I’m scratching my head about—and steeling myself for the potential fallout from—a new internet phenomenon, the “Haul Video,” examples of which are popping up on YouTube like mushrooms after a rain. For the past several months, teenage girls and young adult women have been creating video narratives of their latest shopping caches. The vlogger (video blogger) typically shows and tells all: what she’s purchased, where, when, how much it cost, what she’ll wear it with, and what she told herself to justify her purchase. Her video is in essence a five-to-ten-minute “soliloquy on my new stuff.” The most popular hauls have been viewed by staggering numbers of people, even into the millions.
What are we to make of this phenomenon? In a piece for NPR’s “All Tech Considered,” Viet Le epitomizes our confusion about how to absorb the new technologies and how to evaluate what happens in such new media spaces as the internet. Although his first reaction to haul videos was that “these girls desperately, desperately need to get a life, not another eye shadow,” he found the videos oddly addictive. “The hauls sort of grew on me…In their best TV stylist voices, [the girls] point out the intricate beading on a blouse or the makeup that keeps them from breaking out. Sure, it’s not current affairs or politics, but at its best, it’s young women genuinely expressing their personal taste.”
Well, maybe. But there’s a pretty dark underbelly here. Some of the bloggers are getting addicted to making these videos (and shopping til they drop); one 16-year-old is currently being home schooled to allow her more time to haul more stuff, and the 7-year-old sister of another blogger is taking an early lead in mesmerizing second-grade fashionistas. The real darkness, though, lies in the deeply false message these videos embody: that whoever said money can’t buy happiness just didn’t know where to shop.
If this is what our teens are moving and shaking, I’m quaking.