Given social media’s ability to give users a large online platform, it’s unsurprising that many have published books following large demand for their content. Similar to celebrity memoirs, these publications – often instant bestsellers – attract anyone who’s ever wondered about a creator’s life behind the screen or wanted more of their online work. Do these brightly-colored print productions succeed as literature?
For this article, I read some to find out.
Caspar Lee, the YouTuber’s eponymous biography, follows his life from birth to present. Narrated by his mother Emily Riordan Lee and peppered with Caspar’s humorous interjections, the book’s detail captures a reader’s interest.
However, Caspar’s involvement is limited to commentary, much of which is self-centred or in poor taste. Caspar and his mother focus more on making him sound special and relatable than depicting their life accurately, though it is hard to view someone as ‘relatable’ when they casually talk about growing up with several live-in housekeepers, cooks, and nannies in post-apartheid South Africa (for the truth about the working conditions of Black domestic workers in South Africa: Overcoming Adversity from All Angles).
Overall, Caspar Lee reads like a YouTube video script combined with a mother’s cutesy memory book – not serious enough to be a good biography and not funny enough to fit the humour genre, making Lee’s transition from viral video to print media unwise.
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by conservative thought leader Jordan B. Peterson is not a typical social media book. However, the 2018 book was based on his answer to “What are the most valuable things everyone should know?” on Quora, and Peterson’s 2016 rise to fame was largely due to YouTube. 12 Rules for Life follows his more academic 1999 debut Maps of Meaning, yet his follow-up reflects little dedication.
Drawing on erroneous evolutionary psychology, false equivalences between world religions, and popular opinion rebranded as controversial wisdom, Peterson drags out a list of quippy aphorisms into a self-help book. This attempt to defend a few internet-ready quotes includes statements about women embodying chaos by rejecting men and capitalist hierarchy originating in humans’ descent from lobsters. Though some of his advice is usable, Peterson’s failure to address real-world context beyond references of variable validity strips his ideas of the “meaning” with which he preoccupies himself.
Peterson’s influence is dangerous, because he utilises his role as a clinical psychologist to act as an expert on subjects in which he lacks deep knowledge or expertise, which includes spreading bigoted views on race, gender, and sexual orientation in his video content. This has led to his followers, self-proclaimed “Lobsters,” admiring and spreading his uninformed views – while his analyses are much shallower than the burrowing crustacean, they butter them up anyway.
Aside from the obnoxious and harmful views of individual social media stars, the low quality of books written by online content creators is largely a result of video and short written content not translating well into a longer written format.
What is funny or meaningful as watchable entertainment or light reading intended to provoke thought rarely retains its effect when reformatted as a book. If social media stars want to write books with reader appeal beyond their brand name, it would behoove them to invest time in developing an original written voice and doing good research – rather than in formulating humorous bits and fake-deep catchphrases – if they want to enter the literary world.
Featured Image Credit: Caspar Lee, on YouTube
Last modified: 20th November 2020