Dying and Starting Over: Reflections on Growing Pains in Life, Art, & Identity (Re: Grav3yardgirl/Shane Collab)

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In yet another appendix in my dissertation on YouTube, I’d like to discuss the case of Bunny Meyer, aka Grav3yardgirl. Thanks to her feature in a miniseries spearheaded by YouTube comedy mainstay Shane Dawson the platform is fucking quaking. Shane basically sets out to investigate why Bunny’s channel is allegedly dying. Interestingly, while Bunny describes how members of her “Swamp Family” have vocally dissented from her current content, she’s still pulling six figures in views on the average video (and probably a six-figure salary in the average year). Bunny is hardly a failure, but in a world of constant comparisons, she expresses her disappointment in her decline from past averages in the millions.

As Shane gets her to open up to the camera through his wit, charm, and compliments of her dismembered doll chandelier, it becomes clear that she is quite upset about the state of her channel, as well as where she’s at in life more generally. To understand her upset and the frustrations of content creators more generally, let’s first take a look at who Bunny is, particularly to the average goth girl like myself:

I started hate-watching a lot of the beauty community in 2012—a time where it was a circle jerk of closet tour/makeup collection consumerism more than it was a place for substantive makeup tutorials. Bunny, however, seemed to be different. While she didn’t shy away from sharing everything from thrift store finds to designer perfume, she always seemed to have some sort of meaningful reason as to why she collected what she did, whether it be an ode to a role she played in high school theater or the scent of a beloved family member. And, of course, she was also a hero of the spooky girls way back in 2011-2014 when goth was still shelved as a four-letter word. Whether it be talking about a grave she came across in Galveston or a haunted bar in Savannah, she seemed to be obsessed with telling resonating stories—that of her own, but also of others forgotten by time.

Within the past couple of years, her story telling has been fairly limited—she’s become withdrawn from her videos, focusing instead on testing out slime and as seen on TV products. Her enthusiasm and Texas flare seemed to have become feigned. While she found a new fanbase in children, original subscribers deserted because they missed her spooky style shtick, but also because they missed her organic personality. In Shane’s tell-all series, Bunny attributes this shift to algorithmic changes that promote PG content over everything else, having a ready pool of products from which she can steadily crank out videos, and well, not really knowing what the hell else to do. Falling into a hole of underlying mental health issues, a family health scare, and the general malaise of home-employment, Bunny, according to her perception, became a chocolate shell lacking any marshmallow cream.

The kicker is that by talking her situation out with Shane, she eventually realizes that her perception is just that—a perception. Feeling like a failure seems to be a proxy war of comparisons made against other creators. Further, Bunny seems to be speaking to the perfect storm that comes when offline hardships combine with the inevitable rut of user-generated content riding the line between hobby and job. While entertainment has always been a career path, you generally approached comedy, acting, makeup artistry, and fashion styling as a potential job in the pre-internet age, as opposed to YouTubers who approached YouTube as a hobby. The result? The OG’s have felt full-force the extent to which YouTube has become bigger than itself.

While some of the facets of this case study may be unique, creative frustration is hardly just a Bunny issue. Yet, while Dawson probes into some more macro-level points, his Dr. Phil approach comes out a bit short-sighted. Even more troubling were his critiques suggesting that she wasn’t doing things “right” as a creator. I echo drama YouTuber Peter Monn’s critique that while Shane is an OG of the platform, he’s not the hard-and-fast YouTube authority. Shane’s assertion that she should make thumbnails that are more aesthetically true-to-video is no more than his own opinion Sure, as content creators we have to consider the more pragmatic details. For me, that’s meant writing for several different websites to ensure that my spectrum of content is reaching its appropriate audiences. For Bunny, the solution might be the reverse—consolidating content from her secondary channel, Banana Peppers, with Grav3yardgirl to place her organic personality at the forefront. But, by and large, highlighting the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone is more helpful than nitpicking the superficial comforts themselves.

Of course, there are other lurking variables in Bunny’s minor decline that aren’t discussed in the series—one perhaps being the critique that Bunny walks a fine line between lessening the stigma of mental illness and selling it as cute, quirky, manic pixy dream girl melodrama. While I’m probably not qualified to speak to the validity of this point. You could probably use her channel as evidence in either side of the coin. But, again, what matters here is perception more so than what actually is. People don’t want to consume what they perceive to be problematic content. Period.

While Bunny may not be a perfect person, there is one major takeaway form the series: the idea of “dying and starting over.” Such a concept is what led her to confide in YouTube in the first place after a bad car accident left her in pretty bad shape, both physically and emotionally. Editor’s note: It’s one of the reasons we have started the Drunk In A Graveyard YouTube.

It is an inconvenient truth that the concept of rebirth as it pertains to both day-to-day life and a greater sense of identity often stands in direct contrast to what is practical in the immediate. This situation is precisely one that I’m currently encountering as I mentally prepare to move to the West Coast for school, as well as one I encountered a year ago when I uprooted from Baltimore to New Orleans. In between, there have been plenty of smaller deaths. I’ve mourned the loss of my identity as a heavy drinker and steadily ping-ponged between the cubicle and the pole as one pulled the strings of disempowerment. And, of course, writing has served as the self-actualizing glue through it all. That being said, this lifestyle has, of course, cost me money, time, and sleep, in addition to lighting an undercurrent of uncertainty through it all. But, I wouldn’t go back and change anything. Sometimes what makes the most sense—like trying to stay wedded to PG content to appease AdSense—isn’t what’s always deeply appropriate.

No doubt, these deaths can be scary. In the words of Lolita (1998), the immediate feeling after you rip the bandage on a life-altering change can be comparable to “sitting with the ghost of a person who you just killed.” A shell of your former life sits in a box or lingers in your bank account, but it’s effectively going, going, gone. The blood on your hands leaves you asking if you made the right choice, but soon, even it stains for a while, it will eventually be washed away.

The anxiety of starting a new chapter beats stewing in a rut caught in the cross hairs of not acting on the what-ifs as you long for the what-was. When I think about the woman I was back in Baltimore—drinking heavily to cope with a day job I couldn’t stand in an apartment that was crumbling apart—I realize that while that era of my life was a necessary domino, it was hardly the final fall. For Bunny, perhaps the same could be said for the intermediary period on her channel of what’s effectively been children’s entertainment. It allowed her to stack cake and lock down some assets, but now she can, again, integrate what really moved her to begin dabbling into a fresh medium like YouTube in the first place. While this path may mean unboxing Gucci bags instead of Forever 21 muscle tees, it’s the stories that she provides alongside them that really make the video more worthwhile, more so than any product.

Or, her soul-searching might lead her to a new medium for her stories that isn’t YouTube—and that’s okay. It would be scary for her and for her fans, but I’m sure it would beat pining for the alleged gold standard year of her life back in ’14.

While ruts are inevitable, embracing re-envisions by doing what feels right is what’s going to produce the art and the individual with which we are most content. It doesn’t mean losing who we are as much as it does accepting the changing colors of our evolution. While the realms of our nine lives may change, the heart that beats inside of us is always ours.

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