It is not every day that someone comes along and completely shakes up an entire social media platform, but Jennelle Eliana did just that, armed with only her van and a snake.
As recently as June this year, her channel did not exist at all. Her only social media presence was on Instagram, where she maintained a modest following of ten thousand followers. On June 27th she created her Youtube channel and twenty-two days later, she reached one million subscribers.
This kind of growth is unprecedented, especially when she only made two videos to reach that goal. To put that into perspective, when rap celebrity and part-time CGI genie Will Smith started making videos, it took him three months and way more videos to reach the same milestone.
These are not normal circumstances, but then again Eliana is not a normal person. The content that she makes relates to her alternative lifestyle of living inside a van, travelling around California. She claims to have started this way of living in 2017 and she does seem genuinely excited to share this with the world. Her first video titled VAN TOUR | SOLO FEMALE TRAVELLER lives VANLIFE with PET SNAKE! is filled with energy, enthusiasm, and a strong creative style I haven’t seen on YouTube in a while, let alone from a new creator. I personally am excited to see how she grows on this platform as I think she could be an interesting voice from a genre of videos that don’t have as much mainstream appeal as traditional vloggers.
But not everyone on YouTube is responding with warmth to her sudden rise. When someone grows this quickly in any form, people will inevitably start to question the legitimacy of it, and she is no exception. A smattering of conspiracy theories about the past of Eliana have all arrived, with many claiming she isn’t who she claims to be. Some claim she is an actor, pushed up by an external company to promote some brand, others claim this is an elaborate marketing stunt for a Netflix series, and even more believe she was pushed by Youtube themselves as an industry plant.
While it is difficult to ascertain whether she knows industry professionals, I do not think any of these theories are true. The truth that a girl and her pet snake Alfredo happens to be one of the fastest-growing channels in Youtube history is certainly stranger than fiction, but that doesn’t make it less real. It seems a lot of the criticism has come from a male audience, who flocked to the comments section of her videos to question why they were suggested them, even when they don’t watch content in this genre. This prompted the belief that Youtube purposefully tipped the scales to promote her channel. Some even went as far to claim they had been automatically subscribed to her channel without their knowledge (which from what I can is pure fabrication).
“Unfortunately, this is the point where the criticisms of Eliana become more troubling.”
Her ethnicity and gender were brought up in the same conversations as “diversity quotas” and “forced representation” and it is all quite disgusting, but as I have learnt over my time on the internet, this is a common occurrence for any minority group online. Yet her race may actually be one of the reasons she grew so quickly.
In a video by Swell Entertainment titled The Curious Rise of Jennelle Eliana, a lot of the top comments mention subscribing to Eliana’s channel because of her race, with a user named La Tisha writing “I clicked on it because I’ve never seen a black girl living in a van”. This should be no surprise to anyone watching van life videos beforehand, because to say the demographic for these videos are white people is an understatement. From what I could find, the entire genre is dominated by white couples or families with little diversity, so her presence alone is welcomed by the van life community and she got more attention that way.
But that is not the only cause of her insane growth, weirdly the fact that she did not have a channel one month ago is part of the reason she grew so quickly. The Youtube algorithm may be a mythical beast we have not tamed, but it has a habit of growing new channels quickly if they get enough traction, and Jennelle Eliana is the perfect storm for this to occur. Dedicated followers from Instagram come over to watch and engage in her content, abnormal growth from viewers in the van life community, an amazing personality and slick editing all cause it to explode. For the algorithm, it sees a new channel with engagement and growth fair larger than anything it has ever seen before, and so it pushes it to everyone regardless of typical viewing patterns. This is how I saw it and why I am sure it caused a stink with the reactionaries.
But do I think she did this alone? No. Her first video feels way more produced and cleaner than what is expected of a new creator, the first and last thirty seconds alone gave me the impression that she got some professional help. Whether she did or not, I am not certain. Although I must ask, is that a crime?
If at the end of the day it turns out that she got given help externally, whether it be a marketing company, other video makers giving her advice or Youtube themselves guiding her growth, is that a problem? Eliana is free to do what she likes and if someone wants to help her grow, she is entitled to take it. Because at the end of the day, she makes great content. I have never been interested in watching people live in a van but I sat through all of her videos because she entertains me and one million other subscribers. And it is not like she is taking traffic away from other people making van life content, in fact they are all getting boosted from her remarkable rise. All I can hope for at this point is that she maintains a presence on Youtube and does not fade into obscurity like many other viral figures.
On an unrelated note, anyone want to live in a van with me?
Words by Bayley Horne
Bayley is a certified weenie at Weenie Hut Jr.