All posts by Alexander Trevithick

Why There’s a Barstool on the Dance Floor

For centuries, young people, especially students, have gotten drunk and done obscene things. In the name of carnival, they rebelled against prevailing societal norms; they pursued their whims. Today, on the surface, it’s very much the same—except people record it. In fact, with the rise of social media, students not only record their crazy debauchery, but also submit those recordings to highly-curated pages with millions of followers. Precisely choosing which few videos deserve to be seen each day, Instagram pages like TotalFratMove and BarstoolSports project images of elite carnival, and subvert the form into a facet of consumer culture which inevitably feeds the capitalist machine. These pages promote the lifestyle of particularly rebellious frat boys, accomplishing the monetization of elite carnival. Students now attempt to outdo each other in the most outlandish, which has paradoxically become the convention. Barstool benefits. 

The Barstool Logo

One might wonder what qualifies young people getting drunk as elite carnival. The salient point is that Barstool and the like upload (mostly) videos of students at four-year colleges with the means to throw massive parties in large venues, participate in traditional nonchalance towards cost, and pay the dues associated with all of that. Obviously, only a minority of young people can lay claim to that ability. One user posted on the TotalFratMove website, “If I had a nickel for every time I heard the phrase ‘You’re an asshole’ I wouldn’t be any richer. I’m too frat and too rich to give a sh*t about nickels. TFM” (Shontell).

Barstool and TotalFratMove love to sexualize because it’s an easy way to entertain their followers, most of whom are in the eighteen to twenty-four year-old male range. In “Smokeshow of the Day,” Barstool consistently posts pictures of a tan, (almost always) white, scantily-clad woman, heaping praise upon the college or sorority who lays claim to her. Sexuality is also shown through the hijinks of partiers. In what has become a common occurrence, spontaneous heterosexual touching and lust is filmed. A distinctive feature is that couples almost never know they’re being filmed, and so their interaction can be deemed original. Pictures and videos of this variety not only provide easy content for the curators, but also fuel a desire, especially for males, to get so drunk that they get as caught up in public sexuality as the people in the videos.

A “Smokeshow”

@maraweinstein from @barstoolarizona #barstoolsmokeshows

A post shared by Barstool Smokeshows (@barstoolsmokeshows) on

For those who want even more physicality, Barstool provides—with fights. Anything from a classic one-on-one stand-down to group violence fits the bill. One caption reads, “This UF [University of Florida] dad came to Parents Weekend to drink some beer and kick some ass” (TotalFratMove). The association seems to be that with alcohol, anything can happen—and that’s okay. In similar videos, students’ rebellious tendencies are accentuated when they become antagonistic with authority figures. Despite the reactions of the authority, the videos all have a care-free air, yet students annoy the cops to the maximum legal extent. Such videos function as highlights of rebellion.

An example of people rebelling against the cops for the sake of the video

Do it for the gram (@justinturizo)

A post shared by TFM (@totalfratmove) on

The debauchery continues. In one video uploaded to TotalFratMove, a male punches a TV until, to the delight of the audience, he splits the glass open. Cheered on by the crowd, he destroys what seems to be his own property. As Randall Collins asserts, “Material destruction at a wild party…is generally destroying one’s own property” (Collins, 253); in doing so, these students are ”conspicuously flaunting an insouciant disregard for costs, conventions, and serious purposes” (Collins, 255). After destroying the TV, his hand is revealed to the camera with a huge gash overflowing with blood. The young man’s response is to stand around showing his battle wounds to the cameras and screaming “Fuck you!” Quite clearly, TotalFratMove wants followers to disseminate the choice to completely ignore normal conventions in the context of parties. Yet, even the destruction of property—once a carnivalesque refutation of materialism—has become a calculated formulation itself: On Barstool, one of the most common tropes is a guy jumping onto and breaking a table, the more dangerous the jump and more expensive the table, the better.

The destruction of the TV

Why do you people hate televisions so much? @dochios

A post shared by TFM (@totalfratmove) on

Before expounding upon the formulaic nature of Barstool’s curation, I would be remiss not to mention how crowds actually get partygoers to do the craziest, most entertaining things. In the 1700s at Oxford, for example, young men performed their wildest deeds in front of an audience with similar status (Collins, 255), comparable to today’s college party which contains people of similar class all going to the same school. The same essay goes on to assert, “it is where there is ongoing situational stratification, the sheer momentary attention-gaining of a noisy display of uninhibited fun, that carousing becomes destructive” (255). Testing that claim against the above video yields similarities. The crowd has gathered around the one man; the center of the crowd is the most important area, while the fringes are simply onlookers. Multiple phone cameras record the young man in anticipation. Not wanting to let them down, he provides entertainment, and the cheers only get louder once his bloody hand is seen.

Barstool carefully decides to show its follower various themes. In many uploads, people smash beer cans against their heads and drink the ensuing explosion. After seeing a few of beer-induced concussions, one can easily surmise their purpose: show viewers that nothing is worth as much as a good time, which is, of course, determined by the crowd’s reaction. Similarly, other videos, celebrations of what’s called “Wu-tanging,” display college kids swallowing the butts of cigarettes with the aid of alcohol. In perhaps the most widespread variation, students make “luges,” ramps into which beer is poured and then drank, with the most obscene possible objects. For “luge” videos, it really runs the gamut, from dead fish to used athletic cups. Returning to the TV-punching video provides some insight into what this repetition actually means. The simple fact that most people in the crowd have their phone’s cameras poised begs a question. Why? Why do they want to record the act? Each person wants to be able to say, ‘I was there. Look here, I have proof on my phone.’ Each student wants to be the one who shows the others what happened. The ultimate goal becomes being the person who made it onto Barstool, not only for the person performing crazy acts, but also for those recording. If one looks to the vast amount of content created in the college party sphere each day, and sees the lengths to which students go to make Barstool or TotalFratMove, it would be impossible to say these media apparatuses have no power.

An example of beer head-smashing

Marry me.

A post shared by TFM (@totalfratmove) on

Thus, an interesting paradox appears. There exists a counter-intuitive incentive. Yes, partygoers want to engage in spontaneous carousing—where they can be rebellious and not care about societal norms—but they also want to make it into Barstool, and therefore must reconcile themselves to the successful formulations. Instagram pages can then affect the content of the elite carnival, and actually steer it towards what will make the most money.

The curation of videos to create certain incentives and affect elite carnival allows Barstool to advertise very effectively because, as a demographic, it doesn’t get much better than young, wealthy students. As Kenneth Tucker puts it, “Modern advertising retains the carnival ideas of excess and abundance, alongside the notion that selves can be transformed through the purchasing of goods…These elements are no longer necessarily critical of capitalism, as they are promoted by the entertainment orientation of the mass media and rebellion has become part of the marketing machine.” (Tucker, 108-9). Indeed, advertisers approach Barstool-like pages all the time. On TotalFratMove, there is an ad for going on the spring break of a lifetime, full of the same excess that the rest of the page contains. There are also ads for boxing matches with motto, “Are you man enough?” and other Instagram pages with fratty appeal. Most often, the pages advertise their own clothing, which typically has a rebellious and satirical slant. Embroidery includes “Merry Christmas, Bitch,” “Legalize Cocaine,” and “Ginger Jesus.” The uniting factor is that each ad feeds on the over-the-top theme of the entire page.

A quintessential ad

🏈All Football Ugly Sweaters are 20% off today. Swipe ➡️ to find your teams. Check link in bio for more🏈

A post shared by Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) on

The profound idea is not that Barstool sells clothing, but that it sells a lifestyle. In the world of TotalFratMove, throwing up due to intoxication is not a bad thing; it’s the price one pays for having a good time. And nothing matters more than having a good time—which the crowd determines, influenced by Barstool. In one chapter of his book, “The End of the American Avant Garde,” Stuart Hobbes argues that the avant garde has become commodified, “reduced to a lifestyle” (Hobbs, 168) by the media, which favors sensationalism over serious ideas and creates pseudo-events, “manufactured occurrences presented in the media for self-serving motives” (Hobbs, 150). Barstool and alike pages, by similar means, are accomplishing something comparable, except they are not only commodifying a lifestyle, but creating that lifestyle in the process. If Barstool were to have its way, all the events of the elite carnival would be formulaic pseudo-events, created for the prescribed purpose of making it onto Barstool. That’s why the only time you’ll see someone in class in one of these videos, they’re either drinking or display their dislike for the lecture.

Some might argue that Barstool and TotalFratMove are simply collections of depravity that young people enjoy watching. Yet, when one considers the highly-curated characteristic of these pages, the themes become especially important. And it is plain to see that the motifs point towards a certain lifestyle that incidentally serves the economic interest of the pages themselves. Clearly, there is a deliberate formulation to control elite carnival. So, the next time you’re drunk at a college party and some person decides to go insane, think about why everyone’s got their phone out—it’s not just to tell their friends.

An earlier draft of this essay was read by Sam Gilman.

I have written this essay in the style of Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Works Cited

Collins, Randall. “Violence as Fun and Entertainment.” Violence: a Micro-Sociological Theory, Princeton University Press, 2009, pp. 242–281. JSTOR,

Hobbs, Stuart D. “Consumer Culture Commodification.” The End of the American Avant Garde, NYU Press, 1997, pp. 139–168. JSTOR,

Shontell, Alyson. “Meet The Genius Frat Dudes Who Turned Bro Humor Into A Multimillion-Dollar Media Empire.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 21 Mar. 2014,

TotalFratMove. “Dad hits Student.” Instagram, October 8. 2017,

Tucker, Kenneth H. “The World Is a Stage and Life Is a Carnival: The Rise of the Aesthetic Sphere and Popular Culture.” Workers of the World, Enjoy!: Aesthetic Politics from Revolutionary Syndicalism to the Global Justice Movement, Temple University Press, 2012, pp. 91–120. JSTOR,

Defending Satire: Fawlty Powers

Despite the massive success of Monty Python, comedy legend John Cleese decided to leave the show in the early ‘70s. Leaving behind a legacy of wildly successful  surreal comedy, he joined his fiancé Connie Booth to work on another masterpiece, Fawlty Towers, an over-the-top satire originating from observation of an extremely rude hotel-owner in Torquay, England. The show was a smash hit, voted as the best British TV show of all time by the British Film Institute in 2000. Even so, some would take that endorsement by a large media enterprise as a condemnation—that it signifies the show’s mainstream success is due only to the peddling of the TV industry, who forced it upon the British people to establish certain roles and preserve the status quo. Yet, the farcical Fawlty Towers manages to accomplish something entirely different, not giving viewers a consolation prize for their depressing lives of work, but instead allowing for the realization that the necessity to conform exists. Fawlty Towers, at times, functions by providing enlightening hilarity, pointing out societal issues and questioning deeply-ingrained practices. Of course, the way viewers understand these social criticisms depends largely on their own environments. Nonetheless, the show ages well.

For some brief background, Basil Fawlty, played by John Cleese, and his wife, Sybil own a hotel which they run with the help of a maid named Polly, a Spanish waiter called Manuel (with comically bad English). The show centers around the interactions between the owners, workers, and their guests. Fawlty Towers does humor strikingly. So, when the plot goes wrong, it gets really absurd. Often, it is in a torrent of mistakes that laughter comes. One example comes from perhaps the most famous episode of the series, “The Germans,” in which German tourists spend a couple of nights at Fawlty Towers. Besides the usual barrage of slapstick, the episode is most remembered for Mr. Fawlty’s hilarious reminder: “Don’t mention the war!” After exclaiming this, Mr. Fawlty proceeds to mention World War II to the German guests in every sentence, causing one of them to cry. In the ensuing chaos, Mr. Fawlty retorts, “Well, they started it!” and after a denial by the guests, he responds brilliantly, “Yes you did, you invaded Poland!” Satire produces similar moments all the time, and the laughter that these scenes create is revelatory. In “The Germans,” the series makes fun of the inhibitory effects of British propriety, implicitly asking why it’s necessary to focus on what should not be said, rather than doing what is natural. Surely, if Basil hadn’t thought of the war throughout the guests’ stay, he would never have offended them about the war (although he surely would have in some other way).

To expound upon the corrective ability of satire, it’s necessary to look to writing on the form. Some look to A Handbook for Literature by William Thrall, who writes that satire is “a literary manner which blends a critical attitude with humor and wit to the end that human institutions or humanity may be improved,” and that “the true satirist is conscious of the frailty of institutions of man’s devising and attempts through laughter not so much to tear them down as to inspire a remodeling” (Harris, 1990). We can see these ideas exactly in “The Germans,” which attacks the constricting British notion of propriety. Indeed, although the goal of Fawlty Towers is not to critique the society in which it was created, Cleese’s farcical approach lends itself to social satire. One can note that Thrall insistence on remodeling, rather than tearing down, is in accord with the aforementioned episode, because the ideas that beget propriety are not attacked, but the necessity to cling to a notion of those ideas is. In other words, one can understand not mentioning World War 2 to the Germans because it would naturally cause tempers to run high; yet, the necessity to repeat to oneself not to mention the war, as a result of propriety, would be unnecessary and counterproductive to civility. The show questions a basic characteristic of the British identity with laughter.

The famous incident in “The Germans”

Laughter, though, is controversial. Instead of seeing laughter as something that can bring positive social change and alert people of their unwitting conformation, some see the natural reaction to humor as a tool of subjugation in the modern era. For example, in his 1947 polemic, “The Culture Industry,” critical theorist Theodor Adorno writes, “Wrong laughter copes with fear by defecting to the agencies which inspire it. It echoes the inescapability of power… In wrong society, laughter is a sickness, drawing [happiness] into society’s worthless totality” (Adorno & Horkheimer, 2006, p. 112). Although Adorno believes that all the laughter in the 1940s (and since) United States was of the wrong variety, he does allow for an alternative: “Reconciled laughter resounds with the echo of escape from power” (Adorno & Horkheimer, 2006, p. 112). Although acknowledging the presence of a good mode of laughter, he does not capture or allow for the revelatory laughter of satire, because he believes that “laughter about something is always laughter at it” (Adorno & Horkheimer, 2006, p. 112). This type of thinking is not compatible with laughter of satire, because viewers laugh about and at the excessiveness of the necessity to conform, yet they laugh about their identification with that necessity, not at it. When Cleese jabs at British propriety, the viewer’s laughter comes not only from the awkwardness of the situation, but also from the realization that the situation was imposed unnecessarily by a superfluous necessity to conform to what one should not do. Adorno, and thinkers like him seem to have missed that this sort of revelatory laughter exists, which satire does a brilliant job of bringing about. It is important to note that although the nature of the laughter may be revolutionary, it may not necessarily spur a person to action.

A key point of a counter-argument—that all laughter is a modern tool of subjugation—would be that the viewers do identify with the characters. Perhaps, one could even look to the long history of English eccentrics for whom many felt nationalistic admiration. As one article puts it, “We laugh at Basil because we see ourselves in him, and if Cleese is Basil then we don’t have to admit any of the typically British uptightness is ours too” (Davidson, 1995). Thinking like this implies that viewers would feel comfortable keeping their uprightness because Mr. Fawlty is an admirable scape goat, who makes even the most intransigent person seem amenable. Yet, the same article also says, “[Fawlty Towers] was a fairly painful assessment of the character of the nation” (Davidson, 1995). Accordingly, there is another interpretation, a more probable one given the nature and character of satire: the identification with the characters and the absurdity of the entire show allows viewers to reflect upon their own propensities and question what are really their own ideas, and what ideas society has inculcated in them.

This is the essence of the revelatory laughter. To better get at what I mean by that, one can look at the structure of Fawlty Towers. The show is set such that the characters have no leisure time, which interestingly connects to Adorno, who wrote, “The only escape from the work process…is through adaption to it in leisure time” (Adorno & Horkheimer, 2006, p. 109). For the characters of this show, their leisure time is literally the work process; they’ve adapted completely. Adorno and similar thinkers might argue that seeing these people who have it as bad as possible would make viewers feel better about their own horrendous work-life balances. Yet once again, the nature of satire can prevent people from feeling this way, instead drawing attention to the fact that many people’s lives have become solely about work. Fawlty Towers, with its all-out expansion of work, calls into question this social construct. In a similar vein, the show, through Basil’s ludicrous attempts to climb the social hierarchy, questions a focus on social status. Despite the fact that he already owns a hotel, Basil comes off as a petty and unhappy man. In “A Touch of Class,” for example, Lord Melbury comes to the hotel, and Basil accordingly treats him better than any other guest. By the end of the episode, though, it is revealed that Melbury is a thieving imposter. The show portrays the necessity to reach the top of the hierarchy as something futile and unworthy through a comedy of obsequiousness.

The full episode of “A Touch of Class”

Additionally, Fawlty Towers exhibits carnivalesque properties that beget revelatory laughter. So far, this essay has discussed how Fawlty Towers’ outrageousness was cause for such laughter, but there is also cause for laughter in the reversal of traditional relations, some of which are not completely overdone. Mainly, Fawlty Towers has three: the reversed power dynamic of Basil and his wife, the socially unacceptable reactions to the guests by the hosts, and the fact that the most sane person seems to be an art student. Of course in the traditional household, the man asserts dominance over the woman, but in the Fawlty’s relationship, Sybil incessantly tells Basil what to do, and Basil takes his frustration out on the guests treating them like they’re unwelcome pockets of annoyance. The show clearly portrays the art student, Polly the maid, as the most sane of any of the characters, contrasting the “impotence” (Adorno & Horkheimer, 2006, p. 106) Adorno predicts for people who don’t conform to the prevailing economic system. The less pronounced reversals in the husband-wife relationship and Polly’s portrayal, especially in comparison to the complementary ridiculousness of Mr. Fawlty himself, reveal to viewers that such interactions are in fact very possible, that conforming to those traditional standards is not the only option. The show accomplishes this with a hilarious juxtaposition of moderation and ostentatiousness.

But what about the fact that Fawlty Towers was made in the ‘70s in Britain? One BBC article (“What’s the point of satire?”, 2015), which focuses on morality, says, because of the globalized nature of the modern world, satire can no longer be effective; the varying notions of morality across culture prevent satire from working as a corrective. However, the fallacy in this type of thinking comes from the following idea: “if satire aims at the moral reform of a given society it can only be effective within that particular society” (“What’s the point of satire?”, 2015). Cleese himself once said of Fawlty Towers, “The characters are in some way archetypes; they’re the types that crop up in all the different cultures” (An Interview With John Cleese – Fawlty Towers Special Features, 2014). The British idea propriety doesn’t come to an average American’s mind when an average American watches the show. Yet, the viewer can still learn from the corrective trends of the satire (which aren’t always overtly moral), and choose exactly what to take away. I hope not to make this an argument about morality, but there are some similar moral characteristics of almost all prominent cultures in the world. For example, impropriety is considered disrespectful across cultures. Yes, the definition of impropriety may change, but with satire, the area of insight remains similar, especially for those who have an idea of what is being satirized. In this specific example, of course the attack on British propriety in Fawlty Towers is pertinent to many cultures, because it makes them question their own notions of propriety. Their laughter illuminates such ideas.

The interview with Cleese about Fawlty Towers

The pinnacle of great farce, Fawlty Towers will be remembered as a hilarious English cultural product. At times, viewers were treated to hilarious displays of original slapstick. Other times, they laughed at Basil and the rest of the characters’ shortcomings. Some of that laughter was revelatory; Cleese took jabs at existing British social constructs, showing viewers their existence. Even with that focus, Brits were not the only ones to benefit from Fawlty Towers, as it became a worldwide phenomenon. Unfortunately, after the show ended, Cleese said, “I can never do better than Fawlty Towers no matter what I do. Now I very much want to teach young talent some rules of the game” (“John Cleese — minister of comedic talk”, 2006). Here’s to hoping the young talent learns.

This essay was read by Ian Pultz-Earle. It is not a first draft.

Works Cited

Adorno, T., & Horkheimer, M. (2006). Dialectic of enlightenment (pp. 94-136). Stanford, Calif: Stanford Univ. Press.

An Interview With John Cleese – Fawlty Towers Special Features. (2014). Retrieved from

Davidson, A. (1995). ARTS: TO HELL WITH BASIL. The Independent. Retrieved 13 November 2017, from

Harris, R. (1990). The Purpose and Method of Satire. VirtualSalt. Retrieved 13 November 2017, from

John Cleese — minister of comedic talk. (2006). Retrieved November 15, 2017, from

What’s the point of satire?. (2015). BBC News. Retrieved 13 November 2017, from

Guy Talks Minecraft on YouTube: Art?

Ethoslab—a YouTube channel based upon the motto “Minecraft done technical”—demonstrates that we might not be doomed to eternal consumption of worthless drivel. Etho, as he goes, a mysterious, deep-voiced Canadian, takes viewers through a deliberate, yet purposeless investigation of the possibilities of the blocky world of Minecraft. One of his defining characteristics comes from a unique tendency to not shy away, as most others do, from Redstone, a metonymy for a set of materials in Minecraft that can complexly coalesce, like a circuit board, to form a variety of functions from calculating square roots to moving blocks. Etho’s calm and inquisitive style jarringly contrasts that of other Minecraft YouTubers, like the child-oriented StampyLongHead or the rowdy, raucous TheSyndicateProject, providing subtle brilliance in a sea of loud vacuity. Some might argue that his uniqueness is superficial, that his work, published by means of a multinational corporation and based upon a hugely monetized game, lacks meaning, echoing the thoughtless style of all gaming videos. But, having spent thousands of hours watching people play video games, I’m going to show you that his channel is special, and even more so because of its position at the center of virtual mass production.

YouTube provides a vehicle for content creators to reach a large audience of viewers while generating revenue through ads. The ultimate goal, therefore, is to generate the greatest number of clicks, rather than create the best content. To do so, YouTubers may embellish their videos with ridiculous titles and thumbnails. Take, for example, MomoFifaHD, whose second-most watched video is, “191 RATED IMPOSSIBLE FUT DRAFT GONE SEXUAL !! FUT DRAFT CHALLENGE,” with two females lustily kissing as the thumbnail. To paraphrase one astute commenter, not a single thing suggested in the title comes to fruition in the video. Everyone knows that clickbait of this nature is nothing new, but the brazen money-grabbing of this particular channel might flabbergast even internet veterans because MomoFifaHD has created an online shop for virtual currency in Fifa, and he sings about it at the beginning of every video to make sure you know. Basically, after watching an ad, the viewer is treated to another ad preceding badly-made clickbait.

The offending video

I bring this example up, not to suggest that all other YouTubers possess such blatant avarice, but to juxtapose the beauty of Ethoslab. When you go to his channel, every video is classified according to a series, with a well-thought-out title. To give you an idea of what that entails, here’s a title from one of my favorite videos: “Minecraft – Project Ozone 2 #47: Automate Inosculate.” Lo and behold, in the video, automations are fitted tightly together (“inosculate” means fit tightly together). Now, you might say that many YouTubers can make specific and clever titles, so how is this guy different? Rather than distinguishing him entirely, this tendency illuminates his sui generis orientation towards what some call purposiveness with no purpose[1] (Adorno and Horkheimer, 127).

Before I dive into the content of Etho’s videos, I would like to briefly return to greed in the world of YouTube. Some might argue that in such a highly-controlled medium, in which it’s obvious that everyone tries to make as much money as possible, a “different” YouTuber is simply impossible. To an extent, even in Ethoslab, the power of capitalism is evident; Etho does release unedited, half-assed videos with friends, videos no different from the rest of the bland Minecraft landscape. I would like to say that I propound Ethoslab as an escape from the mass production of shitty YouTube videos, not on the basis of those half-assed videos, but on the basis of what I will call his main series. These main series, full of passion, can take weeks, even years to create; to support them, he does release lower-quality content, but this should not devalue his magnum opus. His conformation is simply a struggle against the culture of YouTube, a struggle which makes his purposiveness with no purpose even more magnificent. Perhaps a cynical person might say that this is a tragedy in itself, but I would say the opposite. What detractors of modern culture seem to have gotten wrong is that even in the belly of the beast, original work is possible, and that makes such work even more impressive.

A half-assed video from Ethoslab

So, you might be wondering, what do I mean by purposiveness with no purpose? As we have already discussed, there are those YouTubers that are motivated entirely by profit. Then, there are those that focus on creating the best content for their viewers. All YouTubers fall somewhere on this spectrum from total profit-maximization to altruistic content creation—except Etho. Ethoslab reintroduces “l’art pour l’art” (“art for art’s sake”), the intentional creation of content for the sake of the content itself, something his environment notably allows for. Look at the medium in which Etho publishes. On YouTube, he can upload any video without subjection to censorship (at least of videos of this type). Moreover, in Minecraft, after one covers the basic needs of the player—food, light sources, materials for crafting, etc.—the player can have “virtual leisure” in a world where literally everything can be modified. Basically, the player has the freedom to pursue any idea. So, when Etho uploads, he can do so without censorship and on his own virtual time: the perfect setting for creativity in this technological era.

We must now take note of the astounding amount of work that goes into each video in his main series. Etho attends to everything. Watch an episode of his longest-running project, “Etho Plays Minecraft,” and you’ll see that even the transitions are made deliberately. Off-camera, Ethos does a ridiculous amount of simply unnecessary work because he refuses to utilize “creative mode,” in which the player becomes a sort of Minecraft god—having the ability to break any block, create an infinite amount of any material, and even fly. There is no rationale for not using creative at times. In one project, to create a massive storage apparatus called the “Nexus,” Etho needed hundreds of thousands of Redstone and iron materials, which would take hundreds of hours to procure through simply playing the game. Instead of getting them through “creative mode,” he spent months getting the materials off-camera, making the viewers wait, and slowly making progress.

An episode on the huge “Nexus” project

Etho doesn’t create content for his viewers. He doesn’t show his face (which people incessantly demand) or talk about his life, outside of trivialities, because the focus is clear: content. Take for example, an episode of one great Ethoslab series, “Feed the Beast 2.” Etho has a choice: create a railway to transport materials, or use a virtual teleporter. The former being difficult and time-consuming and the latter being effortless and efficient, Etho decides to make the train track. Note that Minecrafters like to have the greatest efficiency when building anything, so Etho’s decision made me, as a viewer, uncomfortable and slightly annoyed. If entertainment or utility were either of the benchmarks for video quality, this decision would hinder both. Yet, in hindsight, I consider the decision to be a beautiful one, in its humanity, which highlights Etho’s purposiveness with no purpose. Though, perhaps that example could be construed as trivial or random.

To give a better sense of what Etho does so brilliantly, I’d like to bring up the “Dance of the Rolls” from the 1925 Charlie Chaplin movie, The Gold Rush. During one of the gags, as Chaplin sits down to eat (and charm a pretty woman), he picks up two bread rolls, puts a fork in both, and makes them look like a ballerina’s feet. It’s a surprising moment, when the viewer can simply appreciate the art of film, human and complete in itself, and Etho manages to create such moments with surprising regularity. Causing heated arguments in the comments, my favorite example of this becomes a staple of Ethoslab: Etho makes a point of destroying what he calls “blue, shiny rocks”—diamonds, the most valuable resource in the game—in favor of Redstone and iron, which have practical functions. In fact, he places diamond ore around his main base, making sure to let the viewer see, but never actually explaining the presence. In doing so, he creates a mystical allure that completely surprises the viewer, causing an appreciation for something done deliberately with no purpose.

Clip of the “Dance of the Rolls” from The Gold Rush

A compilation of Etho’s treatment of diamonds

Ethoslab is universally loved by its entire fan base, and in fact, I believe that the channel has the most appreciative viewers of any channel on YouTube. Seriously, go to any of Etho’s videos and look at the adoring praise heaped upon him. To quote viewer Seth Lol in response to Etho, “Thank you for giving me hope in humanity” (Seth Lol, 2015). Still, Etho’s channel (which has 1.9 million subscribers) has been stagnating of late. The infrequent uploads have decreased the number of committed viewers, pointing to a flaw in the mass production of YouTube videos: the necessity to produce all the time, which hampers the ability of individuals to create beautiful, purposeless art. Yet, Ethoslab resists and persists. Art survives.

Works Cited

Adorno, Theodor, and Max Horkheimer. “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.” Dialectic of Enlightenment, Stanford University Press, 2007, pp. 94–136.

Seth Lol. “Re: Etho Plays Minecraft – Episode 403: Castle Gate.” 16 Apr. 2015. Comment on video.


[1] This concept seems to be rooted in Kant, but that is outside the scope of this paper.