4 Theories To Explain Those Awful YouTube Motivational Videos
If you have never heard of Dhar Mann, you are either in for a real treat, or you will curse me for the rest of your life for bringing it to your attention. Mann's main YouTube channel puts out four short films each and every week, and these videos are all meant to be inspirational morality plays that are very much in the vein of old-school educational videos and after-school specials. And let me tell you, these videos are *whew* something.
Everything about Dhar Mann's videos, the way they are written, acted, and produced, is hypnotically cringe. These short films aren't even the "so bad they're good" kind of bad. They're something beyond that. So, after pinching my nose and jumping feet first down this rabbit hole, I have re-emerged with some fan(?) theories that might help make sense of this insane cinematic universe Dhar Mann has created ...
Consider The Source
So, who is Dhar Mann? Well, a recent New York Times article does go into some detail about his various careers, albeit with some pretty heavy turd-polishing on his past misadventures. For example, he's introduced in the article as being a "serial entrepreneur," which is not as great a flex as some people like to think it is. Put the word serial before any job title: Serial lawyer, serial groundskeeper, serial pharmacist … Does it sound like those people are good at their jobs? "Serial entrepreneur" seems like code for "I get sued … a lot."
In 2010, Mann co-founded weGrow, a hydroponics equipment company that aimed to become the "Walmart of weed." A year later, weGrow went belly up, and Mann's business partner Derek Peterson started filing lawsuits against Mann over unpaid debts and accusing him of running a "f--king hydroponzi scheme." Mann successfully countersued and won a cash settlement as well as stock in Peterson's new competing weed business. Not sure if receiving forced partial ownership of a company founded solely to spite you will be a huge moneymaker, but go off king.
The year after that, Mann was charged with 13 counts of felony fraud for allegedly cheating the city of Oakland's redevelopment program out of $44,000 for renovations on his properties that never took place. It was later reduced to five counts, to which Mann pled "no contest" and was sentenced to five years probation, ordered to pay restitution, plus a $10,000 fine.
In 2015, Mann met his now-fiancée, and the two founded LiveGlam, a monthly makeup subscription service that appears to be rated quite favorably among people who have enough time on their hands to write online reviews. In 2018, Dhar Mann started to upload motivational videos to his YouTube channel. Not the scripted dramas he's known for today, just him speaking to the camera about the importance of never giving up on your goals and believing in yourself.
Mann likes to say that when he started posting these videos that he "didn't know you could make money from content." Riiiiiight. Something tells us he's not the kind of guy who takes up any hobby without it having a substantial return on investment.
But now that his videos have brought him fame and fortune, he now lists his primary occupation as "motivational speaker," and yes, you can find out how to book Dhar Mann for speaking engagements through his website. Being a success guru or a motivational speaker is extremely lucrative. There's big money in being able to charge people money to hear how they too can be successful if they just think like a winner. But when you really break down what these gurus are saying, they're really not offering any wisdom that you couldn't find by opening a fortune cookie or browsing Wayfair for inspirational throw pillows.
So there's one theory to explain these videos: He's eventually gonna use them to sell a book he wrote. Then he's gonna start a series of seminars based on that book that will tease more secrets to success that will be revealed in the seminar based on his next book, and so on and so forth until the sun collapses in on itself.
For Sociopaths, By Sociopaths
Dhar Mann's motto, which he always states at the end of each of his videos, is "We're not just telling stories, we're changing lives." That's a great slogan, and it sounds like a noble mission; however, it's hard to tell exactly what kind of people he's reaching out to here. Take this video, for example …
Okay, strap in … The wife has some amazing news to tell her husband, but he cuts her off to hand her divorce papers. He's just fed up with the way she's been treating him lately. She was disgusted by the meal he cooked her last week. She totally overreacted when he told her she looked like she was putting on weight. She pushed him away when he wanted to get close. All he ever wanted was to have a kid, and this is how she treats him?!? So, he started sleeping with her best friend Megan a few days ago.
But before she signs the divorce papers, she must inform him that the reason she's been recently acting like this is that she was pregnant! He desperately tries to backpedal, but it's too late. She places her wedding ring on the table without signing the papers. Fade to Dhar Mann thanking us for watching, and he hopes we "loved that message about how it's during your bad times that someone's true colors are revealed." The end.
Hold up … he caused her bad times by showing his true colors because he blamed her for causing his bad times because he thought she was showing her true colors, which made his bad times even worse when she showed-- WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!? If you liked that, you'll love this video that's suspiciously similar:
Dhar Mann has written nearly every one of these videos, and they all tend to follow the same formula: Characters that are somehow less than one-dimensional learning valuable life lessons through cruel irony and/or intense shaming. It's always an arrogant jerk being put in their place by a sanctimonious prick. It's like The Twilight Zone for people who tip their servers with church flyers. The only thing deep about these videos is Dhar Mann's taste in V-neck shirts.
Who's to say exactly why Dhar Mann writes his stories this way, but a lot of writers have a tendency to gravitate towards characters that reflect a part of themselves. John Grisham writes about Southern lawyers because he used to work as a lawyer in the South. Stephen King loves writing about authors from Maine because that's where he keeps his haunted typewriter. George R.R. Martin is a 5,000-year-old cursed warlock. These tropes exist because it's the easiest way for the author to get into that headspace. Mann wouldn't be going back to the well this often for spoiled, cheating, rude, scamming antagonists or vengeful, holier-than-thou protagonists if he didn't see a part of himself in them.
What's even scarier are the people out there who Mann is trying to reach with these life lessons. No one could possibly watch these videos and think, "Oh, so that's what I've been doing wrong all this time …" because anyone who's that far gone is either already doing 25-to-life or is too busy getting slapped into next week.
These Videos Are Made Strictly For The Algorithms
Another important thing to consider about Dhar Mann's videos is that everything about them appears to be designed to get the absolute most out of each online platform's algorithms. It all boils down to engagement; how many subscribers/followers you have, likes, comments, shares, etc. A dip in any category greatly affects how much money one stands to earn. These algorithms have grown so complex over the years that they're now sorta like the Riddle of the Sphinx or a no parking sign in Midtown Manhattan: If you are able to decipher it, your name will go down as legend.
Dhar Mann is particularly proud of his view count: Over 27 billion and counting. That sounds impressive, but let's put that in perspective. That's the view count from his Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and 12 YouTube channels combined over the past three years. And it's all the same content repurposed for each platform, as well as behind-the-scenes videos, extended cuts, compilations, and the same videos dubbed into multiple languages. Not even Disney would try to re-package the same thing this many times.
But view counts are really only important to the content creator's ego and the almighty algorithm. There's no way to prove anyone actually watched the whole video. Dhar Mann's videos are set up to maximize that view count, and a quick search seems to indicate that YouTube counts each view after the video has played for at least 30 seconds. So whatever schadenfreude the video's title promises, the trigger gets pulled right around that half-minute mark to keep people engaged just long enough for it to count. If the title reads "Lady Calls Cops On Black Man," Karen is pulling that phone out of her purse at 00:29. "Scammer Fakes Being Hit By Car"? Someone yells "CALL 9-1-1!" at 00:30. The pacing of these plot points is so precisely formulaic you could almost use it to calibrate a Rolex.
As emotionally exploitative as Dhar Mann's videos might be, since they contain no foul language or violence, they are considered family-friendly enough for maximum monetization. The algorithm labels these videos as wholesome in the same way that people say Oreos are vegan. On a very flimsy technicality, that may be true, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's healthy for mass consumption.
Dhar Mann is making some serious bank on these videos. But, when you stop to ponder how much money he's making for putting this much effort into this little actual substance, you either want to weep for the future of mankind or want to punch the ever-living crap out of your high school guidance counselor.
This Is All One Really Long Movie
Another pattern in Dhar Mann's videos is that they all look the same. He re-casts the same actors over and over again and often uses areas of his company's office building as sets. That's why every kitchen in his movies looks like a break room, and every living room gives off the vibe of a receptionist's area that's trying way too hard to feel "relaxing."
Mann's obviously taking a cue from Roger Corman. With more than 500 films over 60 years, Corman would often film multiple movies simultaneously with the same cast using the same sets to get the most bang for his buck. He would even commission a script for a new movie just to have something to shoot while he had extra time left at a location. Corman's films were low-budget, and he stretched every dollar he could. The joke around Hollywood was that Corman could negotiate the production of a film on a payphone, shoot the film in the phone booth, and finance it with the money in the change slot.
But one cue Dhar Mann didn't take from Corman was to at least try to make each movie feel different. Watch more than one of his movies in a row, and you'll probably see a different story take place in the same place with the same actors as before, and the storylines can tend to blur together. You'd think that guy making fun of the single mom would have more sympathy for her situation, seeing as we just saw his wife die of cancer. Okay, lady, you're gonna mock that guy at the bar for being poor after you couldn't hold down a babysitting gig? Get over yourself.
Or, what if that's a feature, not a bug? What if these are the same characters, just at different times? That means they never seem to learn their lesson and are doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again while also trying to shame other people who are eventually gonna fail as well. That must mean … no, it can't be …
These stories all take place in hell, and Dhar Mann has been playing Satan this whole time! I'm sure Dhar Mann will absolutely rebuke this idea, in which case: Hey, buddy! Thanks for reading! Really looking forward to this article getting shoehorned into one of your plots about dealing with haters or getting cyberbullied or whatever. Is there any way you could get the evil boss guy to play me? No, not that one. Nope, not him either. Or him. The other one! Oh, forget it.
This theory explains everything. That's why every scenario feels so contrived, and everyone's line delivery is so half-hearted. They're bogged down by the overwhelming ennui of knowing that their souls are damned for eternity, and the only peace they receive is when the scene fades to Dhar Mann's proselytizing about the real lesson they should have learned! Maybe next time, they'll get to be the good guy, but even that involves a specific level of soul-wrenching agony.
This also explains why Dhar Mann has been starting himself into the dramas in these weird "Oh, look everyone, it's YouTube superstar Dhar Mann!" cameo appearances. The souls are starting to get complacent with their torment, so the Devil must show up to remind everyone to keep themselves busy, or else they're all gonna take turns getting fat-shamed by the mean girls next month!
Also, Dhar Mann, if you decide to go this route, we expect a cut of the ad revenue.
When Dan Fritschie isn’t torturing himself writing about weird crap he finds on YouTube, he can occasionally be seen performing stand-up somewhere. You can find him on Twitter HERE.
Top Image: Dhar Mann