For millions of young people today, YouTube videos have all but replaced traditional television programming. Taking the place of TV actors kids once looked up to, YouTube features content creators who host channels where subscribers can view their videos.
Several of these content creators have become a new DIY breed of internet celebrity who have turned their channels into a career. With enough views, a YouTube video can turn a considerable profit for its creator.
Frederic Chen, a senior at Moorestown High School, is one such creator. Since starting his YouTube channel ThatMidgetAsian three years ago, Chen quit his part-time job at Wegmans and now makes considerably more with his videos than he ever had working a register at the grocery chain.
Chen is among the first generation to grow up on YouTube and remembers looking up to the people he saw making videos and gaining a following. Like many young viewers on YouTube, the draw for Chen was that, unlike most television programs, he could watch people like him.
“I always looked up to them as a kid because I thought, ‘these are my role models.’ I never saw someone that was Asian or gay in mainstream media. There were people that were that on YouTube and I could see them and saw they had a following, they made really good content that I enjoyed,” said Chen.
Chen chose to call his channel ThatMidgetAsian as a reference to names he was called in third grade. He recalls being unaware that he was being teased when classmates called him these names until a teacher pulled him aside to talk about the bullying. At that moment, Chen decided to take some of the power out of the teasing by embracing the names and using them for himself. Since then, he has used the same handle for most of his social media profiles.
When he began making YouTube videos, Chen was facing a big move from South Carolina to New Jersey. Anxious about the change, his original goal was to make enough money through the site to prevent his parents from moving.
What he didn’t know at that early stage in his career was that turning a profit on YouTube takes time, at least more time than the three months he had before the move. Despite his inability to change his circumstances in that first year, Chen stuck with his content creation, this time with a new goal in mind.
“I wanted to be that role model for someone else who was younger than me and can’t find that same person I was looking for,” said Chen.
Today, his channel has amassed 248,000 subscribers. His most popular videos have reached over 800,000 views.
The majority of the content he posts are video logs (vlogs) he describes as comedy/lifestyle videos, often focusing on different things going on in his life. According to Chen, his target audience includes anyone who feels like they don’t belong.
Although he has been recognized by the occasional fan in public, Chen tends not to advertise his internet fame to people outside of his immediate group of friends.
“No one at school has ever publicly come up to me and asked, ‘Are you ThatMidgetAsian?,’ but I have gotten DMs (direct messages) saying ‘I can’t believe you go to my school.’ I guess they feel like it’s inappropriate or awkward, but I really couldn’t care less. I think it’s amazing that someone is even aware of me like that,” said Chen.
This being Chen’s senior year, his most recent videos have revolved around milestones typical of someone in that particular stage of life. A class project he completed the night before its due date was the subject of a vlog that earned him 75,000 views. His recent senior trip to Disney World became a two-part vlog series that together have been viewed over 100,000 times.
Chen plans to attend New York University and chronicled the ups and downs of his college search for his viewers.
“It’s one of the most stressful things you can do,” said Chen.
His drive to share this experience with others goes back to his goal of giving people his age and younger someone to look to who reflects things they are going through or will go through themselves.
“The least you can do is let them know that you’re not alone in this. If they can’t find someone who is in the same boat as them, they feel like they are the outsider, and I just want to assure them that you’re definitely not. Everyone goes through stress in high school,” said Chen.