The most productive video essays of 2020

For the previous couple of years, video essays have won an increasing number of prominence on YouTube. With an increasing number of creators opting for a video essay — or video essay-inspired — layout, there are video essays about virtually any subject you wish to have to be told extra about.

To talk about what makes a video essay some of the perfect of the 12 months, let’s first destroy down what a video essay used to be within the 12 months 2020. There’s extra grey house between codecs than it first of all would possibly appear, particularly given what number of movies that lack an essay construction tackle an essay aesthetic. We used the next standards for this listing:

  1. The video will have to be scripted. Non permanent improvised asides are wonderful, particularly if they arrive within the type of voice over added in enhancing, however the video will have to differently observe a written script.
  2. The video will have to have a thesis, and that thesis will have to be greater than “that is excellent” or “that is dangerous.” The thesis will have to worry the have an effect on of the subject material, no longer simply its content material. This implies no immediately critiques (like L. a.’Ron Readus’s evaluation of Candyman), no observation/dialogue movies (like Sherliza Moé’s collection on cultural appropriation within the Megastar Wars prequels and Avatar: The Remaining Airbender), no lore recaps (like My Identify Is Byf’s meticulous archival works of the Future 2 lore), and no straight-up histories (like Sarah Z’s retelling of the notorious DashCon).
  3. The video additionally shouldn’t be a documentary (like NoClip’s documentary concerning the making of Pyre). The focal point will have to be a subject matter from an analytical viewpoint, no longer an interview viewpoint.
  4. However this doesn’t imply the video will have to essentially goal for natural objectivity; non-public video essays are, in reality, a factor.

This isn’t to mention the excluded movies aren’t nice. To the contrary: those discussed above completely rule. Defining the parameters of a video essay, even though, places the movies mentioned right here on an equivalent enjoying box. While you watch, you recognize you’ll come away working out the subject material, and most likely how artwork and society have an effect on every different, slightly higher. Nearly all of those movies comprise spoilers, so watch at your personal chance — however maximum may also be loved without reference to your familiarity with the subject material, too.

1. “In Seek of Flat Earth,” Dan Olson (Folding Concepts)

Dan Olson of Folding Concepts has been a video essayist for years, serving to solidify the medium on YouTube. “In Seek of Flat Earth,” even though, is his masterpiece to this point. The video is shot fantastically, with loving and reverent photographs of nature that no longer simplest give a contribution to the video’s content material and ideas, but in addition seize a way of nonetheless attractiveness. If the video seeks to assert that flat earthers really feel powerlessness within the face of the federal government and science, the way in which this video is shot makes the declare that perhaps our powerlessness may also be excellent, in fact. However “In Seek of Flat Earth” isn’t only a reaction to flat earthers; it’s additionally a reaction to Olson’s contemporaries who’ve made movies seeking to persuade flat earthers that their concepts are fallacious. “In Seek of Flat Earth” argues that flat earthers, and other folks with equivalent mindsets, can’t be logicked out in their mindsets — which turns right into a marvel, mind-blowing third-act twist.

2. “The Satirical Resurgence of Reefer Insanity,” Yhara Zayd

Yhara Zayd is moderately of a newcomer to video essays, posting her first, “The Remake That Couldn’t: Skins U.S.” in June 2019. Her catalogue of labor has boomed in 2020, making settling on a video to characteristic tricky; her paintings is constantly standout, blending research with dry comedy and heavy aesthetics. In a landmark 12 months for marijuana legalization, “The Satirical Resurgence of Reefer Insanity” feels particularly well timed and vital, nevertheless it’s additionally only a pleasure to observe. The video isn’t just a glance right into a criminally underrated musical starring Kristen Bell, Alan Cummings, and Ana Gasteyer. It’s a glance into the actual 1936 propaganda movie of the similar title, how the regulations round marijuana criminalization had been shaped, and the deeply racist roots of anti-marijuana campaigns. Zayd’s cushy however direct voice and distinctly internet-culture-informed humor make the video constantly attractive and a laugh whilst by no means shying clear of what makes Reefer Insanity so worthy of a campy parody musical.

3. “The Atypical Truth of Curler Coaster Rich person,” Jacob Geller

Curler Coaster Rich person is a nostalgic vintage — however what can it train us about demise? A bizarre quantity, as Geller explains in “The Atypical Truth of Curler Coaster Rich person.” This video opens with the sentence, “There’s a minimum of one curler coaster designed in particular to kill you.” The “Euthanasia Coaster,” Geller explains, used to be by no means made, however would successfully kill a rider in as regards to a minute. As he breaks down the rituals round demise, he winds his means round curves and loops, masterfully bringing the target audience again to the sport on the core of the video: Curler Coaster Rich person. In simply over 18 mins, Geller’s research breaks down how the sport permits for significant battle in its mechanics — which the video essayist notes are equivalent of their coding to a curler coaster — whilst taking into account monstrosities, deadly curler coasters that carry your digital park-goers to their grave. A curler coaster is supposed to scare us, supposed to spike adrenaline, supposed to place the concern of demise proper in us, however a laugh! Geller’s dialogue of Curler Coaster Rich person displays simply how a lot coasters, actual or digital, say about how we maintain demise.

Disclosure: Jacob Geller has written for Polygon.

4. “CATS! And the Bizarre Thoughts of TS Eliot,” Maggie Mae Fish

Cats can have pop out in 2019, however Maggie Mae Fish’s video essay on it got here out in March 2020, so early into what the remainder of the 12 months would grow to be. It used to be a small, however splendidly unhinged blessing for video essay fans who wanted one thing bonkers to stay us afloat all the way through quarantine. Fish’s efficiency background is in comedy and improv, particularly operating with Cracked earlier than beginning on her personal video essays. Her writing and function have a degree of bubbling pleasure and bewilderment at many of the trash media she discusses, coming thru maximum in her dialogue of Cats.

However whilst a video on why Cats used to be dangerous will have been attractive and humorous, Fish takes a step deeper, having a look into the musical’s supply subject matter: the poetry of T.S. Eliot, a homophobic, antisemitic weirdo. Fish doesn’t simply specific Eliot’s politics, however explains why Cats pulls from fascist ideologies in its depiction of a tradition-heavy demise cult. (Simply, you recognize, with cats.) From there, Fish’s research is going even deeper. This video isn’t about no longer liking problematic media, and even “dangerous” media. It’s a video about deeply loving one thing that finishes up parodying and subverting its roots.

5. “The Anatomy of Stan Tradition,” Elexus Jionde (Intelexual Media)

Historian Elexius Jionde of Intelexual Media continuously takes a cultural anthropology lens in her movies, discussing subjects like existence within the American 1970s and the historical past of Black homelessness. In “The Anatomy of Stan Tradition,” Jionde breaks down a present social phenomenon thru a ancient lens, asking why we stan and the way we were given right here. Jionde dissects “famous person worship dysfunction” and the way fanatics obsess over their favourite celebrities, whilst no longer letting individuals who suppose they’re too excellent for the goss off the hook both. The usage of examples starting from Bhad Babie to Selena Quintanilla to Victorian actors, Jionde displays how present famous person tradition is rooted in the whole lot from politics to evolutionary biology. This 18-minute video is a crash route in how the fame trade runs, and it’s additionally an research of the way we have interaction with famous person at this time. How do stans move from liking Ariana Grande’s tune to replicating Ariana Grande’s voice to sending demise threats to those that besmirch Ariana Grande’s title? Jionde doesn’t essentially pass judgement on stans; as an alternative, she displays how famous person tradition impacts the remainder of tradition.

6. “On Writing: Psychological Sickness in Video Video games,” Tim Hickson (Hi Long term Me)

Sooner than speaking about what makes this video essay nice, a caution: this video discusses struggles with psychological well being, together with a number of facets of suicide. It’s the heaviest video essay in this listing, so be sure to know what you’re entering earlier than you watch.

Tim Hickson of the channel Hi Long term Me opens the video by way of disclosing his revel in operating for a formative years psychological well being and suicide intervention hotline. From there, he first discusses the tactics during which video video games, immersive narratives the place gamers have keep watch over and make possible choices, may also be cathartic for other folks with psychological sicknesses and informative for individuals who don’t. Mentioning video games from International of Warcraft to Celeste to Prey to Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Hickson displays the other ways video games dive into melancholy, social anxiousness, and schizophrenia. A section desirous about Existence is Atypical’s Kate Marsh dissects how a tale may also be cathartic for one individual, however destructive for some other. It’s a deeply empathetic video essay with wealthy analysis. It’s sobering, emotional, and transferring.

7. “Why Anime is for Black Other folks – Hip Hop x Anime,” Yedoye Travis (Past the Bot)

Past the Bot is a brand new New York-based collective making video essays about how anime affects tradition, and prefer with Yhara Zaid’s paintings, it used to be tricky to select a favourite. “Why Anime is for Black Other folks” is a standout for simply how deep the research is going into the crossover between Black and East Asian tradition. Going again to ’70s Blaxploitation and kung fu movies, host and creator Yedoye Travis chronicles how East Asian media permeated Black tradition, ultimately resulting in the Wu-Tang Extended family sourcing their samples from movies like The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and Shaolin and Wu Tang. Mythical manufacturer J Dilla would later move directly to pattern East Asian tune as neatly. And, in fact, Travis spends a excellent deal speaking concerning the vital of the Toonami block of Grownup Swim, and the significance of the community enjoying tune from bands like Gorillaz and their lo-fi hip-hop mattress tune for bumps. Travis explains how the displays themselves — particularly Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and, in fact, The Boondocks — made an have an effect on on Black formative years who grew up along the programming. The ancient lens of the cross-culture influences permits this research to head deeper than equivalent video essays, however the tone remains informal, giving a number of asides and jokes for other folks acquainted with the content material.

8. “What Is *Excellent* Queer Illustration in 2020?,” Princess Weekes (MelinaPendulum)

2020 has been a landmark 12 months for queer illustration within the media, and Princess Weekes’ “What Is *Excellent* Queer Illustration in 2020?” seeks to pick out aside what has been “excellent,” what has been “dangerous,” and maximum continuously, what has simply been difficult. Like several dialogue of illustration, Weekes talks about how vital it’s for queer other folks to peer other variations of queer other folks in quite a lot of media, and the tendency for queer other folks to omit works by way of queer creators, or pass judgement on them extra harshly than works by way of creators who aren’t queer. She breaks down queer assimilation and respectability politics, taking a stance that’s emotional and private, whilst nonetheless being relatable and pervasive. This video essay is a brilliant get started for a way we will get started discussing tactics to complicate illustration, to transport clear of the sanitization of queer narratives, and take into account that what makes one individual really feel noticed may do the other for somebody else.

9. “Fallout: New Vegas Is Genius, And Right here’s Why,” Harry Brewis (hbomberguy)

Harry Brewis’ development of strangely lengthy movies with satirically simplistic titles continues together with his hour-and-a-half testomony to what makes a excellent narrative-heavy RPG, the usage of Fallout: New Vegas for instance of the most productive of the most productive. Don’t let the name trick you into pondering the video is a evaluation. It’s a lot nearer to a masterclass on writing for video games, and enforcing your tale and worldbuilding into each and every unmarried side of that recreation. From the arena to the partners to the primary plot to the facet quests to the struggle to the continuity of penalties, Brewis lays out how Fallout: New Vegas offers its gamers authentic possible choices, after which makes the ones possible choices in reality vital within the recreation. He argues the sport in fact offers in “grey morality” as an alternative of simply announcing it does whilst pushing gamers to be Excellent or Evil. The selections within the recreation continuously depart the participant ambivalent, whilst hanging them in a wild global that gamers can make a choice to make even wilder. Brewis makes use of the video to speak about what makes Fallout: New Vegas paintings, and why such a lot of video games faded compared. It isn’t simply that Fallout: New Vegas is excellent —it’s that it’s a meticulous recreation made by way of individuals who cared about each and every unmarried element they advanced.

10. “Whisper of the Center: How Does It Really feel to Be an Artist,” Accented Cinema

Whisper of the Center is without doubt one of the quieter Studio Ghibli movies, and in addition, this video essay by way of Accented Cinema is quiet, pretty, and soft. Accented Cinema is a video essay channel that specializes in international (a minimum of, international to america) media and its have an effect on. “Whisper of the Center: How Does It Really feel to Be an Artist” is probably the most non-public essay in this listing, a need for an research of the very non-public feeling of constructing artwork. Within the video, the host discusses how maximum artists don’t have the frenzied power media continuously depicts. As an alternative, they’ve the sluggish, on occasion irritating, on occasion euphoric power of any individual who does one thing as it’s who they’re. This video additionally comes with a caution that it discusses a sad demise within the studio — however how it brings the dialogue of that demise again to the essay’s thesis is impressive.

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