscribers she has, because she deserves a thousand times more. Whenever Iz’ children show up on screen, I’m constantly taken aback, by what could have been had my dad not been a jerk, and when she opens up, a well of emotions starts to pour. I feel like even after the long years of hurt, I was able to finally come into my own and appreciate what Iz and many great voices in the YouTube sphere have done for creative video work over the last little while. For that, I am truly grateful.
There’s an overwhelming abundance of good videos Iz has made, so I won’t further spoil the fun. This link is a portal to many great things. All of which, would’ve been lost in the sea of generic YouTube videos, were it not for Iz Harris’ distinctly unique take on videography.