Katherout Isn’t Afraid Of Broaching Politics
You might expect otherwise from a lifestyle vlogger, but the field is radically shifting.
As young a platform as YouTube is, its various subcultures have each an established identity that’s hard to break away from without upsetting convention–yet against all odds, Katherout did so in the lifestyle section by marrying it with leftist politics, something the genre’s appeal to material excess and opulent aesthetics didn’t always lend themselves well to. While Katherine’s outings aren’t as frequent as some of the platform’s more dedicated lifestyle creators, their spontaneous nature makes for interesting viewing all-the-same–I reached out to her for an interview, and needless to say our conversation didn’t disappoint.
Up until very recently, Katherine’s content would’ve fit into the lifestyle category without much of a distinction to be made with the rest of the genre, but as it’s evolved over the course of a decade, it’s come to forge a unique identity of its own. “It’s evolved a lot over the years and I’ve yet to formulate a good and strong pitch of what my channel really is—which seems like a throughline among YouTubers who don’t necessarily have a solid grasp of it—but I would say it fits pretty squarely into the lifestyle category, so [vlogging] but also a lot of sit down pieces talking about advice, growing up, and political content as well,” she says. “But my channel has gone through a major shift as most channels have since the time of my channel’s creation back in 2011 when I was doing more school, academic and college content.”
If Katherine’s own YouTube narrative were to have a crescendo, it would definitely be her pandemic-sprung awakening to a parasitic and exploitative socio-economic system governing our everyday lives–as capitalism’s status of our world’s final boss came into sharp focus, her content followed suit and reflected those values in an articulate meta-commentary on the lifestyle genre, which was just as potent a descriptor for greater inequities at play. “I almost don’t recognize myself in those videos [I made] a year ago. I’ve changed so much in just a year and I think that’s probably why my channel is seeing an uptick in growth this past year,” she says. “I didn’t expect it to, but it did resonate with so many people that had forged [novel] identities, shifting [perspectives] of how they [perceived themselves to be] and how they measured success. Their worldview had completely become [undone that year] and went through a major transformation [as a result].”
Some might be compelled to inquire why Katherine’s political self-actualization didn’t come earlier, but she’s open to say that blindness to own privilege and deference to hustle culture sensibilities at the time were primary culprits. “I do feel some remorse and regret over [the past] but I think my channel in my college days was very sort of...hustle culture, girlboss, grind-oriented—not even in the context of labor, but rather academia, which is labor in its own way—but I [had] really oriented my channel to focus about how to be the best version of who you are, how to be the most productive, how to get the most out of college, how to spend every second of every day that you’re never idle,” she says. “It kept me stern, right? It’s hard to think about larger systems, inequities, more political theory when you’re so wrapped up and so myopic in your own day-to-day, perfecting your craft or just taking school way too seriously to be perfectly honest.”
Once the pandemic hit, Katherine’s purpose took on its clearest form, and what were once mere rumblings in a brain preoccupied with the restless cog of labor that is college and then later Silicon Valley’s tech industry, they now took center stage in her own conception of the world and drastically altered the tone of her videos as a result. “This pandemic last February/March obviously halted everyone’s lives, and if I had to point to exactly why that year was so pivotal for so many people—in political radicalization or just identity shift—I think it was all that time to sit and think, because I usually don’t reserve much time to sit and think,” she says in a moment of remarkable earnest. “I’ve always liked to have a very filled and full schedule, and that time allowed me to really reconsider how I’ve been approaching my life and what I really value–I was burnt out from my job, I was working far too many hours, was starting to get very alienated from my [own] work.”
Given Katherine’s unique position as a laborer in an industry known to ration its spoils and select for higher compensation, some are dismayed at her advances for a more equitable world. To put it mildly, they think the lower on the income ladder is any individual, the greater custodians they are of their own ideals–Katherine vehemently disagrees with that and offers instead a more compelling alternative. “A lot of folks–they do want you to just suffer. Like [they] want me to quit my job, and work… I don’t know what they want me to do quite honestly! Because when I look at the options in the job market, I don’t see anything that aligns with my political ideals–capitalism will rarely pay you to dismantle it. Even if I go to work for a non-profit—which a lot of people view as the lesser of all evils—I’m very aware of the non-profit industrial complex and how they exploit your emotional connection to the work as well as how nonprofits and reaganomics created a system in which we’re basically privatizing public service, and you’re not actually fixing the problems, but rather these nonprofits benefit from these problems not going away because they’d disappear if those issues were fixed,” she says. “Even if I look at the nonprofit world as a better fit, I still would not go to work every day and just think “this is perfectly in alignment with my ideals” and so there’s no perfect solution. I’ve had a lot of leftist friends candidly say to me that the closer they tried to get to jobs that pay them and are kind of doing the “good work”, the shittier it’s felt and the worse was the experience–which is really really disheartening to internalize. I’d think about “alright, I work for Big Tech right now, but what’s the better option from here?” and it’s kinda just tumbleweeds through my brain because I cannot find something that’s not connected to some oppressive system, or some form of labor that is not in alignment because again like I said in my careerism video, jobs aren’t created to connect with your political compass or your morals or your passion–that’s not what they’re there for.”
Despite being embedded in a highly-lucrative sector, a crucial vector of radicalization for Katherine was her own experience with the American healthcare system–it’s never been under heavier stress than during the pandemic, and with rising premiums and ever-bewildering employment requirements at a time when labor expressed collective sigh at their bosses’ reticence to pay more than their unemployment checks are worth…the situation is far less than ideal. Katherine is keenly aware of those circumstances, and even in her unique position as a worker in the tech industry, the flaws in the system spoke too loud still to be ignored. “I just quite frankly didn’t have to recognize a lot of these things because I had access to healthcare through my parents the entire time growing up, and then I immediately got a job out of college where I had access to health insurance. [...] It’s just that you don’t care about it until it affects you. It’s so deeply fucked that it takes personal exposure to something for you to feel empathy, to act in solidarity. It’s absolutely wrong and that’s what’s holding us back quite frankly right now–we have so many people benefitting from these systems and not understanding how they hurt others that they’re not gonna stand up, or they’re not gonna have the integrity to actually take action.”
When you’re spun into a frenzy of constant labor, rarely compelled to ponder the implications of their utter subservience to capital, the veil lifting can be quite a strong shock to the system. “As much as I regret that I wasn’t as fired up about universal access to healthcare until this past year, I am grateful that it turned me onto leftist politics and starting to see how a lot of the things that I struggled with in my life on a very minor scale—stress of academia, burnout from work, the mounting healthcare bills I had from my recently-diagnosed chronic illness and my mental healthcare—all those things together, I had no idea were connected!” she told me. “I truly had no idea that those were connected until I really started learning theory and reading texts in a more accessible environment. It was just so horrifying to me that even with insurance from a tech company, I could have $2.5k in bills out of pocket, one year for a chronic illness that–it’s not elective surgery, it’s not something that I cosmetically want to fix, I also have an auto-immune disease that I have to care of, but then on the other hand I’m like “now I have to build in $3k dollars into my budget and pay two months’ rent just to keep myself alive?”. The gears started to turn with that shift, but again, it’s unfortunate that it took something affecting me personally for me to wake up.”
While some might be hesitant to lend their voice in support of those they view of a higher class than them, Katherine insists that class solidarity—even more than self-inflicted guilt over privileges inherited—is the path forward for any successful large-scale political action. The rich have a vested interest in keeping the middle-class vying for heighted status, so they woo them with detachment from lower classes as a chip in their fight against wealth redistribution and broader equity. “I think back to it and I’m like: “Who is benefitting from me being so myopic and selfish and focusing on my own personal growth rather than a more communalistic and collectivist view of the world?”. There’s a reason that middle and upper class folks a lot of times never reach class consciousness because it’s not helpful to capitalism, imperialism, the 1%, the owning class and those in power for us to become class traitors,” she says. “While I blame myself for not just being curious and empathetic enough to seek these things out [in the first place], there are a lot of reasons why this information was not introduced to me until this past year. I firmly believe that if I’d been introduced to Marxism in high school alongside the capitalist education that I received, I would’ve clicked with it back then too. I just [was none the wiser]—that’s why I’m so passionate about education and spreading these ideas because it’s one thing if you’ve received exposure to it and chose not to learn more and not identify with it, but there’s a lot of folks that are lacking that key piece of education and exposure.”
Paralyzed by loss of control, some seek personal paths to solving systemic inequities. Katherine correctly notes that this is an ineffectual ask by pointing out the rather peculiar requisites of capital excess, and how they’re hard to mute even by indulgent charity and philanthropy–she instead firmly believes in a systematized approach to wealth redistribution rather than an individual and democratically-unaccountable one. “A trap that a lot of people get into when they think about the job market and they see that no job is going to connect with their ethics, is then they are like “okay, well I just spent however much money on a law degree, I could go into some labor field or work at the NLRB” and basically work a million hours a week for really shitty pay and suffer, or sell their labor to Big Law and get a cushy salary and then use that to funnel it back into mutual aid and what not. [...] I don’t believe in charity, I don’t believe in philanthropy, for me that’s not productive–I do believe in redistribution of wealth, but it’s not gonna happen on an individual level,” she says. “That’s not what we want here–we don’t want to call out individual people to redistribute their wealth, we want these to be systematically driven. I’ve also heard Hank Green who—I mean who knows how wealthy that man is after selling a few different companies—I’ve heard him talk about setting his own wealth cap and just even though his salary from his YouTube videos, businesses and what not is extremely large, he’s noticed that it’s beyond what he needs for his own comfortable level of living. He’s setting a wealth cap in his budget, there’s a huge surplus in his income that he then redistributes to causes, and then of course depending on where he sends that money, it may go to better or worse causes? That’s something I think about–for folks that have intergenerational wealth, where do you draw your personal line of “this is how much I need to live and the rest I do not want to hoard”.”
The synthesis of all the above was made manifest in Katherine’s video on careerism titled “I no longer aspire to have a career”, a short piece in which she makes a public clean break from the throes of labor obsession, meritocracy, and any notion that what is earned reflects in any way the volume or quality of the work put in. “Because I do YouTube as a hobby and I’ve been very intentional about how I view YouTube as a creative outlet [...] a lot of the time I just don’t think about how to play to the algorithm because I’m not chasing growth. This was an interesting video because I had seen three or four other videos with this “I don’t dream of labor” title in them, and so I had a sense of “okay, these are getting seen on my homepage without me searching for them or being subscribed to [the channels making them], I have a feeling that if I make this video, it’s gonna be pushed to the same people’s discovery tabs”–on a very basic level that’s how the algorithm works,” she correctly notes. “It was just something that I really really wanted to talk about after I finished Jonny Sun’s ‘Goodbye, Again’ book which was hugely revelatory in talking about the disillusionment of young people when it comes to labor, productivity and fulfillment.”
Looking to satisfy the urge of talking about these issues, Katherine released her own entry into the canon while heeding to the wisdom of those before her—predominantly women—that have already contributed their piece. The video made rounds when it came out and ignited the discourse fresh, but more than the views and adulation, Katherine was blown away by the response from both strangers on the internet, and also more familiar faces in her personal life. “I just had so much [whizzing about] in my head and I was like okay, I’m gonna put this all into a video and add to the discourse–I love the women that came before me and talked about it—and for some reason most of [the commentary] was by women, which is interesting—and I was blown away by how many people did resonate with that video,” she says. “I thought I would get a bunch of capitalist bros in my comment section, but I actually got a lot of really incredible comments, DMs and messages—not just from strangers on the internet but people from my life, and past eras? Like my college era, my post-grad era—I even had people [message me on] my LinkedIn, in my Instagram DMs. I also had people text me that I didn’t know still had my number saying how much that video meant to them because they were also thinking about these things and reconsidering how much they prioritized their labor over their loved ones, the rest of their life, their passions, their organizing work, etc.”
That feeling of heightened exposure is rather fleeting for Katherine given her sporadic upload schedule and the tendency of her videos to not follow any particular script–she embraces that spontaneity wholly, and thinks it sets apart her channel from the rest even though it doesn’t make for an optimal growth strategy. “The funny thing about my channel is I don’t think I found my niche yet–I was squarely in the pocket of college YouTube four or five years ago at this point, and after graduating I was at a loss of where do I fit in now? I was really struggling with what [to do], and this year I’m kinda like “you know what? Fuck it. I don’t know what kind of content to make, I’m just gonna make what scratches my own itch”,” she says. “I don’t need to always be subservient to the algorithm and think about what everyone will like. I wanna make content that’s true to me and what I wanna say and that’s been really well-received on my channel. I can tell that the more vulnerable, raw and just completely honest I am in a video, the more nervous I am to post it, but the more intense the response to that video is and the more appreciation I see.”
Given the above, it’s difficult to analogize Katherine’s content to anything else on the platform–she lacks an algorithm-friendly regular cadence, and there’s little thematic cohesion across what she makes. That being said, she had a recommendation to offer and a few words of praise for fellow creator Tiffany Ferguson, who she views as having mastered the craft as best she could. “I’ve recently been very very impressed by Leena Norms. She’s a British YouTuber and I see my content as kind of similar to hers—honestly, not as well articulated and not as well conceptualized—and she oscillates between BookTube, adulting advice, talking about the issues with a little bit of commentary infused in there as well,” she says. “It is true that I don’t have a weekly format because… there actually is no reason why. It’s just because it’s something I wanna make–I’m sometimes jealous of Tiff because she has [a familiar] format, and so the audience has a really consistent expectation of what she’s gonna be putting out, versus my audience who: Not only do they not know when I’m gonna be posting, they don’t know what I’m gonna be posting. Anybody that sticks around and tunes in, I’m always super grateful for because I don’t have one fanatic approach to my channel.”
The channel is ultimately a passion project for Katherine, and it comes across very clearly when describing her affinity for those willing to partake in this weird and quite unorthodox experiment. “My videos are just an extension of who I am–obviously filtered, obviously edited down to twenty minutes so you’re not seeing exactly who I am, but this year more than ever I think I’ve been radically myself on YouTube and as soon as I’ve torn down the walls of what I felt like I couldn’t talk about because that wasn’t very kosher on the platform or wasn’t gonna get any clicks, just more and more people wanted to come join the community which is really cool,” she says. “I’m excited for the direction my channel is going. I can’t give [an exact] forecast on what that will be because it follows my evolution and my coming of age as I reckon with all these things and just start to ask questions and see if anybody else is [having similar shake-ups].”
Worthy of note for Katherine: She thinks of YouTube purely as a complementary source of income, not a full-time commitment. While she has no qualms with those using the platform as a means to make more while working less, she cherishes the freedom it has given her to not be swayed by the algorithm’s every whim. “It’s a volatile space [for sure], and I will say that if you can make enough money from YouTube to afford your cost of living, I don’t see why you would want to add extra labor to your plate. I’m a big fan of [working less while living decently] instead of [the alternative]. While I would certainly appreciate being self-employed and having freedom over my own schedule, I really do like not having to depend on YouTube for my income and having money pollute my hobbies because I feel like I can say whatever the fuck I want and I don’t have to worry about it impacting my livelihood,” she says. “I can take more risks and just make content that fulfills me and I don’t have to always be concerned about making the next viral hit. Of course it’s exciting when they do come along and a video of mine is more appreciated, but it’s been really liberating to not have to rest on my content as my chief source of income.”
As all-consuming as politics is, I asked Katherine to indulge me into her other passions and hobbies. While the vice of endless scrolling isn’t exactly a stranger to her, she does take a liking to what’s not always explicitly linked to happenings on the internet. “While I’m terminally online, and I acknowledge the way that social media is warping my fucking brain, I have so many wonderful fulfilling beings in my life besides my political work that I do outside of YouTube and my job,” she says. “I love hiking and camping–I just did a huge camping trip with a bunch of my friends—including Tiffany actually, she came out for it which was really fun—so for me, any time outdoors is where I’m at my best. I’ve also gotten back into instruments—I was in a marching band in college—and I also love being a plant nerd and adopting more and more plants and figuring out that whole lifestyle.”
Being the video game fanatic that I am, I had to ask Katherine whether she was secretly moonlighting as a pubstomper in Warzone–much to my dismay, she was not. “No I don’t play any video games, I’ve never been a gamer, I don’t know why, that’s just never been my bag. It’s funny because Tiffany—we’ve been traveling for a couple of weeks—will always be playing Candy Crush, Scrabble or something and I’m like “I don’t even have a game on my phone that I play.” I’m usually just editing photos, journaling or something. I’ve never gotten into games despite being a very competitive person.”
Prompted by my own inquiry, Katherine thought to take a short detour into fashion and how she developed her own sense of it during a pandemic where ironically, not a lot of people could just as easily see it. “While I’ve always felt the compulsion to subscribe to fashion, stay on trends and to produce that content on YouTube because of how much it’s valorized on the platform, I’ve never seen myself as someone with a personal sense of style.” Katherine’s fashion shift however organic, was quite radical. “This past year more than any other, my style has done a complete 180–a lot of my friends say that the way I dressed in college was my “young republican” era,” she says laughingly. “I was definitely not a young republican, but if you look at my Instagram, you would maybe be a little bit confused. I’ve just become super granola, and I’ve kind of moved away from the male gaze and subscribing to femininity for femininity’s sake. I still of course some days dress more feminine than others, but I really enjoyed saying ‘fuck you’ to whatever men think is attractive and just finding what I feel most comfortable in. It’s funny because it’s a lot of the shit that I wore when I was [a young child]–and I saw a TikTok that was like “womanhood is just returning to the version of yourself that was eight years old before the world warped your perspective” so it’s been interesting to develop my own fashion sense while I’ve been inside and nobody could see me over this past year.”
To take it back full circle, I wondered what Katherine’s own conception of her place in the YouTube lifestyle community is, and how she sees shifting winds as dire portents for the status quo, even as the genre continues to lack its own political edge–while the traditional palette has seen enough cracks in its structure, she’s nonetheless vying for even bigger, more structural changes on the horizon. “A lot of the bigger creators like LaurDIY or AlishaMarie, these people that have been on YouTube for a decade–right now they’re also going through a transformation in their content into more explicit things like dating, sex, drinking, money and all these topics that were taboo [in this space], and while I certainly do consume that content and think it’s very entertaining and really really engaging and I like it, my shift has been more like “let’s talk about politics.”,” she says. “Nobody wants to [bring it up], but let’s talk about politics in a lifestyle video. Let’s talk about class and some of the fucked up things that are happening right now. I would’ve never thought a few years ago that those things could ever merge into one channel, but thanks to the growth of commentary and the increased emphasis on authenticity and vulnerability that we hadn’t seen in years before, it’s created a nice incubator for my channel to find its place.”
It’s not often that I get the opportunity to talk to a creator who is as passionate and thorough in their understanding of politics—given how integral they are to our daily lives—but my conversation with Katherine proves that it is possible, even when the creator’s niche isn’t explicitly of that kind. No matter the platform—save for maybe Twitter—talking about politics has always been taboo, and if that wasn’t the case, it’s marred by unpleasant memories of disorderly conflict and the inability to discuss ideas and judge them based on their merit–to Katherine’s credit, she provided a space for political discourse to thrive within her own community, and it does seem so far to be plenty fruitful and constructive.
As for the future of the channel, it is as uncertain as the winds of fate themselves. Katherine intentionally made it so her space isn’t tied by the laborious demands of the YouTube algorithm, and given how burnout seems to be a staple of the platform… she probably chose correctly. For now at least, the intersection of politics and lifestyle vlogging is novel and interesting enough on its own to warrant a visit.