In the age of social media, anyone seems to be able to rise to fame. Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Vine and YouTube have enabled people from all backgrounds to share their narratives with the world.
Oscar Morales and Kyra Sivertson uploaded their first video to their joint YouTube account, OKbaby, on May 17, 2015. They were 18 years old, expecting their first child and dealing with the challenges many teen parents face, such as finishing high school and finding financial stability. At the time, Morales worked at a warehouse.
Over the past year, Morales and Sivertson have uploaded over 500 videos and amassed more than 800,000 subscribers depicting the reality of teen parenthood in their daily vlogs. They are now full time YouTubers, living off of the money they make from brand deals and advertisements. Their son, Levi, is 15 months old, and their second child is due in February. Levi’s birth, first words and first steps have been immortalized on YouTube for the world to see.
In comparison to television shows about teen parenthood such as MTV’s “Teen Mom” series (2009-present), there is something refreshing about OKbaby. In the world of reality television, producers and television executives choose how stories are told. Often, dramatic subplots are forced and dialogue seems scripted. On YouTube, Morales and Sivertson are free to tell their own story in exactly the way they wish.
This is not to say that OKbaby is a completely organic artistic endeavor. At the end of the day, Morales and Sivertson have the same goal as television executives: to gain greater viewership. Often, the flashy titles and thumbnails for an OKbaby video make its contents seem more dramatic than they really are. For example, in the thumbnail of a video entitled “Scary Bath Accident,” Levi appears to be drowning in a tub. This thumbnail is taken from a split-second of footage when Levi’s head goes underwater during his bath. Oscar immediately picks him up and nothing particularly disastrous or scary happens. Many YouTubers use this tactic, known as “clickbaiting,” to draw attention to their content.
The best moments in OKbaby videos are those that show how human and vulnerable Sivertson and Morales are. At times, the duo comes across as incredibly childish, like when they pull pranks on each other or go sledding at 4 a.m. Other times, their videos depict extreme maturity, like when they comfort Levi as he experiences a night terror.
The channel also exposes the difficulty of maintaining a romantic relationship while handling the responsibilities of parenthood. Sivertson and Morales often bicker over household chores and other minor problems. In one video, they discuss how difficult it is to find time to spend together alone as a couple. It can be easy to make life seem perfect on social media, so it is refreshing that they are open about these struggles.
Growing up in the spotlight already seems to be having subtle effects on Levi. Footage on the OKbaby channel shows him playing with his parents’ camera and pointing it at his face as if he is recording himself. This raises a question: How does being constantly surrounded by camera lenses affect a child’s development? Because daily vlogging is such a recent phenomenon, it is too soon to see how this will shape Levi as a person.
It is fascinating to see how technology is changing the concept of fame. A contract with MTV is no longer necessary to get a story out into the world — all one needs is a camera, a YouTube channel and perhaps some video editing software. It will be interesting to see how channels like OKbaby will further influence entertainment as we know it.