5 Reasons You Should Totally Hate Unboxing Videos
Unboxing videos seem like yet another weird fad the kids are into these days, like Fortnite or demanding fair political representation. There's no in-depth product review, there's no exploring cool ways to use the shiny new toy -- it's just a lighthearted reboot of "What's in the box?" That's all well and good ... until, like any hobby, it becomes sleazy and weird.
People Will Film Themselves Unboxing Anything. Anything
The appeal of unboxing videos is that of watching someone unwrap a Christmas present. It's a ritual. Someone you like -- whose personality you find compelling -- is opening something that's going to bring them joy. There might be an element of surprise if the product's contents are random (like a Kinder Egg), or an element of wish fulfillment if it's an indulgence you can't afford for yourself. But absolutely none of that applies when you're unboxing a goddamn menstrual cup.
There's not exactly a compelling sense of mystery when the box is built to visibly present the product. But at least they eventually get into useful discussions about menstrual health after several minutes of desperate filler to reach a runtime that YouTube's algorithms approve of. The same can't be said for the people who unbox ferret supplies.
We don't get product quality analysis, or any ferret care tips. We don't even get to see cute ferrets enjoying their new toys, as though we wouldn't waste the entire workday watching that. It's nothing but 15 minutes of "Hey, here's what I ordered on Amazon," presented with all the enthusiasm of the guy on the bus who's not picking up that he's having an extremely one-sided conversation with you.
You can find videos like this for any product you care to name. Want to watch people unbox their IVF meds while awkwardly giving you their entire medical history? Sure thing, reader who probably has someone locked in their attic!
And hey, if the treatments go well, they can move on to unboxing diapers.
Spoiler alert: There are diapers inside! Pampers doesn't actually manufacture Crackerjack-style boxes where you might get toys or formula or, if you're really lucky, a live baby. No matter how much dramatic western music or insipid commentary you add, the diaper box will always contain diapers.
There's an old joke about how if someone is entertaining enough, you could listen to them read the phone book. Unboxers have taken that lesson to heart without bothering to stop and think through the "entertaining" part. But there's another, sneakier reason that people are unboxing literally every product ever made ...
These Videos Are Being Used As Shameless Marketing Tools
The most successful unboxers (a phrase that would have sounded like gibberish a decade ago) make millions of dollars in ad revenue and paid public appearances. Yes, there are people out there making more money than you will ever know for confirming that their box of Froot Loops contains Froot Loops.
And that's a dream scenario for corporations. Television ads don't reach families that have cut cable, and everyone ignores ads on YouTube and Hulu. But there's now a huge population of people who will happily sit down and watch hours of what are essentially commercials. It's like those old infomercial channels, but accessible anywhere, and someone else makes the ads for you. Don Draper's erection upon learning of all this would be titanic.
Some unboxers are upfront about the fact that their products were gifted to them by sponsors, while others explicitly state that their content isn't sponsored. Viewers can be assured that their loving breakdowns of overpriced clothes and unnecessary kitchen knickknacks they'll never use, delivered to them via rush shipping by an environmentally disastrous hell company that exploits its workers with the raw brutality of a totalitarian government, are genuine endorsements.
So don't worry, "UNBOXING MY BIGGEST AMAZON HAUL YET!" does not officially endorse any product or service.
But there's a far more dubious grey area where, thanks to a little legal chicanery, videos that are essentially sponsored don't have to be marked as such. As long as there's no written agreement or exchange of money, a company can just send an unboxer free merchandise, and they can, in a wild coincidence, talk with incredible enthusiasm about the product that happened to fall in their laps. Being on PR mailing lists is YouTube's extremely dumb version of having street cred -- it's a sign that people care about you. And if endorsing a product gets you free shit and more views, while critiquing a product only gets you blacklisted from receiving free stuff, which route would you take?
Sure, some unboxers are in it for the love of opening up their 14 smartphones, but if someone seems happier about their new towels than you were on your wedding day there's probably a good reason for that.
There are also situations like "Force Friday," an 18-hour Star Wars toy unboxing marathon. It was set up to advertise The Force Awakens, so that kids could be regaled with all the shit they'd bug their parents to buy before they even saw the movie and sweaty nerds could get a head start on complaining about a magical fantasy world in which someone could wield an ancient laser sword despite lacking a space penis. It featured all the big unboxing stars, and while that's obviously a shameless commercial venture to adults, it's not clear to the kids who love to get parked in front of these videos for hours. Speaking of which ...
There's A Whole Genre Of Unboxing Videos Targeting Toddlers
So here's an unboxing video by FunToys Collector Disney Toys Review (not her real name) with the crime-against-English-but-search-engine-friendly title of "Angry Birds Toys Surprise Jake NeverLand Pirates and SpongeBob Eggs." It has 111 million views. For context, this Ariana Grande single "only" managed 90 million views.
Who in the shit is watching that? Toddlers are, and they're watching them repeatedly. Bright colors, happy music, a soothing voice, and cheap toys -- what's not to like in a day that otherwise revolves around eating, shitting, and napping? FunToys Collector Disney Toys Review (or FTCDTR to her friends) pumps out around ten videos a week. Recent hits include "SURPRISE Toys Baby Born LOL Peppa Pig Pop Up Vampirina Kinder egg" and, of course, the beloved "35 Surprise Eggs Disney Frozen Dragon PJ Masks Kinder Huevos Sorpresa."
Other than the embarrassment of loading up on poop emoji swag at Walmart, these videos cost almost nothing to make. YouTube (and the internet in general) doesn't care how you get attention as long as you get a lot of it, so hundreds of millions of toddlers watching the same Peppa Pig toy being revealed ad nauseum means more money than many of the people reading this make. The star of one channel, Fluffy Jet Toys, even employs two full-time staff members to help him pump this crap out.
Unboxing videos have also played their role in establishing the weird YouTube marketplace of insane robots making endless repetitive clips of headless cartoon characters belting out broken nursery rhymes while random baby sounds play for the amusement of children and the unsettled "Am I about to be dragged to hell?" vibe of adults.
The good news is that toddlers getting hooked on these things is no weirder than whatever goofy cartoon or book they were fixated on in the past. The sense of anticipation provides the nice brain chemicals that we all look for in life, and toddlers are dumb enough that seeing the exact same product revealed for the 20th time is just as fascinating as it was the first time. As long as their viewing is moderated and it's made clear that watching toys does not entitle them to have toys purchased for them, you probably don't need to start a moral panic about raising a Paw-Patrol-unboxing-obsessed monster.
Although maybe you should worry about raising them in a society in which opening children's toys all day is a more rewarding career path than, like, becoming a teacher. And if you're rolling your eyes at how easily toddlers can be entertained, keep in mind that the exact same trick works on adults. You see ...
Unboxing Videos Are Basically Materialist Porn
Many unboxing videos work because they show us someone likable having what we would love to own but will probably never get. Adults simply have different wants than the toddler mesmerized by the shiny toy. It's the same reason every action movie star wins the girl with abs you could grate cheese on, and every rom-com ends with the happy and prosperous couple starting a loving family in a gorgeous home.
If we can't have something we aspire to, the next-best thing is watching someone with nonthreatening charm have it instead. And we don't mean diapers and ferret toys anymore, but the people who are unboxing thousands of dollars' worth of Dior, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton merchandise.
The comments are full of people wishing that they could buy the same products, while congratulating the hosts on reaping the rewards of their hard work. It's a proxy for achievement. We wish we could finally be happy by owning that $6,000 Dior bag, but at least the nice lady on the internet is deigning to coo over one for us. Want to get weirder? Here are people "unboxing" their acceptance letters to Ivy League schools.
Her viewers are thrilled for her, which is adorable, but also a little weird. Why do we get so invested in the lives of people we will never meet or even know on any personal level? Well, for the same reason we get invested in pornography -- you get to experience the reward without having to put any of the work in yourself.
And if that makes us sound like hand-wringing old coots, look at how marketing professionals talk about unboxing. "It's the culmination of lust." "They are looking for some way to satiate their appetite." Those phrases could also be used to describe a serial killer, but having an attractive person tell you that you should aspire to what they have has been the basis of marketing for as long as the field's existed.
There's nothing wrong with lifestyle porn in moderation, for the same reason that there's nothing wrong with sex porn in moderation. It's nice to fantasize sometimes. But watch enough of these things, and the message becomes "You always need one more product to make you happy." Go into the comments, and it doesn't take long, amidst the waves of praise, to spot viewers who are miserable because they'll never be able to afford $1,400 shoes. And $1,400 shoes are all you need in life, right? Because shit, look at how happy the people unboxing them are.
Unboxing Videos Say A Lot Of Weird Things About Where Society's At
It's time for what you all anticipated when clicking on a comedy article about unboxing videos: postmodern philosophy! Have you ever been a little disappointed by a big purchase because, say, you realized that your brand-new $200 running shoes, while comfortable and functional, didn't magically transform you into the person in the commercials who gets up at 6 a.m. to exercise every morning? We live in a world where we struggle to distinguish between reality and the fantasy presented to us in pop culture and advertisements.
We're bombarded by ads and watch Netflix all day, so it's not exactly a shock that the lines would blur. But unboxing videos never give us a harsh reminder of that line. We never see the product being used, so we never realize that the three dozen Funko Pops that FunkoFan420 unboxed and jizzed his pants over are now gathering dust in his basement, never to be looked at again. We never get the disappointment of a product living down to reality, because we never see the reality. The heel of that $1,400 shoe that will finally give you meaning never wears out and breaks.
The products in unboxing videos are just tools for making people who seem happier than you even more happy. In reality, these things exist to serve a mundane purpose, and eventually they lose their novelty and fall apart. But in videos, they're forever shiny and perfect and capable of inducing immense joy for the ten seconds before they vanish off-camera and are never spoken of again. It's the joy of Christmas morning repeated forever. But would you really be happy if all the junk that these people were unboxing was lying around your house?
If that's too abstract for you, know that a six-year-old made (his parents) $11 million in one year through his toy unboxing videos, and we're sure he's going to grow up to have a totally normal, well-adjusted life. There is that much money in enjoying a glimpse of someone else's reality. And if you think this is just another doomed fad, keep in mind that we've now reached the point where we're making unboxing videos of monthly loot boxes designed for people who make unboxing videos.
We can think of no more disturbing indictment of modern materialist culture than- oh, shit, does that box have a shirt with Luigi and Pokemon on it? Sweet!
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