The term BreadTube refers to the cohort of video creators on YouTube that creates smart, savvy, and entertaining content on socialist, communist, and anarchist themes, focusing predominantly on left-wing perspectives. There is no central structure or overseeing organisation; rather, it’s the shared ideology that connects these creators. Their videos heavily employ feminist, queer, intersectional, radical, and progressive notions. The majority of the content creators are members of the LGBTQIA+ community, with trans women Abigail Thorn, Kat Blaque, and Natalie Wynn among the most prolific ones.
The videos usually involve two types; one where a talking point is explained, analysed and debunked. Another type is an explanatory video with a general aim. Their content also generates significant discussion on YouTube and Reddit. It should be noted that the right-wing’s presence on YouTube is pervasive, with videos on conspiracy theories, xenophobic fear-mongering, and misogynistic fury, that have been viewed, shared and endorsed by millions.
Prominent LeftTube creators
Some creators have emerged among the most influential figures in online progressive activism on issues of gender and sexuality. Abigail Thorn’s inspiration for Philosophy Tube was to provide free Philosophy lessons in the wake of the 2012 increase in British tuition fees. She publicly came out as a transgender woman in January 2021 with the video ‘Identity: A Trans Coming Out Story’ which has been considered a crucial moment in the discussion of identity in the context of transgender issues on the internet. The video also promptly discusses healthcare access, lack of elected transgender representatives, political autonomy, and emancipation through radical social change and legal rights.
Natalie Wynn, a social commentator, entertainer and video essayist was described by The Verge as “the Oscar Wilde of the internet”. Wynn’s channel Contrapoints (an abbreviation for ‘controversial points’), is a mix of academia, theatre, and social commentary through skits that include iconic characters, distinct style with campy lighting, makeup, and wig styling. Wynn’s work includes video essays on pronouns, “Transtrenders”, gender criticality, and voting. Her most discussed video essay is ‘Canceling’, which highlights the politics of cancel culture and J.K. Rowling, and decodes the inherent bigotry and transphobia in Rowling’s work and tweets.
Brewis, who identifies as bisexual runs the channel Hbomberguy, where he mixes topics of television and film with video games, highlighting left wing perspectives while consistently responding to conspiracies, alt-right, and anti-feminist arguments. His most well-received work is on understanding climate denial. Lindsay Ellis, who also identifies as bisexual, created her eponymous channel where she focuses more on media and cultural analysis, bringing academic rigour to her discussion of film theory. Ellis explains aspects of film theory using Michael Bay’s Transformers series, while incorporating elements of Marxism, feminism, the concept of the male gaze, and queer theory. She also created the video ‘Tracing The Roots of Pop Culture Transphobia’.
Kat Blaque and the White LeftTube
Black, trans YouTuber Kat Blaque has started conversations around the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality, bringing in a much needed intersectional approach in a very white space. Black women creators like Tee Noir, Intelexual Media, Khadija Mbowe, and nappyheadedjojoba also have been commenting upon the dominant white politics of LeftTube. Kat Blaque has also noted in her video ‘Why is ‘LeftTube’ So White?’ that audiences received her content better once approved by majorly white LeftTubers. She lamented that “a lot of white people will only believe that racism exists when a white person tells them that” and vehemently criticised prominent LeftTubers for not addressing white nationalism through their work.
She has also struggled through harassment by right-wing trolls. Blaque’s videos are very accessible, highlighting everyday transgender issues and queer politics. Her segment, True Tea, centres around questions that viewers have about racism, transphobia, black culture, and polyamory among many subjects related to gender and sexuality. Her videos have been a part of educational tools in classrooms and she has been featured on websites like Everyday Feminism and The Huffington Post, bridging the gap between YouTube and the mainstream media.
The Accessibility of YouTube
The video essay makes the work of LeftTubers more accessible to people outside of academia. Making such videos is a full-time job as they have to be researched, adequate with references and citations, fact-checked, scripted, and edited with high production values. Although YouTube’s algorithm is a constant struggle, there is also a sense of community where LeftTubers constantly cite, recommend, retweet, promote, and support each other.
Many creators were formerly academics. Wynn and Thorn both studied Philosophy and now they explain these complex ideas in a simplified manner. They also support accessible education and recognise the increasing exclusivity and commercialisation of education in the world that makes access to it so difficult. In a pandemic-ridden world, where most of the education was being accessed in an online manner, content by these social commentators has been immensely helpful.
One very crucial thing to remember here is that the media only portrays LeftTube as being heavily involved in the process of de-radicalisation of far-right youth. The media has failed to cover the trasngender issues raised by content creators like Wynn. In fact, Wynn has also pointed out that the media sees her as a rehabilitation centre for de-radicalising white men with no prominent focus on her work on trans issues or how the LGBTQIA+ audience views her work. It’s our responsibility to take in the work by these creators as entry points and further educate ourselves by researching the work done by others. Thorn also said to the LGBT Foundation in the UK, “Any good I’ve done as an ally has come about through sharing ideas that trans people themselves have already crafted. Listen to them, not me!”
LeftTube is a prominent tool for spreading left-wing political ideas in a space dominated by the alt-right. The peculiarity lies in the social location of the content creators who, through their lived experiences, provide a much-needed queer, radical, inclusive, and feminist perspective. The creative video essays introspectively ask the viewer why they believe in certain things. Through its separation from academia, it initiates better accessibility and affordability to engage with a wide range of political discussions, while highlighting the faults within fascism, capitalism and neoliberalism.