Courtesy of Hannah Carapellotti

Whether you’re into YouTubers from the golden era or a new TikToker who’s pushing the boundaries of creativity and expression, the internet has something for everyone. The Digital Culture writers want to take a moment to give thanks to the people who have created each juicy piece of internet-ainment we’ve watched over the years. In paying homage to the creators who have helped us grow, inspired our own creative endeavors or even just provided some comfort in a time of need, we hope that we can pay forward just a bit of the goodness they gave to us. 

In preparation for writing this article, I did something I haven’t done since I was 15 — I scrolled through Tyler Oakley’s YouTube channel. Unsurprisingly, in each of his older videos, he sports a different flashy hair color in the thumbnail, something he was well known for at the time. It had been so long since I’d seen any of his content, and yet the little red bar at the bottom of my screen marked my progress watching some of my old favorites. I clicked on one — the Disney Challenge, featuring British YouTuber Zoella. Hearing the familiar ukulele music and classic intro — “Hello everyone, my name is Tyler Oakley” — felt more comforting than I had expected.

Oakley is a Michigan native — he was born in Jackson, grew up in Okemos and attended Michigan State University for college. Oakley has been around on the internet almost as long as YouTube itself, uploading his first videos during his freshman year at MSU in 2007. Since then, he has interviewed major celebrities, started a podcast, had a bit of a reality TV stint, was featured in Forbes’s “30 Under 30” and even wrote a book. I was introduced to him at arguably the peak of his internet fame and I have loved him ever since.

I most often watched Oakley’s collaborations with other YouTubers, both on his channel and theirs. In this era of YouTube, it seemed like everyone was friends with everyone. Being a huge Disney fan myself, the Disney Challenge competitions were right up my alley. Other favorites included the Tumblr Tag with fellow creator-turned-popstar Troye Sivan, the Tarantula Tag, in which Oakley and friend Connor Franta faced their fear of spiders, a drunken explanation of “the birds and the bees” featuring Mamrie Hart and inhaling helium with Marcus Butler (that video makes me crack up to this day). Oakley has an infectious smile and an even more infectious laugh. His positive energy and wholesome content kept me watching. 

Arguably one of Oakley’s most valuable contributions to the internet is his activism. Being openly gay, he has spent most of his career advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and working closely with The Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on preventing suicide among LGBTQ+ youth. Some of his accomplishments include establishing Gay-Straight Alliance clubs in small-town high schools and an annual series he calls “Chosen Family,” which airs during Pride Month and “celebrates the LGBTQ+ experience.” Being a sheltered Catholic school girl, I knew what being gay meant, but that’s where my knowledge stopped. I will admit, I only watched Oakley’s videos because he was funny and I thought he was cute. But it’s because of his content that my understanding grew, and realizing how he turned his own journey to acceptance into a way to give back to others made me admire him more. Not to mention, mental health is an important issue to me, and his work with the Trevor Project in particular is greatly appreciated. I may not consider myself a part of the LGBTQ+ community, but it’s easy to see how the positive way in which he uses his platform benefits his fans who are. 

My transition to high school had just begun when I first discovered Oakley’s channel. Here was someone unapologetically being himself: energetic, goofy and perfectly comfortable sharing all of that online with millions of people. My friends from junior high and I were just as unapologetically quirky, but all of the new transitions I had to make, like meeting all kinds of new people and getting used to a tougher academic workload, made me more shy and introverted. I felt at peace watching Oakley’s videos because of his authenticity, and I eventually made friends with a few classmates who loved him as much as I did.

The peak of this parasocial relationship came in 2015, when Oakley published his book.

In a collection of essays called “Binge,” he tells stories about growing up and early fame that he hadn’t shared previously in any videos. As a part of this release he also went on a book tour, and came to a Books-A-Million location in his hometown of Okemos. My dad stood in line for hours to get me a voucher for a signed copy of the book and a chance to meet Oakley. The day of the signing, a friend and I (along with Sister Mary and my mom) stood in a line that wrapped around the entire bookstore waiting to meet one of my favorite celebrities. I don’t think I properly comprehended what I had gotten myself into, but by the time I reached the front of the line I was completely starstruck. We hugged and the only words I could get out were “nice to meet you” before we posed for the world’s most awkward picture (shown above), but the excitement on my face is clearly visible. I still have that signed copy and don’t plan on getting rid of it any time soon. 

As I got used to being a high schooler, my time and attention drifted to other activities. I stopped watching YouTube as regularly, not out of a lack of interest but because I already had plenty on my plate. I still checked in on Oakley from time to time, even in my freshman year at MSU (following in a certain someone’s footsteps?). I was shocked at first when I learned that he was taking a break from posting on his personal channel, until it occurred to me that he’d been uploading weekly videos for over a decade. Now I’m surprised he waited this long to take time off. But he’s not gone completely — nowadays he streams daily on Twitch and posts highlights on a side gaming channel. I may not be his prime demographic anymore, but I still giggled watching him play Animal Crossing. That laugh, I tell you…

Part of growing up is figuring out who you are and where you belong. In junior high and high school, I had that down. But after a not-so-seamless move to college and a two-year pandemic, sometimes I still struggle with letting my true personality shine through. Revisiting Oakley’s videos healed my inner child, in a way. While I wouldn’t consider myself nearly as “unhinged” (thank god), I feel like I’m beginning to find my people here at the University of Michigan that will let me get excited about the things that make me happy, or rant when I’m upset. I’m glad that Oakley was there to help me grow up, and I know where I can find him whenever I need a good laugh.

Daily Arts Writer Hannah Carapellotti can be reached at