Bored? Try Watching Some YouTube Video Essays!


Tyler Pelayo

There are hundreds of video essay channels around Youtube covering topics ranging from the criticism of magic systems in media, to the exploration of abandoned amusement parks.

Essays. 500 words or more, usually due within a week or two, are the bane of every highschooler’s existence. But, what if someone told you that millions of people watch essays on Youtube – that pieces like the papers students spend hours on at 1 a.m. have hours of watch time?

Enter, video essays. 10 minutes to an hour long, usually posted on a weekly or monthly basis by content creators. From documenting the top 10 worst animal skeletons to reflecting on the discovery of cave paintings in France, these ‘edu-tainment’ pieces cover a large spectrum of topics. They are a fairly new form of media, first rising to prominence in the mid to late 2010s.

What makes them different from a documentary or op-ed piece? Similar to an op-ed, they are opinion pieces that offer analysis on a subject from the creator. However, video essays have the myriad of visual tools that video editing provides, which enhances their information. “The ideas that they want to show the viewer are well thought out and structured, with images and videos with audio as well as visual forms of evidence; this helps them to convey their point effectively,” said Jeffery Luo ’20. Unlike documentaries and other journalistic pieces, video essays are often informal. Video essayists are not afraid to add witty editing bits or jokes in their scripts. “What I like about them the most is how personal a single video can be; this is also what I think separates them from documentaries and movie reviews. Unlike other forms of media, a video essay can have its own jokes and style, and it can be about extremely niche topics,” said Juan Acuna ’20.

Video essays are either structured to critique or to explain a subject. A prime example of the former is the channel LegalEagle where the host uses his background in working as a lawyer to analyze popular media and recent events under a judicial lens. Of course, critique does not have to be that niche and can be as general as film analysis. Many channels like Schaffrillas Productions often post videos analyzing characters and elements in animated movies. “I remember watching a video essay that was a half hour long talking about fake martial arts. With this niche topic, the creator was able to speak in depth and was able to create an engaging narrative about what I thought was a weird side of the internet, and was able to sprinkle a few jokes in that helped to make the video more personal,” said Acuna.

Like critiques, explanation videos are wildly varied in breadth and style. Channels such as Sam O’Nella Academy, GCP Grey, and Kurzgesagt debrief niche subjects using an animated avatar. Some are more instructional and help viewers with specific subjects while offering commentary. “I guess that Bob Ross isn’t what comes to mind when people say ‘video essay.’ I would call them video essays, since painting guides all serve to advance the creator’s opinion on which painting technique, or paint colors they believe are worth using, when compared to the myriad other methods or paint lines that are produced by companies,” said Arthur Kuntarakornkiti ’20.

Whether it is a psychoanalytical study of a movie character or the entire history of the early internet, video essays provide hours of entertainment and learning for any viewer willing to watch them. “Overall, video essays help content creators branch out from traditional forms of media by experimenting with new topics and styles,” said Acuna.

“Overall, video essays help content creators branch out from traditional forms of media by experimenting with new topics and styles,” said Juan Acuna ’20.