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Real Talk: Why I Hate Video Unboxers

Date: October 28 2017

By: Greg K Foley

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I’ve said it before, I’ll say it in the future and I’ll say it right now: the internet is great. It’s so great, it basically moves a lot faster than anybody knows what to do with it. Though the people creating content are at the heart of the internet, the platform’s potential is miles ahead of contemporary human thinking, and as we catch up, it simply moves faster. The problem is that human thinking hasn’t really approached the problem in a way that’s conducive to progress or improving existence.

With its ability to inform, engage and educate people, the internet could be achieving incredible things in broader society — even more incredible than what it’s already achieved — but because it’s been leveraged primarily as a platform for sales and commerce, all our best and brightest minds are being put to work finding better ways to sell shit to you rather than unlocking its potential in arguably more inspiring ways. It’s a far more complex discussion than can be covered here, but the Freakonomics podcast titled ‘Is the Internet Being Ruined?’ sheds a lot of light on the issue.

YouTube pretty much exemplifies the fundamental issue of what happens when technology moves faster than human imagination. When the service first launched ten years ago, very few people could have seen its full potential. From memory, for the first few years, both YouTube and its then-competitor Google Video were dominated by home movies, old flash clips pulled from eBaum’s World and Newgrounds, and pirated films in eye-wateringly bad quality. Music clips eventually found their way there, not always legally, and then Vevo came in and tied that whole game up. Since being bought by Google and transformed into a multi-faceted media powerhouse, YouTube now boasts everything from entertainment and memes to educational and instructional videos – the latter of which are, for the most part, brilliant.

Some of the best examples of YouTube being put to good use are when it’s being used to inform and educate. I genuinely cannot fathom how people coped as adults before YouTube was there to show you how to do all that grown-up shit you never figured would be a problem. If you’re young enough that this hasn’t happened, enjoy it. One day you’ll need to know how to replace a blown speaker or drain the sludge out of a radiator, and YouTube will be there. Likewise, product reviews for things like tech, music and films are great.

For every great idea, however, there’s a dozen terrible ones. As long as streetwear unboxing videos have existed, I have absolutely loathed them. It’s only in recent months that I’ve been able to articulate exactly why this is, and now I’ve got it sussed, I need to let it out — shouts to Sneaker Freaker for playing the role of therapist for my rant. It’s no exaggeration. I really fucking hate unboxing videos, and I hate the people that do them. If you have ever done an unboxing video and are reading this, understand me clearly. I hate you.

Demonstrational videos work so well with technology — both hardware and software — because the product is dynamic. That is to say, there’s some movement or physical action that can be demonstrated visually. This allows a prospective buyer to see the product in action and find out if it performs the way that it should. Clothes and shoes however, are static. They are lumps of fabric, leather and cotton. Beyond basics, such as zippers, buttons and laces, they do not move. There is nothing to demonstrate about these products!

Getting a pair of shoes out of a box and waving them around in front of a camera achieves nothing. As a matter of fact, it often achieves less than a still image because the photos were professionally made for the express purpose of selling products, whereas you, dear video unboxer – bless your heart – are just some guy in a bedroom with a GoPro.

"I really fucking hate unboxing videos, and I hate the people that do them. If you have ever done an unboxing video and are reading this, understand me clearly. I hate you."

There’s genuinely nothing better than watching someone pull a pair of Vans Eras out of a box and confirm that, yes, the canvas feels like canvas, the sole feels like rubber, the lining feels like lining and the print looks like a print. Extra, extra, read all about it! Shoe feels like shoe! I really cannot begin to describe how much these vacuous commentaries make me want to bash my own brains in with a claw hammer.

Hold up though, e-commerce already has this covered as well! If there’s one thing you can be sure about when it comes to buying stuff online, it’s that you’re going to be given a pretty detailed description of what the product actually is – it’s how buying stuff online works. So, when you unbox that waterproof jacket and confirm that it is indeed waterproof, has a label and comes in a plastic dustbag – you don’t sound knowledgeable or authoritative – you sound like an InfoWars-esque conspiracy theorist searching for something the sales copy on the website somehow missed. There is no magic or trickery going on. You bought something online, you were told what it would be, it is what it is, and yes, you are wasting your time and everybody else’s.

Oh, you want me to back my position up with statistics? Sure, here’s some completely non-scientific evidence that I’ve plucked out of nowhere to prove that the format is fundamentally flawed. I picked a random computer game in my head and searched ‘Witcher 3 gameplay’ on YouTube. The top video pulled 7.5 million views. I also came across ‘Supreme unboxing’ which was watched by 100,000 morons. Even accounting for the difference in audiences for gaming and streetwear, the evidence is clear. Nobody cares. If you were a TV show, you’d have been cancelled by now, and yet here you are, still talking about how an $800 pair of Yeezys don’t really feel all that special.

Of all the minor celebrities that the unboxing genre has created, Brad Hall is the only one I can name. Dressed in his inoffensive button-down shirts, vanilla slacks and wireframe glasses, ‘Brad Hall’ works conceptually because he cuts straight through the bullshit and exposes unboxing videos for what they are — awkward, uninformative and completely painful. His descriptions do little more than commentate on what we already know and his uncomfortable glances at the camera and robotic hand gestures reveal he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. And, best of all, his on-foot demonstrations, in which he stands for a few seconds completely still and deafeningly silent, prove the point that there’s no way to ‘demonstrate’ a product which is fundamentally about comfort and the way it feels on your foot.

"... the evidence is clear. Nobody cares. If you were a TV show, you’d have been cancelled by now..."

So what’s the real reason these videos exist? I’ll tell you this much; it’s got next to nothing to do with providing something of value to viewers, and everything to do with dick-measuring contests, desperate attempts to validate stupid purchases and ‘me first’ hype races. This is why so many of these videos have titles like ‘I SPENT $3500 ON SUPREME?’, ‘Unboxing $2000 worth of Heat!’ and ‘Can you believe I spent four month’s rent on sneakers and still live at home?’

The whole culture exposes itself as people spending obscene amounts of money and then trying to reverse-engineer the justification. ‘I’ll unbox it online,’ they tell themselves, ‘and that way I’m not throwing money into a pit, I’m providing a service!’ I beg of you, please return to my first point – you are providing no service to anyone whatsoever. 

I’m a child of forum threads such as ‘What Did You Wear Today?’ and ‘Latest Pick-Ups’, so I get the basic premise of sharing information with like-minded people, but the idea of dressing this up as some sort of informative service is absolute horseshit. Sitting in front of a webcam screaming about how everything is ‘sick’ and confirming that an item of clothing has stitching, labels and graphics is the epitome of vacuous. I am reminded of a product description for an item I was looking at on Grailed the other day, where the seller had helpfully confirmed the quality of a shirt as, ‘when you feel it, you know.’ It was a typically nice soundbite that tells you absolutely nothing of substance whatsoever.

One of the banes of the streetwear and fashion industry is the way it fawns over fuckwits who do absolutely nothing. I’m sure that many unboxers have great aspirations towards eventually becoming one of these fuckwits that are contacted by brands to be sent free stuff and welcomed into the upper echelons of ‘influencer’ status, where your job is to receive mail and post pictures on Instagram.

Newsflash! If you openly boast about spending hundreds of dollars on a brand on a weekly basis, why the hell would they change that dynamic in any way? Companies aren’t in the habit of stopping people from giving them lots of money. It’s kind of counter to how the whole thing works. It’s like the morons who go to Supreme’s London store every week spending stupid amounts of money and then hang around to clean up litter afterwards. I’m sure they’re nice kids, but they’re never going to be part of the Supreme Team, and Jason Dill still hasn’t invited them to his birthday party. They’re playing themselves!

During the US election campaign, someone I follow on Twitter had a one-size-fits-all response for anyone who attempted to derail her political debates – ‘Post Your Vote & Go!’ – as in, don’t drag other people into your bullshit, don’t turn your personal view into a soapbox, and don’t force people to engage with discussions against their wishes. To channel that same spirit, if you’re spending money on something because you like it, then do it. If you’re doing it in order to have new content for your YouTube channel in the hopes that it will somehow make you relevant, interesting or some sort of respected pundit in the fashion world, stop. You are achieving nothing. Buy your shit and go.

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