The BreadTube Controversy That Shouldn’t Be

The upper brass are once again the center of attention — this time for all the wrong reasons.

At this point, it’s a regular occurence to have BreadTube’s legitimacy put into question, but this time around the call is coming from inside the house–Peter Coffin, a creator of such caliber, has repopularized the claim that BreadTube is a tight-knit cabal of content creators whose brand of left-adjacent media and political analysis serves only as means to self-enrichment, acting in concert to prevent those with stronger Marxist fervor from breaching into the mainstream.

That theory bears some semblance of truth upon superficial examination–it is indeed the fact that the closer to the center a creator is, the more palpable their views are to the YouTube mainstream, which has made it near-impossible for anyone truly dug-in deep into leftist theory to make much of a dent; at least not on the scale necessary to be a powerful engine for political change.

What the above fails to account for however, is the political conditions it claims to be so keenly aware of–given that content distribution platforms exist within liberal regimes with populaces accustomed to a center-left politics at their most radical, it would only seem rational that Peter Coffin, Angie Speaks, Dan Arrows and the lot of niche leftist content creators wouldn’t get as much exposure. The most popular forms of political media naturally orbit a system’s center of gravity, and as recent American elections have especially shown, there’s a clear misalignment between what the most politically-entrenched BreadTubers think the electorate believes, versus what they actually do.

A sensible corrective would be to perceive the project of leftism as one multi-pronged, where the divergence of mediums to deliver the same message isn’t treated as anathema to fostering greater political awareness–where Coffin missed the ball, is that they think ‘Big BreadTube’ is sapping precious social capital away from them, when it is readily-apparent that audience spillover from center-to-left creators is a much more potent growth strategy.

To mistake this for an advocacy of incrementalism over accelerationism would be folly–the political economy on YouTube isn’t purely driven by audience perception, as much as it is filtered through a black box of an algorithm whose parameters are as equally unknown by its conceivers as those who study it. What success maketh on the platform can be the difference between a good clickthrough-rate on an otherwise sloppily-made video, or a masterfully-crafted one that gets shafted for various reasons, some more benign than others–one of the supposed members of Big BreadTube, Lindsay Ellis, has had to recently contend with an age-restriction on her ‘Omegaverse’ analysis video, something despite her purported oversized influence, she couldn’t exactly prevent; so if there is a claim of greater tricky happening behind the scenes… It’s much harder to prove than the opposite.

The seedings for such a conspiracy to take hold within anti-BreadTube circles have been there all along–leftists are already told to instinctually distrust all concentrated clusters of social, economic and political power, and when you combine that with the fallout of BreadTube creators choosing to band together behind ContraPoints back when shit really hit the fan, it’s then no wonder that the authority-wary are compelled to take an oppositional stance.

Engaging with politics on terms lead by ideological purity though, is rarely a recipe for success–the upshot of anti-BreadTube backlash has essentially been to goad existing creators to adopt more radical views, but this necessitates that anyone with apprehensions about Marxist theory will have to be dishonest to their audience if they so choose to claim the contrary. Furthermore, while it is often demanded of BreadTube creators to be better representative of their target demographic, the fact of the matter is that the bulk majority of BreadTube’s following have yet to indulge a more involved political theory than post-capitalism, and if anything, adopting radical leftist views would be a most distorted reflection of their audience.

That’s not to say that they shouldn’t, but the path to leftism should not be one of compulsion, but rather arrival at sound conclusions through the organic process of political self-actualization, however long it takes. If leftism wishes to cement itself a permanent spot in the political mainstream, it has to not define of its victory so starkly that it alienates any and all potential allies. Coffin & co would do well to seek a path of reconciliation with those they’ve pushed away, understanding full-well that them playing second-fiddle to the big guys isn’t the result of producer-side deliberation–it’s rather inherent to the design of online content distribution platforms, especially ones as algorithmically-driven to maximize engagement as YouTube is.

What seems to be missing so far from this discussion is a cogent assessment of the leftist political economy, and to put it mildly, a baseline literacy of how content is promoted online and the great difference that even the slightest amount of audience bias makes. Why the right-wing was dominant on YouTube in yesteryears has a lot to do with how much more effective they were at selling a shocking narrative to an already emotionally-impressionable audience, but the dam has broken quite a bit since then, and to say that BreadTube is single-handedly responsible for the limited success of its orbiting small channels is well… it keeps the discourse grounded in a shaky epistemic foundation at best.

Even as the days of explosive growth for BreadTube are over, the left is steadily gaining more favor from the global demos, which is not a sign of the YouTube empire dying as much as it is a recognition that political reform — or better yet revolution — is a battle that will be led on many fronts, the least consequential of which is a video distribution platform owned by a faceless conglomerate rooted in the very heart of American capitalism.

Just like comedians in the Bush era, BreadTube’s main strength lies mainly in rhetoric–they do not sway elections, as much as they give an aggrieved electorate the language to express their political aspirations. To expect the world of them, is to not recognize that they’re human beings themselves subject to hardship and failure–if an institution as expansive and overarching as Hollywood couldn’t dissuade America from voting for Trump, then there’s even less reason to believe that BreadTube would have the tools to architect a revolution, much less successfully execute it. Critics of BreadTube are right that its political bearings are largely fruitless, but where their theory flounders is the suggestion that a leftward turn would make much of a difference–if anything, precedent would point right to the contrary.