I never really got into YouTube.
Then I met Brad. Maybe you’ve seen his show before– it’s called It’s Alive with Brad. And with Brad, YouTube started to come alive for me.
Brad’s not your typical food guy on YouTube. He’s not an ultra-artisanal snob and he’s not a shock-value cook who drinks or swears to keep your attention.
He’s someone I want to be around, so I keep finding myself in his test kitchen. His black watch cap. His mumbling. His nickname for the cameraman (Vinny) who he’s always bantering with in his Jersey accent as if they’re old pals (“Who’s better than us, Vinny?”). His “fermentation corner” of the test kitchen– counter space filled with every manner of kimchi (a Korean staple of fermented cabbage), sauerkraut, kombucha and wine. His unselfconsciousness on camera, including but not limited to side conversations with other chefs mid-shot, stories of fermentation failure, forgetting ingredients, and getting amped about the the smell-producing enzyme in crushed garlic.
Eventually, I subscribed to his YouTube channel – the first I’ve ever subscribed to. And now, look at me: from not really into YouTube to queuing up videos and even reading comments. Most evenings before I go to bed, I sit down at my desk and watch one or two webisodes, dreading the day when I run out of fresh content.
This big shift in my YouTubing habits has me thinking. Sure, I watch what I want, but I’ve been realizing more and more that I want what I watch. If I keep going back to a certain channel or a certain show or a certain celebrity, there’s probably something more there– it’s not just the kimchi or kraut or kombucha, I think– it’s Brad.
Brad’s actually the food-stocking guy on the Bon Appetit YouTube channel, a sort of support man for the rest of the chefs in the test kitchen. But at some point someone probably thought, what if we put Brad on camera? It’s clear everyone loves him, but it’s also clear he’s not the same as everyone else. And he doesn’t give a hoot. He embraces it. And I love it.
And as much as I believe in my students’ passion for new make-up techniques, video games and Nerf guns (their YouTube fetishes are really no weirder than kimchi, I guess), I don’t think their chronic YouTubing is about the stuff.
I think it’s about the people.
Replace kimchi with Nerf guns, video games, or new make-up techniques and you have some of my students’ YouTube go-to’s. As it turns out, their reasons for following some channels more than others aren’t much different than mine: “I don’t know why I keep watching… I guess they’re just being themselves, not like they’re trying too hard or using scripts– they just say really funny things and show me cool stuff at the same time…I kinda want to be more like them, funny and natural like that. Maybe I’ll even be a YouTuber someday. I’d love to have my own show…”
One of the 6th graders recently referenced three Nerf gun YouTube celebrities by name, with the same familiarity with which he says his own brother’s name. I guess I’m on a first-name basis with Brad, too.
Sure, they probably edit It’s Alive with Brad to enhance Brad’s Brad-isms; sure, they’ve probably doubled his show’s content because people like me are liking it for the same reasons I do. That’s not the point. There’s something about Brad that’s really attractive for me right now, really helpful, even.
I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself these days. It’s my last month of work here at Red Cloud Indian School, a place where I’ve done all I could to be the right combination of ally and advocate, teacher and student, inheritor and organizer. All I want is to have been of some help. I’m taking myself very seriously and, in the process, swallowing whole a more dangerous myth- that it’s all about me. No time for jokes when my to-do-before-May-23rd-list gets longer as the time get shorter. I’m tired, I’m determined, I’m crunched and I’ve been losing sight of the true and humbling privileges, the joy that my life here has been. I’m trying way too hard.
Brad, or some distilled version of his freedom, his confidence, his joy, or his test kitchen rapport is what I want most right now. Is what I need most right now. So I keep going back.
And little by little his voice is getting in my head. Its playful, Jersey-accented stream of consciousness is a welcome counter-commentary to the voice I call the saboteur, the evil spirit, the one on repeat that tells me that I’m not enough and never will be. I’m hearing him a lot lately, but I think Brad is calming him down, disarming him with jokes and fermented pineapple beverages.
Sometimes it’s just about kimchi, but not this time. I have lots of good companions and supports in these hard last days, but I never thought a YouTube chef would be one of them.