Blog Post

Vlog Brothers Are Good But They Still Aren’t Ze

NTV StationVideo blogging, or “vlogging,” is still finding itself as a medium, exploring its artistic, didactic and philosophical potential. Arguably, the format’s greatest laureate is a now-retired vlogger by the name of Ze Frank, who ran a daily vlog for a full year, building a sizable audience and doing more than any other vlogger to develop a distinct syntax, vocabulary and dialectic. Frank’s “the show” crafted a refined style — with closeups, jump cuts and a frenetic, direct address of the viewer — that has begotten a large number of disciples. But none carry Ze’s torch with more earnestness than the brothers Green.

John and Hank Green haven’t done a lot to push Ze’s winning model forward — as John Green says in the duet at the end of their first year, “In 2006 I fell in love with Ze, and I told my brother Hank we should do the same thing our way.” So, they’ve got the silly songs, collaborative projects and jump cuts aplenty, but instead of “sportsracers” (the name Ze gave his devout audience) they have dubbed their active viewers “nerdfighters,” “nerd” having been appropriate by bespectacled ones everywhere as a badge oh honor.

Starting Jan. 1, 2007, the series, called Brotherhood 2.0, began with “365 days of textless communication” for the brothers, a tall order for two professional writers (Hank created the cleantech blog EcoGeek and John has published several young adult fiction books). In lieu of textual missives, the brothers alternated posting video blogs to YouTube every weekday. The fact that they were professional wordsmiths composing video letters to one another gave the show a sharp, clear and highly watchable voice, something lacking from oh-so-many video blogs. Now that the yearlong project is over, the brothers have continued to post, though not at as frequently.

During that first year, the brothers dispensed eloquent if extremely dorky thoughts. Viewers were asked to help with “secret projects” ranging from creating a compilation of “happy dances,” to getting Helen Hunt to watch Hank’s ode to her (she hasn’t yet), to taking over the Most Viewed section of YouTube (which they did).

After a year, the brothers found they “had fallen in love with nerdfighting” and, since then, they’ve been vlogging more or less weekly. Their YouTube channel has nearly 50,000 subscribers and their most recent video climbed up into the “most viewed” section of the site just this week. Several of their entries have crossed the 1 million views mark.

Although the Green brothers are no novices when it comes to professional publishing on the Internet, it’s important to note that they have used publicly available tools to create and distribute their show and host their own social network. When Ze started, he was hosting his own videos and had to build his own collaborative social network; today, with the help of YouTube and Ning, the ability to publish and organize online is much much easier, giving the masses access to a new range of authorship tools.

In the end, it was Ze’s fierce originality that drove his show forward and kept viewers coming back. The Green brothers have done a lot to make the medium their own, and in Ze’s absence I will gladly keep watching, but their show remains a nerdy knockoff of Ze’s seminal work.

This review, along with more details about the show, can be found at NewTeeVee Station.

5 Responses to “Vlog Brothers Are Good But They Still Aren’t Ze”

  1. Thee Stranger

    Vlog Brothers ripped off ZeFrank.
    Ask A Ninja ripped off Strongbad Emails.
    Lonelygirl15 ripped off EmoKid21Ohio.

    If you want to make it big on YouTube, rip off material from someone already popular.

  2. I was a big fan of Ze’s and it’s apparent that the Green bros have borrowed heavily from Ze’s original format. At the same time, their evident earnestness is what makes the Greens more than mere recyclers.

    While Ze seemed drawn towards absurdity, the Greens have a more grounded approach that seems to have energized their young followers in a disarmingly do-gooder fashion. They make sincerity fun on a consistent basis, which is a hard trick to pull off.

    And while it’s true to say that Ze built things from scratch, I don’t see the Greens’ use of existing platforms as a minus — witness the thriving Green-fan ‘Five Awesomes’ channels on YouTube that they inspired, and the build-in connectivity and discoverability that those platforms have baked-in. Points off for not reinventing the wheel? That’s arguable.