Identity in video-blog mediated narratives

Maximiliane Frobenius

Universität des Saarlandes, Germany


In this paper, I explore the construction of identity in narratives by bloggers on the video platform “youtube”.

This genre-bound investigation aims at the particular features involved in speech on video blogs (vlogs). Most vloggers film themselves with no one else around. Later this footage is uploaded to the internet, free for anyone to watch. Since there is no real time communication (as is the case in chat/video-chat), most vlogs are characterized by their monologic nature. Identity is therefore not elicited in a joint production in conversation, but in a one person performance – planned beforehand to an unknown degree.

My paper explores examples like the one below, where the speaker interrupts the story to address his viewers directly and correct a detail about the choice of vocabulary in a particular social setting.

(1) Zipster: and we’re still like

you frikkin asshole

you frikkin-

ah we weren’t even saying frikking

cause hello

it’s rock’n’roll


yeah (and then)

they actually pulled Iggy off

The (mock-) reproachful “hello” alludes to the (viewers’) expected socio-cultural knowledge about the language of the rock’n’roll milieu in the mid seventies. This self-correction, which Zipster uses to take a stance, aligns him with the rock’n’roll scene. With no direct, spoken viewer response expected by the speaker, the identification with the setting extends over to the audience: by addressing the audience, Zipster acts as if this point could be challenged, though it is perfectly clear to him that it can’t.

In another example the speaker again addresses the viewers directly, this time making assumptions about the reactions he expects in the (written) comments below the video.

(2) Zipster: and he’s all about you know you superficial a-hole and

which hello I know I’m gonna get a lot of comments saying

yeah you’re a superficial a-hole

Zipster hypothetically disaligns himself from this not yet existant reaction, defending his position in the continuation of the story, creating the image of someone who stands by what he did over 30 years ago. Interestingly, this reaction he claims to expect is not realistic – neither now that the comments actually exist, nor was it ever realistic to expect them to be critical (I am judging from a range of earlier videos by this user and the comments that were made by viewers). Thus, making assumptions about these comments must be part of a scheme for Zipster to disalign himself in the first place.

My paper investigates bloggers’ construction of identity with respect to their audiences, paying particular attention to the technical restriction of this computer mediated genre as opposed to face to face communication. As bloggers deliberately choose to videotape stories and make this material available to the whole world, thus engaging in a form of communication that forces them to present themselves in a certain way, identity is a salient issue in the investigation of narratives in video blogs.

Session: Paper session
Digital Language 2
Friday, April 4, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 01