If you were to ask your Grandmother what “spilling the tea” meant when she was a teenager, she’d probably tell you it was probably a result of clumsiness at the dining table. If you were to ask a teenager today, they’d probably go into a long “he said she said” story that involves exposing a dark secret about a mutual acquaintance you both have at school.
These days, the concept of sharing, exposing or commentating on gossip has become a collective pastime for Generation Z, particularly in the space of Youtube.
Since its conception in 2005, Youtube has transformed into one of the leading media sources in the world. According to a study conducted by Defy Media, 67 percent of people said that if they had to choose between cable television and Youtube for entertainment, they would choose Youtube. In the same study, 67 percent of people said they chose Youtube because it had more content they could relate to.
Something that immediately comes to mind is the crisis mode that parents across America entered upon the emergence of trash reality television. In grade school, when things like Laguna Beach and Jersey Shore were all the hype, I remember going to friends’ houses and being baffled by the fact that they didn’t have MTV. Coming from a household where censorship was minimal, I couldn’t possibly imagine a world where I wasn’t able to watch a group of twenty-something trust-fund babies get into a fight over some crusty bearded musician over dinner at Nobu. Although it was “reality,” it was also unfamiliar at the same time. I couldn’t help but get sucked in, like I was watching a fictional tale unfold on my screen. Being immersed in a world that a lower middle-class gal like me could only imagine, but also having it dished up as reality, was revolutionary. It was the first time entertainment execs started to realize what the people want, which is relatability and authenticity – or at least the illusion of it.
As those overprotective parents are starting to realize, Snooki and the gang were the least of our worries. A new form of reality entertainment is starting to emerge on Youtube, and the only difference is that there are no producers in the background dictating what happens next.
Vloggers or “video bloggers” are content creators on Youtube whose channels are centered around the documentation of their day-to-day life. Now, you may be thinking, “a random person’s day-to-day life sounds boring as hell.” In theory, you’re right. I know that if I were to show my raw, unedited life, it would involve a lot of me snacking on popcorn, glaring at people I dislike from afar and abandoning responsibility to binge watch television series I’ve already seen three times over. Naturally, I recognize how boring these generally common events are, and would never in a million years think of sharing it with people for entertainment purposes.
The difference between the snacking simpleton and a Youtuber, however, is that Youtubers know how to dramatize these every day events, or simply seek out situations to get involved in, that they know will garner views.
One Youtuber who has mastered this talent is Tana Mongeau, a 20-year-old social media influencer from Las Vegas. Through inflammatory video titles and outrageous story times, Mongeau has gained a cult following, as well as an intense amount of controversy. The loud-mouthed character, who has shared stories about everything from smoking weed with Selena Gomez to the decade-long saga involving her deranged stalker, is one of the most powerful influencers on social media.
When I first started watching her channel a few months back, I was confused about what exactly her “deliverable” was. At the base level, she’s a person who rambles to the internet about her reckless lifestyle, which she funds from Instagram sponsorships and “Official Tana” merchandise sales. I didn’t see what separated her from any other attention-seeking personality whose specialty is exaggerating. However, when I started to read between the lines, I realized the genius behind Mongeau’s brand. The fact that she glues herself to chaos, and lives to tell the tale, makes her into a fascinating spectacle, as she emulates all the things that we “snacking simpletons” would never have the guts to do. We would never live a life that involves trapezing around the United States and blacking out at EDM festivals while clad in Gucci’s latest. However, we love to watch someone else self-destruct by doing those very things.
But, where is the line drawn? When does the click-bait and exaggeration become too much?
In recent years, Mongeau has found herself in the hot seat many a time. The first was when fellow Youtuber iDubbz, who is known for exposing famous Youtubers and their problematic pasts, released a video which included salvaged footage of Mongeau making racial slurs, one of which included her playfully referring to a black male friend a “slave”. Yeah…not so great for publicity, even if your reputation is built around being shocking.
Another thing iDubbz pointed out in the video was Mongeau’s hypocrisy about the whole ordeal. In several recent livestreams and Twitter threads, she had called out followers who used racial slurs in the comments of her page and told them that if they ever used slurs like that in their everyday lives, they should “kill themselves.” Interesting to note, and iDubbz certainly manages to do so, is that she has, many times now, schooled her followers on political correctness while conveniently managing to leave out her own racist past.
Upon releasing the video, an online feud ensued between Tana and iDubbz, which included Mongeau coming forward and saying iDubbz “broke in” to one of her meet and greets and “put her in a chokehold”. This was proven to be false, as video footage shows iDubbz, a paying customer with a ticket, at a meet-and-greet of hers, where he put his arm lightly around her for a photo with plans to confront her about her problematic ways in person. Sure, the video is uncomfortable to say the least, but in no way is her account anywhere near the truth. Instead, it’s just an example of what she does best, which is dramatizing the truth for her own benefit.
Although this whirlwind kept social media users entertained for a few weeks, what’s interesting is the way that it affected her channel. When looking at the pattern of “exposed” celebrities in other industries; music, journalism, film, you see there is no “coming back.”
For example, actress and personality Roseanne Barr was recently under fire for her racist Tweets towards presidential advisor Valerie Jarret. Within hours of the Tweets being sent, Barr’s recently premiered ABC sitcom, Roseanne, was cancelled, and her representation, the prestigious ICM Partners, dropped her from their roster.
In today’s climate, it’s difficult for social faux pas such as these to be ignored. Not only are people being exposed for their wrongdoing, they’re also forced to face the consequences. However, the same cannot be said for Tana Mongeau and Youtubers like her.
Although the social media networks were angry for a little while, Mongeau managed to win back their trust after making a twenty-minute long video of her apologizing for her actions, claiming she had grown and owned up to her mistake. It was very weepy and heartfelt, and garnered her three million views, which makes it one of the most viewed videos on her channel. Not to mention, the video is one of her only that is monetized, which means that because of the weepiness and “authenticity,” Tana made a hefty coin off the whole ordeal. When reading between the lines, you’ll see how her experience in being exposed for her political incorrectness didn’t include punishment or erasure from the social landscape, but instead redemption – even reward.
It’s been a little over a year since the scandal took place. Things for Tana have returned to normal, and could perhaps be considered better than before. Her viewership is now up to almost four million followers (not including other forms of social media). She also won the 2018 Shorty Award for best Youtube comedienne, and has sold out venues all over the country with her touring meet and greets.
This whole ordeal reveals more about us, the consumers of this content, than it does about Mongeau herself. The only reason she has the platform she does is because people like us are pressing play, and the fact that we are engaging with and glamorizing this type of content is not only disheartening, but frightening too.
As things like cable television programs start to dissolve, and Youtube becomes the main form of entertainment for youth, we are romanticizing and normalizing this concept of self- destruction and chaos. If all it takes in our society to be deemed “great” is an Instagram sponsorships and a self-destructive lifestyle, what will that mean for the future leaders of our world? If it’s people like these who will be inspiring future generations, what will our world look like when its being led by a bunch of half assed Soundcloud rappers who spend their days getting in Twitter feuds?
It’s time to take a look at our responsibility in this matter, and the way that we are granting them their ability to use their platform for a whole bunch of nothing.
And that’s the tea, sis.