If you were visiting Anaheim, Calif. this past weekend, it was likely for one of two reasons: 1. You were going to Disneyland or 2. you were there for VidCon, a three-day conference where over 20,000 attendees (including some of the biggest YouTube and Vine stars), came together to geek out about online video platforms.
To put this into context, if you are a teen and are obsessed with the Internet, VidCon gives new meaning to “The Happiest Place on Earth.” There was an emoji ball pit. An awesome autograph wall. Live music. Exhibits. Gourmet food trucks. Emoji-shaped pillows. Photobooths. Merch tables where you could buy books written by YouTubers along with T-shirts emblazoned with their catchphrases. I got a selfie with Lohanthony. In other words, VidCon is Internet heaven on steroids.
So it made me disappointed when I came across Melia Robinson’s account of VidCon, where she likens the conference to a “scream fest where teenage girls chase YouTube stars through the halls.” While Robinson admits to practicing kissing on a poster of *NSYNC’s Lance Bass when she was a teen and “being obsessed with every trivial detail of my favorite celebrities' lives,” she says VidCon “was unlike anything I've ever seen or experienced.”
That’s probably because Robinson didn’t grow up watching YouTube.
I didn’t either when I was a teen. YouTube stars weren’t “a thing” yet. But if I were 16 years old and in the same room as Adam Brody (#SethCohen4ever), you bet I would've lost my chill. Those “flocks of shrieking teeny-boppers” at VidCon aren’t some rare, exotic, alien species -- they were all of us at one point.
The media consistently depicts teenage girls as hysterical airheads, devoid of substance and separate from their male peers and the more “sane,” “adult” world. (Though famous dudes fangirl, too.) But even putting that trend aside, by focusing on how teens react when they meet their idols at VidCon, it takes away from the supportive, incredibly powerful community the event has helped foster -- one that is driving conversations and is helping to shift the technological landscape. It diminishes the importance and cultural impact of what YouTube stars are doing whenever they upload a brave coming out video or speak about the stigma of mental illness from their bedrooms. These kinds of celebrities aren’t the ones you’re reading about on TMZ over your morning cereal -- they’re changing lives.
When I was at VidCon last weekend, like Robinson, I saw a sea of selfie sticks and identical blue drawstring backpacks. But I also saw thousands of teens wearing large, laminated “Community” badges around their necks; their name and “passion” written in marker. One badge said “Horses.” Another, “Writing.” My favorite was a teen boy’s whose badge read, “Being a badass.”
Owning your passions -- be it the Internet, YouTube stars or making silly Vines with your friends -- is what makes you a badass. And just because you’re a teen, it doesn’t make them any less valid. Sometimes, us adults just need to step back and let teens be teens.