Regional editor Bob Smith takes a periodic look at trends in social media, digital platforms and entertainment options for 2021. In this column, he shares his favorite YouTube vlog visits:
Despite the twisted machinations of the coronavirus pandemic foisted upon the globe, it’s been something of a revelatory awakening for people open to new avenues of entertainment and information. And that’s good news for the revolutionary introduction of social media and digital platforms to the landscape, all of them hungry for content.
If you’re like me, it’s been somewhat revelatory that the death grip held by the traditional entertainment portals — over-the-air television networks ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox — has loosened considerably. Those old standbys are relevant to many only for watching regional sports and local news.
Electronic entertainment platforms like Netflix, Hulu, HBO and newcomers Peacock and Disney+ are crowding the stage — new programming entities owned by deep-pocketed parent companies that are showing existing content and creating new programming.
The last decade can be credibly labeled as a new-age “Golden Age of Television,” with a slew of finely crafted, well-written and -acted limited series that overshadow almost everything the networks have had to offer viewers. Which, by and large, were well-worn comedy tropes and otherwise uninteresting dramas that followed familiar cookie-cutter plotlines meant to least offend or upset the networks’ dwindling legion of viewers.
The array of offerings have only increased, thanks to emergent social platforms.
While Netflix and the like are loaded with compelling and thought-provoking content, the platform I often find myself glued to is YouTube, which has become a vast repository of video content. much of it organically created by viewers themselves.
As has been the case personally and for other YouTube devotees, music videos have held sway over the years. But there’s so much more to capture your attention on this visual platform. While confined to home detention due to COVID-19 for much of last year, I’ve returned time and time again to a handful of YouTube channels and have become immersed in the interesting content provided by a diverse set of creators. The best content includes that which excels at storytelling, guided by authenticity and humanity. Here are some of my favorite channels on YouTube over the past year:
“Wild Wonderful Off-Grid”
YouTube is littered with creators who have painstakingly documented their efforts in building their own homes, including shelters constructed off the grid somewhere far away from urban life. This vlog is no different. It’s an amiable, good-humored documentary about the year-long effort of thirty-somethings Erin and Josh Myers and their three young children in building their dream house from the ground up in a forested mountain region of West Virginia, next door to sprawling northern Virginia.
After living near the city their entire lives, the young family sold everything and moved into an RV on the 73 acres they purchased prior to establishing a working farm and building an off-the-grid A-frame house in a debt-free manner. As you might imagine, it’s all easier said than done, but this cute, shaggy family managed to do it through sweet determination and humor. The family’s life beyond the construction aspect is also documented, highlighted by the couple’s two four-wheeling boys and their adorably smiley, dimply preschooler Ellie. The family menagerie also includes Chuck, an elderly, silver-coated Boston Terrier, always underfoot and looking for all the world like an oversized sausage with four legs; adolescent bull steer Bruce; a curious, tagalong young goat named Leon; and a flock of chickens that follow the family to wherever they may congregate outdoors.
This endearing, resourceful family faces the challenges of building their dream home by themselves with aplomb, humor and good nature. And it’s all captured by Erin, whose videography and narrative skills grow in sophistication and elegance as the series progresses.
It’s a touch of sweetness and perseverance in these days of COVID-19 negativity and obstruction.
While I enjoy watching the challenges of folks working to set down roots on their own terms, I’ve also found it engrossing to go along for the ride with those who have engaged their rootless, restless wanderlust to explore the globe’s lesser-known corners. Here are some of my favorite travelogues on YouTube:
“Amelia and J.P.”
This couple in their 40s share their adventures as digital nomads living and touring Ecuador, nestled in northwest South America’s Andes Mountains. They offer fellow travelers — and traveler wannabes — an unvarnished view of life in this gentle, welcoming Latin American nation known for its mile-high altitudes and simple living. It’s all good information for folks looking to either recalibrate their busy lives in the U.S. or searching for an alternative to domestic retirement. They share interesting aspects of their vegetarian lifestyle with viewers as they comb outdoor produce markets and dine at inexpensive, but delicious, restaurants in Cuenca and Guayaquil.
Another wife-and-husband couple, this one living in a suburban enclave on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia, offers viewers a charming view of life in this complicated nation, which continues to be burdened by obsolete social stereotypes borne from its Soviet days as a repressive communist society. The predominant task at hand for Valeria Kovtunova and her husband Alex is in building their new dacha — a weekend getaway cabin, as we Americans might define it. While not as finely crafted as is the Myers’ series, the Kovtunovs’ loving, good-natured spirit shines throughout the series. Valeria is the English translator-narrator here, and she goes to great lengths to describe everyday life in Russia in a manner relatable to westerners.
“Bald and Bankrupt”
Aficionados of the CNN television series by the late Anthony Bourdain, “Parts Unknown” — one of the finest-ever documentary series on television — likely miss the chef raconteur’s elegant writing and spellbinding imagery. I know I do. But if you enjoyed Bourdain’s iconoclastic take on food and travel, the YouTube “Bald and Bankrupt” channel might quench your thirst for his kind of storytelling.
Benjamin Rich is an engaging British travel vlogger and author, a 46-year-old Bon vivant of sorts who can be found on-screen charming a group of pensioner women living together in Moldova into sharing sips of their prized, potent Moldovan wine. Always the charmer, he even had one of the more colorful retirees ask for his hand in marriage.
Rich is a wonderful conversationalist who speaks fluent Russian and passable Spanish, which offers him entree into the lives of those he encounters while visiting worlds less traveled. His gift of gab offers an entree to pathways less traveled — often with locals in tow who are more than willing to show him their own corner of the world. He’s a bit of a character, which adds to the flavor of his vlogs that chronicle his adventures in disparate regions of the globe — from India and Russia to Cuba and Mexico.
If you have the itch to travel the world but COVID-19 restrictions are keeping you down, his vlog will keep your wanderlust alive — if only to be exercised at a later date.