“How-To” and Beyond
Given its size as a genre, I believe that the “how-to” video has indeed grown large enough to become “meta,” and as a result, has a complex future ahead of it. The “how-to” video, taken simply at face value, is timeless: people will always need others to show them how to do things, especially as the digital world burgeons. At the same time, one can find on YouTube a substantial sub-genre of “how-to” videos that are parodies of the typical template. These parodies are metaphysically minded because they acknowledge the standard template of the “how-to” and then deviate in terms of content. YouTube videos like “How to Touch an Apple to a Wall,” for example, hilariously highlight the rough-cut nature of the how-to, while all the while maintaining its normal template of setting up a thing that people might have trouble with, and then showing how to do it through a step-by-step process.
The most important thing about the “how-to” genre is that it has always been bigger than YouTube. As I noted in my last entry, it started this way (manuals are one example), and in my opinion will continue to exist outside of it, with its YouTube medium as just one facet. Movies entitled “How to Train Your Dragon (2010)” or books entitled “How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936)” highlight this idea perfectly. And both show where the “how-to” genre will continue to go: everywhere. The fact that this genre exists across so many mediums is what keeps it from being boring.
At the same time, there are no limits to a “how-to’s” meta qualities. When something starts to become meta and therefore, somewhat self reflexive, there’s also the potential for it to become self aware of its own self-reflexivity. Sometimes this can be done well, other times it ends up baffling the audience. Was the video a parody or serious? Was it trying to hard? In some ways, these pose as dangers for the “how-to” parody.
In the end, I see the YouTube genre of “how-to” videos being a “root” of its own. They have their own unique style and given the increasing usage of “viral” video inspired advertisements, their edgy rough style may already influence commercials today. Perhaps there may be a return to roots in the near future, but for now, the YouTube “how-to” is rising from the feet up.