I’m sure vlogging has its creative pitfalls. You can only do so many makeup tutorials, shopping hauls, and Q&As, and coming up with new and different content isn’t as easy as one might think. So you try to mix it up: dance covers, silly games, mukbangs. You try to make it relevant and funny. Street vendors are all over the news right now, having been forcibly removed from their places in Manila’s Divisoria area in an alleged effort to give the city a “makeover.” So why not live like a street vendor for a day (and vlog it too lol)?
It’s so obvious and timely, it’s inspired — except, it’s really not.
For people in privileged positions, slumming it and trying to live as the other half do isn’t actually all that uncommon. (I mean, we’ve all heard of out-of-school immersions.) They get to visit dire places, experience the less-than-ideal conditions, maybe realize along the way that they’ve been living in a bubble. And then they get to walk away and return to their lives, often with only a one-page reflection paper highlighting a romanticized view of poverty to show for the whole thing.
Immersions for high school and college students, at least, function as outreach programs of some sort. The television program Day Off, where hosts trade lives with ordinary people and try out their jobs, helps educate viewers on what it’s really like and gives the subjects a day of leisure and reprieve. Both don’t solve anything permanently, but they serve the purpose of responsibly informing others (emphasis on responsibly) and giving back. It’s uncertain whether the same could be said for vlogging.
You can’t deny that the vlogs being created by influencers are inherently, if not self-serving, then self-proclamatory. It’s a long-running series of “about me”: I tried this, I experienced this, I did this. They share tips sometimes, sure, but the purpose is hardly ever educational or altruistic. And that’s fine, it’s all for fun.
But this is exactly why you can’t just turn people’s livelihoods and the difficult conditions they experience on a day-to-day basis into a “challenge,” and not like the more profound definition where you come out of it a different person, and you grow, and it makes you better. In this case, it’s more like a dare: “Wow, [vlogger], that was crazy, I can’t believe you did that! You’re so adventurous!”
It’s a long-running series of “about me”: I tried this, I experienced this, I did this. They share tips sometimes, sure, but the purpose is hardly ever educational or altruistic. And that’s fine, it’s all for fun.
This isn’t a game, this is someone’s real life. The idea that you can swoop in, walk a mile in their shoes for fun, and then get back on your high horse is condescending and patronizing. You can’t exactly cry that your intentions were to step out of your comfort zone and see beyond your privilege, because it is a symptom of privilege-blindness that you can’t see what’s wrong with this idea to begin with.
There’s absolutely no need to engage in these kinds of challenges and experiments, especially because there’s no good way to go about it. Your “day in the life” experience will be simulated, and won’t have the added weight of the other daily struggles these people have to go through, like worrying about families to feed and bills to pay. If your aim was to shed light on their experiences, it would take a lot more research and sensitivity. The camera has to be trained on them, not on you.
Nobody stands to gain anything from this — not the vendors, not your viewers, and least of all, not you.