Ze Frank was a pioneer of vlogs, but that simplistic statement probably trivializes his contributions to American culture. Ze wasn’t just a YouTube celebrity, he was an icon for the then-new frontier of viral content.
I was an early fan, from his days in the early-2000s of his “How To Dance Properly” ecard, and evolving into one of many fans who were active participants in his year-long vlog experiment “The Show.” For Ze, there was no fourth wall, no distinction between the vlogger and his audience. Humans were on earth to create shared experiences, and the Internet was merely his medium.
When I found out in recent years that Ze was one of the folks at the helm of BuzzFeed Video, everything clicked. BuzzFeed has created a viral culture full of content about those shared experiences, but more than experiences, the videos are shared secrets. The hybrid of the two opposing worlds of PostSecret (anonymous confessions) and Facebook (your perfected public persona), BuzzFeed highlights, if often trivial, moments of each of our lives that we never considered others shared.
There’s nothing necessarily culturally significant about BuzzFeed Video’s content, and most wouldn’t consider it high art. But what it does do is create another art form somewhere in the middle of private and public, reminding the Facebook generation that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Everyone scratches their privates, everyone does weird things around their crushes, and everyone wonders if they’re the crazy friend of the group.
The simplicity of this approach is its appeal: let’s rub the shine off the perfect world we’re all intimidated by; this make-believe universe full of engagements and no divorces, hires and no fires, births and no deaths. BuzzFeed’s light portrayal that “we’re all human” is exactly what I’ve always loved about Ze Frank – and I’m glad he’s living in his element, and still bringing joy to the masses. Perhaps in a small way, although BuzzFeed and all of its counterparts (from blogs to vlogs and all in between) strive primarily to create content that generates ad views, it’s also giving us a much-needed breath of fresh air in our pristine Pinterest world. And that, my friends, is pure Ze.