One of the fastest growing YouTube channels ever is a girl who lives in a van. What does this say about modern culture?

Tyler S. Farley

In case you haven’t heard, there is a new YouTube superstar named Jennelle Eliana. With only 2 videos posted to her channel she already has tens of millions of views and her subscriber count is one of the fastest growing in YouTube history.

Her only two videos document her life which consists of living in an old van that’s been converted into a living space on the inside. This so-called “van life” has become ultra popular on YouTube and Instagram. Often, attractive girls boast about how much they love living in their vans and post pictures that look more like modeling shots for a catalogue than life camping in a van.

Below is one of Jennelle’s videos that has garnered millions of views already.

For those of you who were around in the 1990’s, you may remember a classic Saturday Night Live skit featuring the late Chris Farley. In the skit, Farley who plays a incompetent motivational speaker named Matt Foley would tell people how he “lives in a van down by the river” as a cautionary tale of his own personal failures.  Below is a clip of that skit.

You see, back then someone who lived in a van was portrayed as being a weirdo and a failure, that’s what made the comedy skit work. It was funny that this motivational speaker lived in a van.

So what has changed in our modern culture so that living in a van is now shown as glamorous with the people doing it receiving millions of views and subscribers to their social media pages?

One reason could be the fact that people simply don’t like modern life anymore. They feel trapped economically and dread the thought of having to tread water for the next 50 years and making no progress, or worse yet falling behind. So the appeal of the “van life” fantasy is one where you detach from modern life and the stresses of working long hours to achieve nothing.

But this is indeed a fantasy. Living in a van out of desperation is clearly not the American dream, but yet it is suddenly being portrayed as such in popular culture.

Of course, we have no idea how many of these “van life” Instagramers and YouTubers are portraying an accurate representation of life in a van. Some of them have slick video editing and professional looking photographs, all meant to glamorize their lives and create an impression of total freedom. Not to mention, these people could easily live in a house and only pretend to live in their van. With millions of views on YouTube, the ad revenue and sponsorships would make it very profitable to pretend to live in a van even if you don’t.

A lot of this reminds me of the recent “side hustle” movement and gig economy jobs like Uber or Postmates. Not that long ago, a side hustle was a negative thing. It meant you were struggling because one job didn’t pay enough or you felt you weren’t going to get anywhere with one job. Now, in 2019 a side hustle is meant to be boasted about. When it comes to Uber, barely over a decade ago someone who was forced to drive a cab in the evenings was often thought of as being down on their luck. But today, driving an Uber at night is thought of as a great way to get ahead.

Let me be clear, I am not disparaging anyone who drives an Uber for extra cash out of necessity. I have a great amount of respect for people who are out there working hard to make ends meet. Instead I am attacking a cultural and economic shift that has forced people into that situation.

In the end, the story of Jennelle Eliana and her “van life” tells us more about modern culture and economics than it does about her 1995 GMC van. People are desperate for an escape from modern life, a modern life that manufactures misery at every turn and features very little rewards. It’s so bad that the idea of living in a van down by the river now seems like a fantasy escape for millions and millions of people.

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