We’ve probably all had that time in our lives when we valued popularity above all else. We wanted to be the star attraction or the coolest kid in school. We wanted to be the talk of the classroom or the office, we wanted to be the center of attention. The question is, were we craving this result out of value of the goal? Or was it merely a cry for popularity itself?
Sure being popular seems like an amazing thing, especially now with social media and YouTube allowing us to express ourselves openly. You see someone with a ton of subscribers on YouTube and Twitter followers and you might think ‘Wow, what a popular person’. But see, the problem with popularity is that it’s too ambiguous, too vague and hollow. Popularity through numbers alone doesn’t guarantee any positive feedback or meaningful results. Just because something or someone is popular doesn’t mean it’s good, nor does it mean it’s bad. Having a lot of numbers for something may seem great and make you feel like you’ve accomplished something, but those numbers could consist of several conflicting opinions and divergent lifestyles. For some people, the more popular they get the harder it is to maintain consensus in their fanbase and not polarize anyone. The root of the problem lies not in popularity necessarily, but in the fact that people often don’t aim for success.
Allow me to be self-indulgent for the moment. I’ve had many instances in my life where I felt like popularity was the big goal I needed to reach, but no other time was more prominent than with when I was developing my YouTube channel. Being a content uploader, you suddenly realize how much competition there is for viewership and likes, especially if you upload gaming content. I acted feverishly, trying to discover ways to increase my views and promote my channel. A lot of it was hit and miss, but I felt that if I could try had enough I’ll be able to achieve millions of views one day. I’ve only ever scraped the high thousands with my videos and that was after a long time too, yet I felt like it was never enough. It was a bit of a complex I developed, where I felt like if I wasn’t achieving what the best YouTubers get then I’m worthless. However, I began to notice a common pattern with a lot of the ‘popular’ channels. The more well known you are, the more haters you’ll get and the more your community divides. It’s impossible to be liked by everyone and no matter how hard you try to please people, there will just be those who can’t stand you. This applies to every part of life; in social gatherings, in artistic work, in occupations, in school and so on. Simply having a large number of followers means nothing if all it was for was for its sake.
But that’s when it hit me. What makes some of the best YouTube communities is the unique solidarity gained through a content creator who cares about their fanbase. Of course not everyone will see eye-to-eye and many will still call popular content creators ‘sell outs’ or complain that they’ve changed. However, what makes some of the most engaging YouTube uploaders, Deviant Art artists, photographers and others, is how they’ve aimed for success in their craft. With whatever they’ve done, they’ve aimed to do the best they can do provide entertainment and express themselves. They cared not for massive amounts of popularity or money, but instead they cared for how much their fanbase enjoyed their content. Mind you, this isn’t me demonizing either of these two things because inevitably you would want to be paid for your work and popularity definitely gets you places.
While the money aspect is down to the individual’s way of handling things, hollow popularity can only end in conflict, even if the popularity gained wasn’t intentional. Some things that have become popular have attracted a massive amount of fans and sometimes an even larger amount of haters, detractors and general cynics. Now, it’s hard to interact with the communities for such things since it’s so dense with these people. You can’t go on a YouTube video for something without encountering arguments or go on a ‘fanpage’ and find any actual fans. I’m not the sort of hipster-ish individual who believes that popularity ruins things, because I instead believe that popularity is a grand thing. I believe that it’s a grand thing when it’s gained through the success and support of a loyal fanbase but it can either corrupt the individual or it could hurt the thing the individual does, if it doesn’t help it of course. Often, people will try to gain popularity simply by attempting to get people to like what they do, even if it doesn’t fit their fancy. Sometimes this does work, but down the line they’ll encounter trouble when the fanbase’s tastes and personalities clash. Sometimes popularity can be a complete nightmare, with people attempting to probe into your very personal life and make it a living hell. Popularity indeed is a double-edged sword.
To indulge myself once more if you’ll allow it, I’d like to explain what got me to where I am now. Certain circumstances in my life made me realize I could never really attain millions of views or be a smash hit without having to stoop to underhanded tactics. People who aim for popularity do that a lot, especially in the game journalism world and in YouTube content creation. Sensationalist titles, eye-grabbing (and sometimes irrelevant) thumbnails and captions that spread misinformation. I’m all for adding flair and dynamic to my content, otherwise I couldn’t effectively spread all that I do, but it could never sit right with me to do it just to boost views. What I realized that I wanted in the end wasn’t some hollow popularity that leads to hate and a polarized community, what I wanted was to have a successful YouTube channel with a dedicated fanbase. What good would millions of views do me if all my comments are full of hate and arguments? I wouldn’t want to build myself up to look a certain way, attract a lot of attention and have my fans eat themselves through dissent, I’d rather that people appreciated me for how much they enjoyed my content. I’m proud to say that I’ve reached that point and I’m still getting better. Years ago I could never imagine having even 10 views on my videos or even any comments. It was making SFxT content that really got me going, though before I did have one or two hit videos. If you’re confused as to how only a couple hundred views and a few comments counts as success, allow me to get a little philosophical for a while.
Success itself doesn’t have to be tied down to a simple definition of monetary success or anything like that. I believe that success in your hobby, job or social life is down to what you define as being your prime goal, so once that is achieved you can feel content. If that includes popularity then that’s perfectly fine, but I don’t believe that popularity itself should be your only goal. If you strive to meet personal goals and targets, while keeping in mind what your fanbase desires, you can become someone who is appreciated for the most part because of what you do. Being successful leads to a richer life where you feel content with your accomplishments and hard work, where you feel like what you’ve done matters. For those who do become insanely popular, I now find it hard to envy them and I even feel sorry for the many game developers and popular YouTubers who are under constant attack from both over-enthusiastic fans and haters alike. Popularity does come with responsibility too, so gaining a certain level of status means that you need to be able to handle it. If that popularity was gained through a successful campaign of actions and you’ve got a loyal fanbase to support you, I imagine it’s much easier to ride it out than if the popularity was gained for its sake and nothing else. I should also note that success itself may have its own pitfalls, since nothing’s ever completely easy in life. But in the end, it’d be better to say that you got there because you wanted to be successful, for yourself and your fans, not because you wanted a couple hundred followers on Twitter.
In the end, my point boils down to this: do what makes you happy and master your given area of life because it fulfills you and you hope to gain success. Popularity doesn’t corrupt directly, nor is it a bad thing, but always remember the ugly side to becoming popular. The old axiom of ‘quality not quantity’ is perhaps the most appropriate to my point and I think it’s something everyone should consider when it comes to how many ‘followers’ you have. Just being known for the sake of being known is empty. Be known for something good.