Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Corridor Crew Review

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From left to right: Wren, Sam, Niko, Jake, and David of The Corridor Crew. Credit to them for the graphic.

YouTube has a lot of problems. Namely, it's full of pseudo-intellectuals who fail at towing the line between entertainment and education. Facts and quality analysis matter less to these people than views and clicks do. Charlatans abound.

And yet, thankfully, The Corridor Crew manages to transcend that morass of misinformation in a way that often matches or exceeds the best of what YouTube has to offer. The quality of their videos is so good, in fact, that you almost feel bad about the fact that you don't have to pay to watch them. 

Yet, even so, The Corridor Crew has a big problem. Something that might even be called a fatal flaw.

I first stumbled upon The Corridor Crew when one of their videos popped up on my suggestions feed, probably because it was trending. That video, the first of their now extremely popular "VFX Artists React" series, amazed me with its level of analysis, provided both by one of the channel's creators, Niko, as well as two of his associates, Wren and Clint. 

From watching that video, I immediately got the impression that these dudes know what they're talking about. Their insight regarding how visual effects work, why they so often fail in movies, and how they might be improved is delivered in an understandable and approachable fashion. 

Indeed, though all of the members of The Corridor Crew seem to be experts of some aspect of visual design, engineering, or filmmaking, they all make their best effort to explain themselves and their work in a way that most laymen will understand. 

The best at this, in my opinion, is Wren. I'm not sure whether he plays up his personality for the camera or not, but from what I've seen, he appears to be an approachable, fun-loving guy who's thrilled to show up to his job every day of the week. And at least for me, that exuberance really bleeds through the screen and makes his videos especially enjoyable. 

One of my favorite videos of his is the one where he attempts to boost the range of his electric skateboard with a custom-made enhanced battery pack. Not only does he show us how he builds the custom battery pack, he takes us through the problems he had in making it, educating us about the various pitfalls related to trying to slap a supercharged battery onto a computer chip not designed for that level of power.

After he's finished attaching the battery, Wren takes us along on his attempt to commute to work using only his boosted electric skateboard. Everything seems to be going well until the custom battery pack fails, and Wren is forced to manually skate to work, arriving late as a result.

While the premise of that video is relatively simple, it accomplishes something that most of The Corridor Crew's videos accomplish: 1) it educates the audience about something normally deemed to be complex—in this case, rebuilding an electric skateboard's "engine" from the ground up—2) it shows that even smart people like Wren run into problems with their designs, and that the journey towards making something "work" isn't always easy, but always fruitful, and 3) it entertains us with Wren's wit and natural teaching ability, and connects it all to the overarching storyline of whether Wren would be able to build an electric skateboard that would work as a commuting vehicle.

The Corridor Crew really nails the whole "introduce you to things that take years of experience and skill to be able to do, without making you feel like you'd never be able to do it in a million years" shtick. By combining all of that with genuinely interesting characters and always-fresh premises, The Corridor Crew represents near-perfection as far as YouTube channels go. 

Because of the visual effects/engineering/filmmaking background of many of its members, and the relatively similar production style, The Corridor Crew often gets compared to Mythbusters. In most of their video comments, you'll usually find someone describing the channel as a modern Mythbusters replacement. Heck, one of their team members even looks just like Adam Savage. 

But besides the fact that both The Corridor Crew and Mythbusters features wacky feats of engineering and slow-mo demonstrations of said feats in action, I don't think the two have too much in common. In fact, I might argue that the Corridor Crew has more in common stylistically with something like Its Always Sunny In Philadelphia than it does with Mythbusters. 

Lastly I'd like to make one point about The Corridor Crew's main guy, Niko. Niko brings a level of gravitas and authority to the channel that I appreciate. In many ways he reminds me of a few people I've known in graduate school, all rolled up into one person. Without his knowledge, leadership, and levelheadedness, I doubt that the Corridor Crew could be as successful as it is today. 

My only major critique of The Corridor Crew isn't a critique so much as it is an observation. Regarding the channel's diversity, I do wish that more people of color were featured in central roles in their videos. As it stands right now, The Corridor Crew is very much dominated by white men. Obviously this probably doesn't come across as especially problematic to them since they are still a small production company based in an industry that doesn't typically include very many people of color.

Even so, I feel like having more perspectives at the table would only help the channel grow and reach broader audiences. There's more than a few episodes where it seemed to me that Niko and Sam's discussions about ideas for plots or otherwise would have been helped by having more varied perspectives chiming in. 

Niko himself has actually talked about this on Reddit, where he said the following in response to the critique that The Corridor Crew lacks diversity: 

"We started as a couple friends from the same hometown in Minnesota. The team now is only a small handful of additional people. 

We don’t focus on the melanin in people’s skin. We concern ourselves with diversity of ideas. 

Skin color aside we have people in Corridor from a huge variety of backgrounds, mindsets, and ethnicities. Polish, Korean, Filipino, German, Latino, Irish, French, to name a few. 

But I don’t like focusing on these qualities alone. It reduces a human being to a statistic. It’s not how I judge people. I don’t look at someone and use their ethnicity to judge their value. I think it’s a backwards way to look at things."

I think it probably would have been better for Niko to just say "Hey we're a small company, as we grow, who knows what might happen?" But because he tried to justify not having a particularly diverse crew, it comes across more as him saying "We don't really need to worry about diversity because we're already diverse in our ideas. And we're from Minnesota, so what more can you expect?" The fact that he reacted so defensively perhaps speaks to the problem itself. 

By saying that The Corridor Crew's "diversity of ideas" precludes the need for more people of color on the team, Niko ironically implies that people like him can be diverse in their ideas to such an extent that people of color's perspectives are no longer needed—thus tying (white) skin color to diversity in a roundabout manner that continues to exclude people of color.

In other words, Niko makes the very point that he was trying to avoid: that skin color and diversity are linked. Based on what he said, it's very clear that he does see a link between the two. Only, rather than there being a link between "the melanin in people's skin" and diversity, he sees a link between whiteness and a "diversity of ideas."

I understand where Niko is coming from; were this a perfect world that didn't suffer from racism and discrimination for centuries, we wouldn't have to worry about race. But at the same time, he unknowingly perpetuates an argument that many majority-white institutions have used to stay white in perpetuity. Emulating a diversity of perspectives is not the same as actually having a diversity of perspectives, as my time in academia has demonstrated. Too often I see institutions advertising the diversity of their ideas as a way to sidestep the fact that they lack actual diversity, and to provide an excuse as to why they won't try to fix the problem. 

Further, by saying that skin color isn't related to diversity, Niko downplays the extent to which racism shapes the perspective of all people of color. He can try to emulate that all he'd like, but at the end of the day, he's most likely never going to feel the kind of discrimination experienced by people of color.

I'm not sure that Niko understands this concept, since he appears to conflate "ethnicity" and "race" in a disconcerting manner. While there are, to be sure, differences between white ethnicities and how they have been treated historically, today they all enjoy a shared privilege in the United States that is locked off to people of color.

Does that mean that The Corridor Crew should just indiscriminately hire people of color to fulfill some kind of quota? Obviously, no. But if Niko is as keen on including a diversity of ideas as he claims, it would only make sense for him to eventually hire a few talented visual effects artists who are also people of color, and perhaps feature them as central characters in The Corridor Crew's videos from time to time. Not only might this broaden his channel's audience, but it'd probably open Niko's mind to new potentialities as well. 

Finally, though my observations seem supremely damning, my intention is not for them to come across that way. The Corridor Crew is one of my favorite channels on YouTube. I only wish to make Niko and company aware of a problem they may face down the line, and to offer an argument that demonstrates why it's a problem in the first place. 

As The Corridor Crew continues to grow and rightfully receive praise from millions of people, I hope that they consider what I've said here. The film industry has historically had tremendous issues with regard to its lack of diversity and blatant discriminatory practices. Perhaps, with luck, The Corridor Crew can be one of the few production companies to break the mold.

The Good
  • The perfect mix of education and entertainment.
  • A wonderfully engaging and insightful cast.
  • Creative premises that leave you wanting more.
  • Overall, the "gold standard" of YouTube channels. 

The Bad
  • Lacks diversity, and doesn't seem keen on adding it.

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About The Author

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Nicholas Garcia (M.A.) is a PhD Candidate at the University of California, Davis. He is also a Co-Founder of the Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies. Previously, he contributed to and the Davis Humanities Institute.