Asian or western girls? Fries or chicken? Will you marry me? These are some of the thousands of questions that have been posed to Connor Franta, a self-proclaimed "Social media addict, Cat lover, Food connoisseur." #AskConnor has been trending on Twitter for the last two days, and Franta has 1,816,204 followers on YouTube, but I had somehow never heard of him before this morning. It is time, methinks, to find out what all the Franta-natics are fussing about.
Piecing Franta's life together is a testament to social media and its helpfulness to stalkers the world over. Franta apparently lives in Los Angeles, and he describes his tumblr as an "internet wasteland." His "About" section tells YouTube frans, "I talk to my camera & post it here every frantastic monday!" He joined Facebook as a public figure on March 1, 2011, and he currently has 346,942 likes. This pales in comparison to his 900k followers on Twitter, who have launched him to the top of the "What's Trending" column. While these numbers are impressive in their own right, they don't explain Franta's popularity. It is time to follow him down the rabbit hole to the first YouTube videos, the ones that took him from his teenage years to his young adulthood as a social media mogul and Twitter trend.
The earliest YouTube videos are, sadly, private. In the oldest available video, "A HARRY POTTER BIRTHDAY!!!" Franta celebrates turning eighteen, bemoans the fact that he still looks eleven, and squeals about being accepted to Hogwarts. Multiple fans have commented, "FETUS CONNOR!" In truth, he does look very young, and his boyish up-speak underscores the perception. His mop of blond hair, so 2011, is worlds away from his modern Neutron-esque up-do. He plays with some visual and audio effects on his official Harry Potter wand, mentions his cat, and poses a question to the audience that they can answer in the comment section. 91,382 views. Let's see how he changes with time.
"I'm Not Gay," which was uploaded on June 12, 2011, takes a while to answer the accusation in its title. Franta seems more self-assured as he puts the name of his camera up for a vote, then asks for music and movie recommendations. Audience input? Check. Mop of hair, albeit brown? Check. He talks about hanging out with friends at his job, grad parties, other YouTube videos, and watching Bridesmaids. Ah, yes. He's not gay because he enjoyed Bridesmaids, everyone. That's why this one is entitled "I'm Not Gay," and the inflammatory title probably helped it garner 771,955 views. Overall, this video gives us a glimpse of Franta's evolving background music, production value, and delivery. The music covers up potentially awkward pauses in his self-reflection, and while he still constantly cuts to different positions in the same location, it has less of a haphazard feeling to it. A YouTuber comments, "It's cool to see how far you've come. Gives me hope xD."
"What Guys/Girls REALLY Mean When They're Texting," uploaded on May 28, 2012, explains the subtext for texting from the perspective of a guy (Franta) and girl (high-pitched Franta in a hat). While the texting conversation itself could have been edited for brevity and emotional continuity, it allows Franta to showcase his improving video editing skills, namely the ability to flash words across the screen as they are being "typed" on a phone, while providing a voiceover as internal monologue. The girl definitely gets the short end of the stick here, both in terms of intelligence and sanity. Nonetheless, Franta seems to be using his channel as more of a platform for social commentary than a platform for the minute details of his life. Expanding horizons, styled hair, older face. You can almost feel the followership rising.
Continuing in this vein of "battle of the sexes" advice, Franta's first video to break one million views is "10 Things Girls Hate That Guys Do," which was published on October 22, 2012. He admits, "it's not just me, it's a general consensus," citing his girls who are friends as sources. The commentary platform is now firmly locked into place. In addition, Franta films himself from a typical college dorm room. He is wearing a Saint John's University sweatshirt, which allows social media stalkers to place him in Queens, New York.
Adulthood is catching up even more in "Let's Talk About Sex," which was published on April 15, 2013. Franta seems both flattered and horrified by his internet followers. His hair is flipped up a la Justin Bieber, and he cites a fear of "being sexually assaulted by an army of twelve-year-old girls." He embodies Bo Burnam momentarily when he shifts from advising his viewers, "be safe and make it special," to saying, "we're all a bunch of sluts and whores," while swinging his shirt above his head. YouTube personalities. They grow up so fast.
August 9, 2013. In "British vs America: How We Do It," Franta brings on British YouTube star Marcus Butler to discuss some differences between Britain and the United States. The conversation is, on a scale of dull to riveting, inane. What probably launched it to 2,837,504 views is the presence of two YouTubers with their respective followers. While their banter his automatically heightened by Butler's accent and Franta's reaction to Butler's accent, this video seems to be more of a mutual ego showcase and international bid for attention than an earnest exploration of the cultural differences between the two countries. "Look!" They seem to be saying, "We can be charming and attractive in our native accents!" Then again, they do bring up the use of "queue," which many Americans do not use regularly in conversation. Overall message? Regardless of what country you're from, YouTube can offer you an audience that cares more about tooth whitening than national politics.
In October of 2013, Franta reached one million subscribers. How does he celebrate in his video? He jumps into a pool, naked. He sprinkles coffee on himself in the bath. He tries to gather a couch full of kittens, but only comes up with a rather morose-looking dog. Increasingly, we are introduced to the Franta world of self-worship through a combination of stunts, humor, and liberal use of self-censorship when it comes to dropping the F-bomb or exposing himself on film. Which brings us to…
"How YouTubers Act Off Camera." Franta frankly admits, "A lot of my life is spent with and revolves around YouTubers." He tells his audience, "You only see a portion of my life," and admits that he has a different persona in life than in his videos. Over the course of the video, Franta literally airs his dirty laundry. He shows us how his entire room is not the glittering domicile we would expect from the video background. He uses jump-cuts to erase dead space when he speaks with the camera. He talks more slowly in life, although he admits, "I'm pretty much my YouTube personality when I'm intoxicated." My question for Franta, then, is this: do you life more fully in your YouTube self or your "actual" self? And once you've exposed your "true" self on YouTube, does that mean that it's only another facet of your ever-shifting YouTube self? In creating this video, have you erased your last connection to a life that exists outside of your social media presence, one that consumes itself in an unending cycle of shallow self-reflection?
I posed this question, albeit in a different form, to Franta on Twitter. I do hope it makes it into his video tomorrow.
Image: Connor Franta