8: The Circulation, Delivery, and Spreadability of, you guessed it, beauty YouTube videos

Well, we’re here again.

In their introduction titled Why Media Spreads, Henry Jenkins, Joshua Green, and Sam Ford describe a hybrid form of circulation, “…where a mix of top-down and bottom-up forces determine how material is shared across and among cultures in far more participatory (and messier) ways.” (1).  This mix of forces can be seen throughout YouTube videos, though I will specifically focusing on beauty videos. For example, many beauty videos are a “bottom-up” circulation, individual people sharing the video and participating in the comment section. However, some videos, particularly the ones that are sponsored, have some “top-down” circulation elements. The company or brand that is sponsoring the video want other people to see it, so they might share the video on their social media channels or participate in the comments on the video. However, I do think that YouTube is overall geared more towards the bottom-up circulation since it’s people who have accounts on the site, not companies or brands. A good example of this type of circulation can be seen on the channel NikkieTutorials on her video titled “The Power of MAKEUP!” The video shows Nikkie putting makeup on half of her face, and during the video she talks about makeup shaming and how makeup can be a transformative tool. The video got quite a bit of positive attention with 787K likes and many positive comments. After Nikkie posted the video, other beauty YouTubers began sharing their own “power of makeup” videos, and some news sites on Facebook made videos stories about her video and its impact. All of this sharing was from the viewers and fans of Nikkie’s channel who wanted to participate someway with this video by sharing and commenting on it.

In his article Recovering Delivery for Digital Rhetoric, James Porter describes traditional delivery as “…the oral/aural and bodily aspects of an oral speech or performance” (207). However, he writes that delivery in today’s society is a techne/art that consists of body/identity, distribution/circulation, access/accessibility, interaction, and economics (208). The first aspect, body/identity, is very important in beauty YouTube videos. While many beauty YouTubers are young, white females, there is a diversity in the community that includes different ethnicities, different gender identities, different geographical locations and economical situations. Also, because YouTube videos are such a visual media, gestures, voice, dress, and image are a large part of the presentation in the video itself. Distribution/circulation are a part of YouTube as well, although this is usually in terms of sharing the video with people online through different social media platforms and making your own videos (like the Power of Makeup video – people did their own interpretations of Nikkie’s original video, and she encouraged it!). Interaction comes into play with the sharing of the video and participating in the comment section for the video. People are able to share their stories, their advice, and talk to each other about the video here. Economics does not always play a large role in the original beauty videos in the way that Porter describes it (as concerning copyright and ownership of the information (208)). The one aspect that is seriously lacking on YouTube is access/accessibility. Because the media itself is visually/aurally based, those who are visually and/or aurally impaired do not have the same experience with watching a beauty YouTube video as someone without those impairments. This is where YouTube as a whole can improve. For beauty videos in particular, I think clearer and more accurate captioning, as well as clearer descriptions under the videos (some beauty YouTubers are better than others at this) could help make their videos more accessible to everyone, but I am not sure that such a visual/aural site will be completely accessible to those with visual and/or aural impairments.

Jenkins et al describes spreadability as “the potential – both technical and cultural – for audiences to share content for their own purposes” (3). Looking back at Nikkie’s video “The Power of MAKEUP,” I argue that this video in particular was very spreadable because of its cultural reference to Rupaul’s Drag Race and the important message it carries about makeup shaming/her love of makeup. The fact that this video had a positive, uplifting message for the beauty community led to it being more cultural important, and therefore more spreadable.

Beauty YouTube videos have higher amounts of circulation and delivery as a digital media, and has the potential to be spreadable, especially when the beauty videos carry a positive message or include some sort of challenge for the viewers.


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Works cited:

Jenkins, Henry, et. al. “Why Media Spreads.” Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York University Press, 2018.

Porter, James E. “Recovering Delivery for Digital Rhetoric.” Computers and Composition, 2009, p. 207-224.