VidCon 2023: The Adults Are Talking

Grace Stanley

Instagram Night Out is an invite-only VidCon 2023 event where 800 creators peacock, network, and hope to make agency and industry connections that will lead to better business deals. The splashy VidCon event occurred at a boozy music venue, the City National Grove of Anaheim, which has seen the likes of Prince, Stevie Nicks, Ray Charles, and other legends on its stage.

But on a Friday night in June, creators like the newly reformed Try Guys, Louie Castro, Angry Reactions, Celina Spooky Boo, and Safiya Nygaard walk the red carpet or huddle in exclusive corners of the room. Plebeians like me enter as they would any industry party: awkward and alone, praying to run into someone they know.

At a party full of egomaniacs where imposter syndrome is contagious, it’s worth questioning who the new gatekeepers of the media landscape are. Does the entertainment establishment still reign? Sort of. Although Hollywood is 34 miles away and media giant Viacom owns the convention, “non-traditional” media is still king at VidCon. Instead of studio bosses solely setting the rules, the top 5% of creators and TikTok, Meta, and YouTube executives are calling the shots on who gets to make money, what stories to tell, and exactly who gets invited to parties like these.

VidCon 2023 brought in 55,000 guests this year, according to the company, including internet celebrities like Keke Palmer, Dream, the aforementioned Try Guys, and Smosh. But on this night, MrBeast’s manager, Marc Hustvedt, is the main topic of conversation. Hustvedt, the “president” at MrBeast, hosted a much-talked-about panel earlier in the con, in which he warned creators to steer clear of TikTok due to potential turmoil from the 2024 election season and regulatory threats surrounding the platform. 

By now, the world knows who MrBeast is and how he harnessed attention-grabbing stunts, clicky thumbnails, and candy consumerism to reach 163 million subscribers. Yet, no one was talking about MrBeast, at least not directly. They were talking about Hustvedt, the guy pulling the strings. 

“The best panel I went to was by this guy,” said Devin Robbins, a video editor previously featured in Passionfruit, pointing to Hustvedt. “It’s MrBeast’s manager.” 

At Robbins’ panel earlier in the day, he spoke candidly about the labor behind major social media empires. It’s hard to advocate for fair pay and working conditions at VidCon, a place that prioritizes brand hype above all else. Still, Robbins and his co-panelists did just that by pointing to the long hours and high expectations placed on those lesser-known creators working behind the camera: editors, copywriters, producers, and graphic designers.

Some people operating behind the scenes are everyday creative laborers. Others are big-shot executives, like Hustvedt. Some are good bosses who will ignite your passion and compensate you fairly. Others will neg and squeeze every last dime out of their underlings. That’s just the reality of the landscape. 

Hollywood suits are no longer the only people shaping the entertainment landscape. Now, social media executives use creative people for social currency or monetization potential. And they’re not the only ones accused of nefarious behavior — even the publicly charitable MrBeast has been accused of berating and belittling younger employees.

The “creator economy” was supposed to be revolutionary. But 13 years after the first VidCon, it’s clear that although some gatekeepers are different, they’re just maintaining the status quo. The adults are talking, and surprise millennials, you now are the adults. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Even with labor issues hanging in the air, the party was a great opportunity to dish out industry gossip, connect face-to-face, and party. You look up from your phone, and Zach of the Try Guys will be doing an odd but endearing dance next to you. Comedian Adam Rose comes up and goes on a zany rant. Cozy crafting queen Holly Auna gives you a handmade rubber ducky bracelet. And for a moment, you can let go of all the expectations gatekeepers — and yourself — have set. 

Here’s the thing: you don’t need hundreds of thousands of followers to be a creator. You don’t need to appease advertisers and brands, and you don’t need to win a Webby. You don’t need to be MrBeast. 

And honestly, you don’t need to fork over the $185 to go to VidCon. VidCon 2023 was a good, fun experience to meet some cool people. Sure, it’s a networking event, but you can also connect with people online or in smaller (free) gatherings. You can find the tools you need in community Discord servers, or even on Passionfruit. It doesn’t make you any less of a creator not to care about this dog and pony show.

What’s your wildest VidCon story? Email [email protected] to share your experience.

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