When I first heard about Hey Josh, a weekly show billed as “a three minute advice video podcast for teenagers,” I mentally classified it alongside what Ryan Fitzgerald (otherwise known as The Guy Who Gave Out His Phone Number On YouTube) has been doing: both seemed like experiments in using online video as a catalyst for peer therapy.
At the time (obviously, I guess), I knew nothing about Hey Josh‘s producer/host, twenty-something self-help guru Josh Shipp (who, incidentally, made it to the semi-finals of one of Valleywag‘s vlogger hotness contests); I certainly didn’t know that Hey Josh was essentially a teaser for the paid services of the hipster Dr. Phil.
Shipp, who makes a living giving conference keynotes and speaking at school assemblies, solicits questions from real kids on his website. Much of the advice seems to boil down to easy platitudes that would feel right at home on the kind of irony-free family drama that, with the possible exception of 7th Heaven, really doesn’t exist on TV anymore. The show is padded out with weird, “improvised” tangents, which are stitched around the advice blurbs in a montage style that’s strangely unsettling in its smoothness. In both style and substance, the show reeks of the work of professionals looking for credibility by aping amateurism.
I don’t begrudge anyone the opportunity to make a living, and I would never want to slam anyone legitimately seeking to help teens. But I definitely bristle at the idea of appropriating teen culture in order to get the prepubescent set hooked on pop psychology in the guise of entertainment, in order to inevitably make money exploiting the neediness of kids with legitimate problems. After all, at the end of the day, Shipp makes his livelihood booking speaking engagements, and what better way to ensure that the bookings keep coming than to reach out directly to the audience?
Hey Josh strikes me as the ultimate in vlog spam. You can give the dude from the cheesy school assembly a spiky haircut and format the cheesy school assembly to play on an iPod, but it’s still the cheesy school assembly, and if kids today are anywhere near as suspicious of fakery as I was at their age, I bet they’re actually more likely to follow advice from an actual authority figure than from a grown-up posturing as if he’s one of the kids. Isn’t this is the exact sort of thing kids are going to YouTube and MySpace to get away from? Hey Josh is a disheartening sign that the new TV isn’t immune to the worst of the old TV.