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At times, the thoughtfulness and insight of YouTube content creators surprises me.  I am delighted by channels run by people who share their passions in a way that isn’t empty fan service or sycophancy.  As a podcaster and audio dramatist for about ten years, I appreciate the time and effort put into a program that bothers to explain something in depth and in a way that attempts to make a scholarly point while also being entertaining.

I even like some “Let’s Play” creators who add story and commentary to their programming instead of making me feel like a lurker on a Discord server.  I really dig Mr. Kravin, John Wolfe, and Pushing Up Roses because of the extra content and that they make the viewer feel like they are part of the experience.  Some creators, like Lindsay Ellis provide different perspective to familiar work that help me consider that work through younger and less-CIS-white-male eyes.  I also enjoy how many of the better play network hosts work together on shows, share ideas and discuss different points of view.

Talk, Recap, and Discussion channels like Good Bad Flicks, Fanboy Flicks and, especially, Red Letter Media, feature programs that mix wit, expertise, and analysis to what is largely a banal “watch and react” culture, as if the idle opinions of a bunch of dudebros behind microphones holds any value at all behind free marketing to the subject they’re discussing  (see: The Nerd Crew parodies by Red Letter Media).

As someone who can no longer play videogames (eyesight, attention span, work) I enjoy keeping up with interesting story-based games or open world strategy games through hosts that add a layer of storytelling and creative visual editing to enhance the experience.  Gamers like Welyn and Porgee(mainly for Rust) and TheRunningManZ (Day Z) tell stories within the game that are transformative in nature and entertaining as hell.

The fact that these creatives can monetize their passion and even make it their primary income is astonishing to me.  Nice work if you can get it.

[Note: I won’t be linking to any Channel Awesome content because that’s what they want.  Even if the two of you reading this want to watch the thing, you can go find it yourselves.]

I came across Channel Awesome back when it was “The Guy With the Glasses” starring Doug Walker as a goofy, shrill movie critic who specialized in older movies (mainly the VHS era).  He was appropriately called “The Nostalgia Critic” or “Critic” by his fans and costars.   His reviews of Gen-X era films and home video were part Looney-Tunes and part legitimate social and media commentary.  Critic’s perspective wasn’t just how the work reflected his taste, but how it reflected society and culture at the time it was produced versus how it could be seen now.  He took a historical and philosophical approach to the movies I watched growing up as a Gen-Xer and I found his observations to be well-constructed, thoughtful and funny.

He was like if Daffy Duck fucked Sluggo from the “Nancy” comic strip and the offspring grew up in a mom and pop video store attached to a public library.

Even the early days with Doug in his signature outfit sitting behind a desk talking at a camera for 20 minutes were entertaining because of the content which pulled from a library of pop culture and entertainment knowledge.  These were clever observations about bullshit movies that made you think differently about something that was probably heavy rotation in our early lives, secretly shaping our view of the world.  It’s good stuff.  But I still won’t link you to it.

The history of Doug Walker’s character and channel is an interesting one that I won’t really go into details about here.  His well-earned success led to the idea of creating a video streaming network independent of YouTube which was cracking down on copyright violators on behalf of the IP owners and their powerful corporations.  He, along with a small band of merry pranksters created a site to host all his videos.

Other artists, attempting to replicate or build on this model back on YouTube, found themselves facing similar copyright challenges and take-downs.  Between unfair restrictions and poor understanding of “Title 17” fair use rules for copyright, some creators moved to the short-lived “Blip” service or their own sites.  Or they just stopped completely.

“Channel Awesome” was born out of a desire to bring content creators together and provide audiences with reviews on different media from diverse perspectives.  Walker’s character and show became the flagship of that new network.

Everything went well, for a while. Walker and his team took care of the web site, scheduled new content, hosted and marketed it, and people got paid.  I think.

Once I tracked Walker’s videos to Channel Awesome, I found other shows that benefited from collaboration between creatives.  By comparing early episodes of independent series against later episodes that included crossovers between hosts, production values and commentary quality improved dramatically.  It was an impressive collective effort to bring intelligent conversations about pop culture to the massive outside the well-orchestrated marketing carny barkers for corporate entertainment media.  Eventually, Walker starring in video that he wrote and helped direct, using his fellow creatives as co-stars, foils, and thinly-veiled worshipers of his character.  These were experimental film projects, meta-movies about the creators as they orbited Walker’s central character in weird stories with some laughs and certainly a lot of creativity and effort by the collective.

These seemed to be annual projects that increased in complexity and absurdity until the last one I watched – a three and a half hour circle-jerk called “To Boldly Flee” was one of the most self-indulgent, unfunny wastes of talent since Movie 43.  It is astonishing that such a movie could be made at all without someone (or a small group of someones) intervening on behalf of sanity.  It belittled the supporting cast while elevating the Nostalgia Critic (written by Walker, himself) to a kind of messianic character.  But this is a thing that exists that a thoughtful critic of pop culture thought was clever, funny, and desired by people proportionate to the work put into it.

(Full disclosure:  Did I watch the whole thing in order to make this a fair and objective statement?  No. Channel Awesome deserves 3.5 hours of my free entertainment time about as much as a festival of German scat films.  But I have seen enough of it to justify what I’ve written.  None of Walker/Channel Awesome’s knock-off Wayans-parodies are so deep and nuanced that I need to see every frame to critique the experience.)

It seemed odd that someone known for skewering lazy writing and filmmaking would go on to make a movie, un-ironically, that embodied all of those things.

At some point, success and vanity outpaced creative commentary.  In 2014 and 2015 a number of creatives associated with Channel Awesome left, citing shitty treatment by the management.  There were volumes of complaints that pointed to mismanagement, unfair labor practices, stalking, intimidation and bullying, bad faith business practices, and even a case of sexual grooming.  I read the complaints and eagerly awaited Channel Awesome’s response, hoping they would get out ahead of it instead of stepping in it.

They not only stepped in it, they chose to dance in the shit by offering a dull, feckless “Sorry you feel that way, guys.”

The channel reinvented itself with a small company of players continuing to do sketch comedy throughout what I felt to be less thoughtful or interesting observations in favor of sight gags, callbacks, and weak humor.  It was still some good stuff, but I felt like the scandal had both darkened and diminished the show.  I can’t really point a finger on why, but I got a sense that Critic’s reviews took on a growing “Unsubscribe us, will you?  Fine, fuck the rest of you disloyal revenue providers.”

After the accusations and (dickless) response, I unsubscribed.  There’s this notion of “if you’re wrong, make it right.  If you are wronged, set it right” that I think is important if your business brands itself as a band of plucky artists making good in a big, bad world of commercial pop culture.  Answering like Sony reporting and addressing a customer data breech is just – sad.

This was not a bad thing because there are DAYS of streaming from Red Letter Media that not only brought my laugh back but burned the hyena-orgasming laughter of Rich Evans into my rotten soul.

Recently, a friend of mine linked me to The Nostalgia Critic’s latest masturbatory epic, a “critique” of the 1982 Alan Parker film, “Pink Floyd’s The Wall” featuring an entire album of song parodies and Slipknot front man Corey Taylor in the role played in the film by Bob Geldof.

RARELY has so much effort gone into something saying so fucking little.  Whether it was about the film, or a thinly-disguised commentary on how the mean Internet treated him during the scandal/exodus, Walker comes across without any of the charm or playful humor that made him popular.  It’s like he knew this would bring him the kind of attention a petulant child would receive throwing a tantrum at Christmas dinner.  He doesn’t care if the attention is a belt to the ass so long as he is the center of attention.

And to pick on Alan Parker’s direction and the narrative of Roger Waters, dismissing it as dumb nostalgia.  As if Doug Walker and his dudebro cronies at Channel Awesome could collectively come up with the same live experience and talent Roger Waters possessed at 21 years old much less the matured and cynical arena-packing years his music produced.

Yes, the talent that brought you “TO BOLDLY FLEE” feels he has the creative chops to take on one of the classic rock movies of all time.   That’s like Uwe Boll trying to deconstruct Christopher Nolan.

Why does this exist?  Well, there’s an album of the songs for sale.  That’s a big clue.

Yes, I watched it.  Twice.  And the first part is a parody, not really a critique.  You can’t really call what Walker “sings” as meaningful.  His approach has all the integrity of a sad, angry man throwing rocks from the overpass.  He uses “When the Tigers Broke Free” as a preamble to his contempt for glorified rock stories that we view through the filter of nostalgia, insisting that movies like this really are not as good as we remember.  They are full of emotionally-dishonest but rousing anthems composed by disconnected, rich rock stars who just want to sell records.

In his sad take on “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” he cheapens Pink’s experience as a child in school trying to deal with the death of his father through creativity only to be met with constant derision and correction by the institution by implying that its a song about a kid whining that he has to pay attention in school.  Such a profoundly dull understanding of that basic premise disqualifies Walker from any credibility moving forward.

Still, I cringe to think how much time and money went into the uneven special effects lost in attempting to make sense of Walker’s angry rants.  The longer I listen, the more I hear him screaming for attention and acknowledgement. “Fuck Roger Waters. You know who has it rough? ME, bitches!  ME!”

This is confirmed when the video shifts from being a direct commentary on Waters’ story to commentary on Outrage Culture in social media, a thing that 1) has nothing to do with The Wall and, 2) did not exist when the album or film were made.  This is clearly how Walker feels about being abandoned in his identity as a New Media Star, like Pink, but more so.  Sure, Pink was driven to madness (mirroring the descent of original Floyd guitarist and singer Syd Barret) but all those mean people who held him and his apostles accountable for their business and technical failings…THAT is the truest form of persecution.  All those people who they accepted money and attention from all those years now want ANSWERS?!  Accountability?  How fucking dare they disrespect their beloved Critic.

Eventually we get to his parody of “The Trial” which – dear sweet Jesus – took me right back to art school with its pretentious and self-absorbed bullshit.  It misses the point that Pink is fighting to survive through self-reflection to reject the controlling voices from his life and the resulting conflicts that forced him to withdraw, that wrecked his marriage, that took him far from his original dreams of creating good art. It is the climax of the kind of operatic theme rarely seen in prog rock, an extension of the GENIUS that is Dark Side of the Moon and so many of the layered, symphonic works that band was making long before Doug Walker was a snark in his momma’s eye.

Walker could have taken points from Waters’ story and realized he was the product of his actions but held the power to emerge from them by asserting his own identity and embracing the ART that had been suppressed by the demands of performing and producing and conforming all those years.

If you watch the tolerable parts of “To Boldly Flee” and the events during “In the Flesh” I’m sure you’ll see the qualities that Walker’s character demonstrates as similar to those in the hallucination of Pink’s worst self surrounded by zealous fans willing to do whatever necessary to honor their fascist master.  The irony is just delicious.

Painful to watch, I can only hope that this exercise in misguided disrespect against his better results in a moment of clarity, an awareness of the things that caused him to compromise and become a corruption of his earlier, artistic self and a tool of the corporate masters.  That seems to be where Walker and his cronies are right now.  He’s nowhere near “Beyond the Wall” but stuck in a skipping groove just before the start of “Run Like Hell.”

At the end of it, Doug Walker and perhaps the management of Channel Awesome are content to play the part of that guy at the party who has had too much to drink and wants to bring things down with a whining bitch-rant that he THINKS will be cathartic, but only result in his remaining friends realizing that he’s not worth keeping around anymore.