@queenofjetlags

Autobiographical vlogs: Telling one's life story online

13 minutes to read
Article
Jelske van Es
28/09/2020

The technological developments over the last few years have opened the door for many people to start sharing their personal lives on the internet. Disclosing personal information online has become the norm in the digital world we live in. Vlogging can be seen as one of the many ways in which people share their personal lives with other people online. Since vlogs contain intimate information about people’s lives, vlogs can be considered autobiographical.

In this article, I will elaborate on the characteristics of vlogs and how they can be related to those of an autobiography. As a case study, I will analyze the way in which Queen of Jet Lags’ vlogs can be considered autobiographical. I will focus on what she shows in her vlogs and how her family contributes to the construction of her autobiography. Further, I will also examine the contrast between the way in which she portrays herself in her vlogs and the way in which she portrays herself on Instagram, exploring how her self-portrayal on Instagram contributes to her autobiographical vlogs.

What is vlogging?

Sharing personal information on the internet through videos has become common practice among many internet users, who engage in what we call vlogging. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a vlog is “a video blog: a record of your thoughts, opinions, or experiences that you film and publish on the internet”. Urban Dictionary also adds that “a vlog can be topical and timeless, instructional and entertaining. The main thread is trying to communicate on a personal level with your audience”.

In this article, I will be focusing on YouTube vlogs, in which people document their everyday lives. In this type of vlog, the vlogger’s personal thoughts, opinions, and experiences are shared in an attempt to connect with the audience on a personal level. The personal environment in which this type of vlog is recorded as well as the showing of personal relationships in the vlogs contributes to connectedness between the vlogger and the viewers. To vlog means to show one’s real and authentic everyday lives on the internet. By assigning his or her name to the vlog, the vlogger states his or her identity and in turn, accepts to tell the truth about his or her life in the vlog; in a sense, this can be considered the autobiographical pact between vloggers and their viewers (Van de Ven, 2020).

The autobiographical function of vlogs

Traditionally, an autobiography has been regarded as a self-written book or memoir about the history of someone’s life. Yet, according to Schmitt (2018), technological developments over the last few years have led to multiple new opportunities for people to share their life experiences. Rather than autobiographies only being available in the form of books and memoirs, nowadays “blogs, vlogs, graphic memoirs, and other media” (Schmitt, 2018) have been added to the list of forms of autobiographies. Vlogs, which are documentations of a person’s personal life, can now thus be considered as a form of autobiography. 

To a certain extent, everybody is the author of one’s own life, yet real life also remains an “unauthored series of events issuing from the action of natural forces” (Schmitt, 2018). We often wrongly assume that experiences are separate from their narration; narration is needed in order to interpret experiences (Waites, 2016). In vlogs, we see that stories are told about a certain experience in order to present a clearer picture of a situation; they are not mere moving images. In order for a vlog to be considered autobiographical, it is important for viewers that the vlogger makes private elements of their life publicly available in order to meet the autobiographical pact. 

The "reality" of the vlog only exists when the viewer is willing to accept the vlogger’s authenticity.

Only when a vlogger takes the risk of making the self-narrative public while also meeting the public’s interests can the vlogger turn into the author of his or her own life and only then can this life story be regarded as an autobiography. The vlogger has the ability to create his or her identity as well as life story by forming an autobiographical narrative; the person "must be in possession of a full and explicit narrative of his life to develop fully as a person" (Strawson, 2004).

Further, it is only possible for the vlogger’s work to be considered autobiographical if the vlogger makes one’s identity fully public. By making one’s identity fully public, the vlogger creates a sense of authenticity for the viewers. Filming in the normally hidden domestic space contributes to a vlogger being regarded as authentic by their viewers, due to the vlogs creating a window into their private life (Talvitie-Lamberg, 2014). This peek into private life facilitated by the vlog poses the vlogger-as-subject, which is central in claiming authenticity in autobiographical vlogging narrations (Talvitie-Lamberg, 2014). A sense of authenticity is essential for vlogs to be considered autobiographical. 

Queen of Jet Lags and YouTube vlogs

Dutch YouTuber and influencer Queen Of Jet Lags, also known as Noor de Groot, shows her everyday life in the vlogs she uploads on her YouTube channel twice a week. As she travels the world for her work, she shows the backstage elements of jet-set life as well as her domestic life in her vlogs to her 103,000 subscribers. Her Instagram account, on the other hand, is in broad contrast with the way in which she portrays herself in her vlogs. On Instagram, Queen of Jet Lags shares "perfect" and nicely edited pictures of herself to her 739,000 followers on the platform. How is it possible that both of these very different self-portrayals both contribute to her autobiography?

 

What makes vlogging special is that the vlogger is both the subject and the object of the video, they are both the creator and the product that is being created, and are both in front and behind the camera in the process of creation (Van de Ven, 2020). This is the case with Queen of Jet Lags’ vlogs as well; in the moment that something happens in her life she is both the subject experiencing the event while simultaneously also being the producer of the content to share with subscribers.

Therefore, there is a certain immediacy to vlogs when comparing them to autobiographical memoirs or books. The life events happening in someone’s life are vlogged at that moment, while autobiographical books and memoirs are written after someone has experienced certain life-events. Noor often vlogs her life one week and the next week she publishes the vlog online. Unlike autobiographical books and memoirs in which authors can think about how they are going to present their life story over a longer period of time, vloggers have a limited amount of time to think about what they are going to share. Unlike writing an autobiography in the form of a memoir or a book, which often takes months or years to finish, vlogs are uploaded once or twice a week; every week, a new part of her autobiography is added to the other ones. So, while books and memoirs are finished products when they lie in stores, vlogs can continue to be added to one's YouTube channel. The autobiography created on Queen of Jet Lags’ YouTube channel is thus not fixed; rather, it is endless. 

Making the private public

As mentioned above, only when the private is made public can vlogs be considered autobiographical. Queen of Jet Lags makes the private public by talking about how she feels being a (step)mother, how she feels about viewers judging her, money, activism, and domestic issues; in short, she talks about the things she considers to be important in her life and how she feels about these things. Also, aside from the "perfect" pictures she posts on Instagram about traveling for her work, in her vlogs she addresses the less fun things about travelling all the time. 

For instance, in the vlog called “IK HEB HET ER ECHT MOEILIJK MEE! Vlog 356 – Queen of Jet Lags” (“I am really struggling with it”), she addresses that she is struggling with leaving her daughter at home while she and her boyfriend Sander go to Paris Fashion Week for 4 days because of her work. At the beginning of the vlog, while eating her breakfast she says she is going to Paris while she would rather stay at home, because she does not like being away from her daughter; yet, she does have to take the trip because it is her job. While telling this story, the camera is not hand-held, rather it is positioned in a way that facilitates capturing a static image. The use of this static positioning of the camera is often used in vlogs to support the seriousness of the story someone is telling (Talvitie-Lamberg, 2014). By directing her eye contact towards the viewer, Queen of Jet Lags' eagerness to share the story is also suggested (Talvitie-Lamberg, 2014). 

On many occasions in the vlog, Noor or her boyfriend talk about missing their daughter, which can be seen in utterances such as “Noor is actually crying all day long because she wants to go home” and “I am sad, I want to go to Olivia”. By sharing such personal and private emotions in the vlog, viewers get a sense of authenticity. 

Noor makes use of Instagram to post campaigns she has worked on because of her work, and she uses YouTube to show the backstage elements of these campaigns as well as her more private life.

In the same vlog, there is a part where Noor and Sander are in a cab, talking to "the people" for 7 minutes straight. During these 7 minutes, Noor is holding the camera in her hand, which is understood as constructing the truthfulness of the things being told. The reason why a handheld camera fragment can be seen as authentic is that this technique originates from cinema-vérité documentaries, which are all about truth-telling (Talvitie-Lamberg, 2014). 

In these 7 minutes, the couple state that they do not feel like sharing that they are attending certain events or shows because they do not want the viewers to think that they are flaunting their fabulous lives in Noor's vlogs. Sander asks the viewers to leave a comment as to whether or not they want to see footage of them going to events because he feels that the viewers partly decide what gets shown in the vlogs; they want the vlog to appeal to the audience. The boyfriend is thus asking for participatory feedback, and by asking for this it can be said that the "reality" of a vlog is constructed because the audience takes part in that "reality" (Talvitie-Lamberg, 2014). The "reality" of the vlog only exists when the viewer is willing to accept the vlogger’s authenticity, and authenticity has become a matter of personal belief (Talvitie-Lamberg, 2014). By asking the viewers for their input, the design of the vlog can evolve over time; the "reality" of vlogs is transformed after each vlog gets posted. That is, during each vlog, the viewers can decide for themselves if they are willing to accept the vlogger’s authenticity.

Even though Queen Of Jet Lags’ life story is formed in a natural way, viewers have a say in what gets shown; they have the power to change the narrative of future vlogs. Because of the vlogs’ immediacy, the autobiography can take a different route after each vlog when the viewers’ input is taken into account. Adapting the narrative does not necessarily mean that the vlogger is no longer authentic. Every one of us, whether online or offline, makes a narrative out of one’s life, and we all have the ability to adjust and rewrite this narrative as we go along (Van de Ven, 2020). This is the same for vlogs; when feedback is given, adjustments to the life story shown on the internet can be made. Being a public figure because of her successful vlogs means that Noor has many people judging her; for that reason, it is important to stay authentic. By doing this, she can keep control over the narrative of her life and construct her autobiography. 

The Kleinenberg family

As already seen, Noor’s boyfriend Sander also plays a part in the construction of her autobiographical vlogs. Besides using Sander to construct her life story, Noor also includes her stepdaughter Bibi and her daughter Olivia in her vlogs. When Sander, Bibi or Olivia are vlogging, there is a certain layout added to the vlog saying “Sander Cam”, “Bibi Cam”, or “Olivia Cam” (seen in Figure 1). 

Figure 1. "Sander Cam" in one of Queen Of Jet Lags' vlogs

Queen Of Jet Lags’ vlogs are constructed in such a way that they do not just directly reveal personal information about Noor. Instead, they also contain fragments in which we see how Noor's relationships with other people sculpt her social self (Talvitie-Lamberg, 2014). By including both these elements in her vlogs, Noor’s autobiography is created by both herself and her closest family members. Noor makes use of multiple perspectives in order to establish a truthful picture of her life, and that is largely why her vlogs can be considered autobiographical (Waites, 2016). By making use of these multiple perspectives, Noor’s and her family’s appearances are shaped into a certain representation of their lives, which is shown in the vlogs.

Being an Instagram influencer

On Instagram, Queen Of Jet Lags displays pictures of her travels all over the world, and her Instagram feed looks very cohesive and curated. Unlike the "backstage" and messy feel her vlogs often give, her Instagram account is quite the opposite; it is very stylized, curated, edited, and "perfect". But how does this contribute to her autobiography as well?

Unlike writing a book or memoir, Instagram is more about showing. Queen of Jet Lag shows her life through the order of her Instagram posts; through her pictures, she is narrating her life story (Schmitt, 2018). We can argue that the "perfection" of the life that she portrays on Instagram is not the same as the messier life she shares on her YouTube channel. As these two platforms offer differing ways for representing oneself, we can say that there are multiple layers of publicness. These multiple layers of publicness can be occupied at the same time, which in turn produces multiple layers of autobiographical speech (Schmitt, 2018). Noor makes use of Instagram to post campaigns she has worked on because of her work, and she uses YouTube to show the backstage elements of these campaigns as well as her more private life. So even though there is an illuminating contrast between the everydayness and intimacy of her vlogs and the "perfection" of her Instagram account, both of these self-portrayals contribute to her autobiography. 

Figure 2. @queenofjetlags' feed during Paris Fashion Week

When looking at Noor’s Instagram account in the same week as she filmed the content for her vlog “IK HEB HET ER ECHT MOEILIJK MEE! Vlog 356 – Queen of Jet Lags” (Figure 2), we see a very different "version" of that week being presented on her Instagram. In that vlog, as mentioned earlier, Noor mentioned that she wanted to go home multiple times, and she also said that she did not want to flaunt her "perfect" life by showing the fabulous events she attended. When looking at her Instagram account during that Paris Fashion Week, however, the pictures posted appear to be showing off all the amazing things that she got to do in this week. In one of the pictures, she is posing in a Balmain dress and shows that she attended Balmain’s extravagant show. In another picture, she is "casually" laying on a couch in an expensive suite with a view on the Opéra Garnier.

Her Instagram and YouTube channel both "tell" Noor’s life story about the same events, yet in differing ways.

Also, when looking beyond what is shown in the pictures, at the captions underneath, we see that in 8 of the 11 Paris Fashion Week-related pictures a brand name is tagged (@cartier, @balmain, @levis_nl). So, she has either posted these pictures because she got paid to do so or she had to post these pictures in order to maintain relationships with brands she works with which invited her to Paris, or possiby she was invited to go to a show or stay a night in a hotel in return for an Instagram post.

Even though these pictures may not portray the same "reality" as the reality in her vlogs, the posting of such pictures on her Instagram remains her job (Figure 2). In the vlog analyzed above, she explains that she has to go to Paris Fashion Week because this is how she makes money and pays her employees. Her Instagram and YouTube channel both "tell" Noor’s life story about the same events, yet in differing ways. On the one hand, we have the private and messy side of her life, and on the other hand we have the "perfect" image she has to present on her Instagram as part of her job. Both portrayals of the self on these different platforms can be considered to be contributing to the construction of her autobiography. Using this transmediality makes narration possible across two different platforms. Although the way in which she portrays herself may differ, the events and experiences she goes through are addressed on both platforms. 

Online autobiographies

Rather than being found only in the traditional form of books and memoirs, autobiographies now come in many forms. Vlogging is one of the ways in which people can construct an endless autobiography of their lives today. In order for vlogs to be considered autobiographical, the vlog needs to show someone’s real and authentic everyday life; this means that the private needs to become public. When a sense of truthfulness is established, the vlogger and viewers establish an autobiographical pact. 

Vloggers can also use other social media platforms to add more information to the narrative of their life stories. As we have seen in Queen Of Jet Lags’ case, both her portrayal of self on YouTube and that on Instagram contribute to her autobiography. Both these platforms show a different side of the most important things in her life. While showing her private life as well as the backstage elements of her job in her vlogs, she shows the end-products of her work on her Instagram. These two representations on these different platforms contribute to the storytelling of her life story and in turn to her autobiography. 

 

References

Schmitt, A. (2018). From Autobiographical Act to Autobiography. Life Writing, 15(4), 469-486. doi: 10.1080/14484528.2018.1478598

Strawson, G. (2004). Against Narrativity. Ratio, 17(4), 428-452.

Talvitie-Lamberg, K. (2014). Confessions in Social Media – Performative, Constrained, Authentic and Participatory Self-Representations in Vlogs. University of Helsinki.

Waites, K. J. (2015). Sarah Polley’s Documemoir Stories We Tell: The Refracted Subject. Biography, 38(4), 543-555.

Van de Ven, I. (2020). (Beyond) Narrative in Time-Lapse Cinema: Waking Life [PowerPoint slides].

Van de Ven, I. (2020). DIY Autobiographical Documentaries [PowerPoint slides].