BY: Victoria Heath
In 2011, Hank and John Green started the YouTube channel “Crash Course,” with the dream of making education entertaining for kids and adults. Within five years, however, their honest and personable educational videos have amassed over four million subscribers, which explain everything from the fall of the Roman Empire to the evolution of video games.
The Green brothers believe that learning is “supposed to be fun” and useful. Their videos offer an ideal blend of sarcasm, humor, and serious intellectual discussion that appeals to millennial audiences. In the world history videos, for example, John engages with a character called me-from-the-past, a younger version of himself that asks naïve questions and makes ignorant comments—a clever depiction of the curious young viewers Crash Course targets.
In the channel’s first world history video about the Agricultural Revolution, me-from-the-past John asks, “Is this going to be on the test?”
John enthusiastically answers back, “Yes, the test will measure whether you are an informed, engaged and productive citizen of the world…The test will test your ability to think about things other than celebrity marriages, whether you’ll be easily persuaded by empty political rhetoric, and whether you’ll be able to place your life and your community in a broader context.”
He wisely concludes, “The test will last your entire life and it will be comprised of the millions of decisions that when taken together make your life, yours. And everything, everything, will be on it…I know right, so pay attention.”
Context, Knowledge and Narratives
Crash Course aims to provide context for its audiences about the immense and complex web of systems, ideas, opinions, and events that exist today across the world.
For example, in the video “Islam, the Quran and the Five Pillars,” John provides a much-needed history lesson regarding one of the world’s oldest, yet most widely misunderstood religions. He states at the beginning of the video, “we don’t know much about early Islamic history because we don’t learn about it. Because we’re taught that our history is the story of Christianity in Europe, when in fact our history is the story of people on the planet. So let’s try to learn something today.”
Within each video, the hosts also tend to offer a “life-lesson” of sorts, albeit sometimes veiled in sarcastic rants and slightly off colour jokes. In the video, “Capitalism and Socialism” John comments to Stan (the producer) following an eye-rolling statement about capitalism from me-from-the-past, “The reason he’s so unbearable, Stan, is that he refuses to recognize the legitimacy of other people’s narratives and that means that he will never, ever, be able to have a productive conversation with another human in his entire life.” In this case, John’s lesson to his audience is to get out of their “echo-chambers,” stop dismissing other people’s opinions and instead, attempt to understand them.
Crash Course is immensely useful, particularly in an environment where biased and manipulated information is aplenty and often falls short of providing any real substance. This channel seeks to change that by encouraging its viewers to form their own narratives based on the knowledge they gain through its videos in order to become more enlightened members of society. This is particularly true in regards to its world history videos, which shed light on significant historical events, and also connect them to the present. These videos play on the idea that societies must study history in order to understand themselves better. As British author Penelope Lively wrote in her memoir,
“If you have no sense of the past, no access to the historical narrative, you are afloat, un-tethered; you cannot see yourself as a part of the narrative, you cannot place yourself within a context.”
Crash Course holds nothing back and is working to eradicate any excuse you may have to not educate yourself about the world around you.