Britmonkey: My utopia for Britain is the Britain that the Hong Kong protestors think that we are.
Britmonkey is a British YouTuber with over 130 thousand subscribers. He makes short form documentaries on a range of topics including politics, economics, history, and culture. As a fan of his channel for a very long time, I (Christopher Winter) was fortunate enough to sit down with him for an exclusive interview with the Mallard to talk about his channel, his career, and his views.
Chris: Why did you start a YouTube channel?
Michael: So, I started it originally because I thought it would be a fun hobby. I’ve always been of the idea that you should start a hobby whilst you’re in school so that when you leave school you have a backup plan. Whilst I was at university I was working on this channel, and now that I’ve left university last year, I can just do this full time now. You’ll never have more free time then when you’re a teenager. But eventually it evolved into three key reasons:
1. To combat Amero-centrism on the internet, because Americans have a cultivated ignorance about the rest of the world, and I think they should be forced to learn about other countries. For Americans, having an accent from the UK evokes the same reaction as seeing a Unicorn. Also, because British people themselves don’t really know the stuff I cover anyway. I have friends who can talk for hours about American politics just because they watched the CGP Grey video about the electoral college and read some Wikipedia articles, but they can’t tell you anything about their own country.
2. I don’t want people to get mad about things, I want people to get curious about things. So, for example, I did a video about the economics of pears. There’s a terrible trend of people just reading headlines, getting mad about it, posting it on Twitter, and other people building their entire worldviews over that kind of stuff. It really annoys me, and instead of taking things at face value, I want people to look into things and find out why it’s the case.
3. Hopium. There is far too much negativity on the internet, and I’m an optimistic person. I want to gear my channel towards positive messaging that’s not just toxic delusion.
Chris: So in short, you hate Americans, idiots, and doomers?
Michael: Yeah pretty much.
Chris: How long do you think it took for you to find success as a YouTuber? When do you think it really took off for you?
Michael: I thought it got big in mid-2020 when I could start making money off it. That’s the ultimate goal for anyone. I was making about £30 a month at the time, which is better than a slap in the face, but you can’t really live off it. It wasn’t until one video made it really big, it was the pear economics video, and it was shared by a Twitch streamer. Within a month I’d gone from ten thousand subscribers to sixty thousand. A month after that, I had reached a hundred thousand which was great.
Chris: Did it shock you when that happened?
Michael: It was very very strange when it happened. My friends keep sending me links to places where they have seen me elsewhere on the internet. It’s been very surreal.
Chris: Where do you get the ideas for your videos?
Michael: That’s the hardest part. I spend hours pacing around my room thinking for ideas. It can be really difficult. Most of the time, it just clicks, and I’ll come up with something and that’s it. I never have a slow burning idea for a video that just forms. For example, I saw the pears photo and I just started banging out a script and had written 500 words in an hour. I know if an idea will be good or bad, but its very difficult to just find that spark. To find a video that would be interesting to me, and what would be interesting to the audience, and what would be good for the YouTube algorithm.
Chris: Do you think that YouTube is going in a positive or negative direction?
Michael: I don’t think YouTube has ever made money for google. I don’t think they will ever actually turn a profit. So, they have to make sure that the loss is as little as possible. I think this might lead to them being more money grubbing in the future as time goes on, but I’ve never really had that many problems with demonetisation and the YouTube AdSense. I’ve had a couple of problems but its not a big deal like some Youtubers make out it is. I just play by the rules, and I never really have a problem. When I do get caught, I know I’ve done something wrong. I don’t think it affects the quality of YouTube videos in general. I think were seeing a sort of renaissance of the golden age of YouTube at the moment.
Chris: What makes you think we are seeing a renaissance of that?
Michael: Just the high quality of videos we are seeing. I think back in 2018 and 2019 the quality of the videos were so poor, but I think now the quality is better. I hardly watched YouTube a few years ago but now I watch it all the time.
Chris: TikTok and outlets like that have been described as the future of media. Do you think Short form content will do to YouTube what television did to radio?
Michael: Maybe. TikTok already outperformed YouTube in terms of views last year, and I think that we will head that way as attention spans get shorter and shorter. But I don’t think YouTube will go away entirely. The same way people still go to movie theatres after the invention of TV. There will always be a place for YouTube as, if you want to upload anything over 2 minutes, you’re going to want to go to YouTube. No ones going to start uploading to daily motion.
Chris: What advice would you have for someone just getting into YouTube themselves.
Michael: People say gear [equipment] doesn’t matter but it absolutely does matter. Before I started uploading these short form documentaries, I uploaded short sketch comedy of me and my mates mucking around in a field somewhere. It wasn’t very good because the audio, video, and content quality was all so terrible. However, if you do have a decent microphone and some decent video editing software, you can do the job, and no one will notice. Up until a few months ago I was still editing videos on a computer from 2007 with photo editing software from 2005 and no one noticed. I would also say that quality is more important than quantity.
Chris: So, you have said to me before that you aren’t a conservative. How would you describe yourself politically?
Michael: It’s a funny question. I get accused of being a radical left wing socialist and a reactionary right-wing goon at the same time, sometimes in the same comment section! So, I reckon I must be pretty fair and balanced if that’s the response I’m getting. I would probably have to say that I’m a liberal without adjectives. I’ve made videos really critical of capitalism, and I’ve made videos saying that capitalism is great. I don’t take one particular side.
Chris: Your videos offer solutions to problems, and those solutions can be right or left wing. Why is that?
Michael: Like I said, don’t get mad, get curious.
Chris: So, would you describe yourself as a pragmatist in that regard?
Michael: Yeah, I think I’m more pragmatic than some people.
Chris: Do you think too many people live online?
Michael: Yes. I’ve seen it said that Twitch is talk radio for the overly online and that’s very very true. If you try to talk about internet or twitter culture with any normal person, the disconnect is so large that its almost unreal. You can end up sounding like an insane person.
Chris: Do you think that there are less normal people? Or do you think it’s the same percent?
Michael: I think it’s the same as it’s always been but I wouldn’t know, I don’t talk to many normal people anymore.
Chris: Do you think that you are too online?
Michael: I hope that I’m not, I have a very normal life and don’t spend all my time arguing on twitter or getting invested in political twitch drama over who said what. I’m just a normal person in that regard, though sometimes I do sound quite insane to my friends who aren’t as internet engaged as I am. Some of my friends get quite confused when I talk about steamed hams and how meals we’ve had were an unforgettable luncheon.
[Michael and I then proceeded to riff quotes from the Steamed Hams scene from the Simpsons for a minute].
Michael: I like to think that I’m a bit more normal than most people on the internet but I’m still a bit out there.
Chris: Do you think its good to have one foot in each side of it?
Michael: Yeah, it means I can go to parties and not sound like a complete lunatic but also enjoy things that are funny to me.
Chris: What do you think the future of your channel is?
Michael: I don’t want to make ten-minute explainer videos for the rest of my life. I want to do some live action stuff, I want to do some more in-depth stuff. I would really love to do some Louis Theroux style stuff where I would go and interview some insane idiots.
Chris: Do you predict your channel growing to a size where you can do that?
Michael: I honestly don’t know. My channel has only been this size for a few months, and it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. Am I going to hang around this number for a while? Am I going to take off even more? I don’t know.
Chris: Do you think cancel culture is something that exists, and do you think it’s a problem?
Michael: I read an interesting article about this that said that ‘you can only be cancelled by your friends’. I was reading about a left-wing woman who has used some anti-trans rhetoric and she was cast out by the left, but meanwhile on the right some people say transphobic things all the time and they never get fired or ostracised by their friends.
Chris: Do you think that being cancelled is more common amongst left wingers?
Michael: Yeah, they say that the left looks for traitors and the right looks for converts.
Chris: How do you balance your life with content creation?
Michael: Right now, I work every day. I think after coronavirus I will never have this much free time again, so I’m very busy at the moment. After I make some content, I schedule it for the future and spend the rest of the time just chilling. I’m not exhausted yet and I think I will carry on until I get bored.
Chris: Do you think that your videos have converted many people?
Michael: I don’t think it has converted many people. I do sometimes get messages and comments saying that I have, but I don’t think I’ve actually changed many people’s minds on things.
Chris: Well, I’ve certainly seen your JapanRail video posted in a lot of left and right wing group chats. It certainly changed my mind on rail nationalisation.
Michael: Tell you what, I will make a community post on YouTube right now and ask people if a video of mine has ever changed their minds.
[Michael then proceeded to create a post which came back with 85% of people saying that their minds had been changed by his videos within the first hour of it being put up]
Chris: Do you think that young people should be writing more for magazines like the Mallard, or other right wing, left wing or centrist magazines?
Michael: Yeah. Someone said recently that it’s good people are getting their attention spans back. I would prefer people do that than make 2-minute TikTok videos. That also goes for people making long videos about niche topics.
Chris: Why do you think Americans have such a cultural influence over YouTube?
Michael: Well obviously it’s an American website that’s in English, so one of the largest English-speaking countries is going to have dominance over that. But I would like other countries to have a say at the table on that. I read a book from the 1950s recently, written by an American guy, and I was surprised by how much he referenced other countries that no American today would know anything about. He spoke about more obscure figures like Lord Palmerston and various presidents of France and their actions. Today, most Americans would not know about these figures.
Chris: I think most English people wouldn’t know who Lord Palmerston is.
Michael: Yeah, which is why I make these videos because British people are very ignorant of their own history.
Chris: There was a lot of talk recently about if British people know their own history. A lot of people saying that Britain has only ever done bad things. Do you think that is an ignorance to history, or do you think that those people are mostly correct?
Michael: No, I think that’s wrong. I’m not a defender of imperialism and I’m not going to make excuses for everything that we did. But I’m also not going to pretend as though there weren’t any good things. We invented the idea of liberty, that was cool. I actually made two videos about the English constitution which covers that.
Chris: Do you read a lot?
Michael: I hope to read a lot more in 2022. I haven’t been reading a lot recently, but I’ve got a list of books to read through this year.
Chris: What sort of books do you want to read this year?
Michael: I like to alternate between fiction and nonfiction. I started this year with ‘A Year at the Circus’ by Jon Sopel. Then I read ‘Treasure Island’, and now I’ve switched onto ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’.
Chris: Will you ever make any videos about the NHS?
Michael: I know that some people at the Mallard are particularly critical of the NHS, and I have considered a video entitled ‘The Cult of the NHS’, not because I’m particularly pro or anti NHS, I don’t really care, but because of the whole ethos around it. I got a local newspaper which I read through, and a landscaping AstroTurf company had put, for no reason whatsoever, a ‘We clap for our NHS’ sticker in their ad. They have absolutely nothing to do with the health industry and they just put that sticker there. It was very strange. The pandemic has shown that companies who have no interest or involvement in the NHS are showing their support for it. Its very strange. I thought I should do a video about that. Spain has its own NHS style health service for example, and they have very little attachment to it. I think it’s probably the same as the fake support for LGBT rights that banks and weapons companies have now where they’ll just change their twitter logo to be a rainbow flag just because its trendy and gets them more public support.
Chris: As an engineer myself, I adored your most recent video ‘Absolutely insane projects we should try’. So many people in the engineering business seem to have no dream or desire to do anything interesting anymore. Would we have a Humber Bridge or a Channel tunnel if they were planned today? A lot of these projects sound pricey but, in comparison to everything else we spend on, are actually relatively affordable. Do you believe in the concept of Anglo futurism? Do you believe that we should be building more of these projects?
Michael: If you’re talking about building the maglevs and stuff like that then yes, I have heard of that, but my utopia for Britain is the Britain that the Hong Kong protestors think that we are.
Chris: And what Britain is that?
Michael: It’s a beacon and role model of liberty and trade and finance and culture which in some ways we already have but we’re not doing it enough.
Chris: And how could we do that more?
Michael: Just change the mindset that we can’t do anything. That everything is too hard to do. The Victorian mindset that we can just build anything, invent anything, do anything that we want. We should have more of that.
Chris: I think that there is a big divide on the right wing between those who want the shire and those who want London Two: Electric boogaloo. Do you think we could have a synthesis of that, or do you think that its only one or the other?
Michael: I think it can absolutely definitely be both. I live in a little countryside town but when I go to the city, I want to see mega skyscrapers that are the envy of the world. I would love to maintain the little country villages but also have mega cities.
Chris: Yes, I must say sometimes I wish that I could have my little village on the Holderness coast exactly how it is surrounded by farms and fields, but then take a Maglev train into Hull and see skyscrapers taller than anywhere else in the world, have a port that handles a third of the worlds shipping and trade, and see billions of pounds worth of stocks flowing through the Hull stock exchange.
Michael: Yes, I think all of these things are totally possible and we should do it.
Photo owned and provided by Britmonkey.