In conversation with FriendlyJordies

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Words || Nick Wasiliev

Within the last decade, the rise of social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter has revolutionised how we see, interpret and consume media. The chance for people to express themselves (and even have a career) on social media may seem commonplace now, yet it seems almost ludicrous to think that last decade this type of media form didn’t even exist.

Yet now, social media has become a bastion of self-expression and free speech. Within our ever increasingly digital world, Australia’s mainstream news channels and outlets seems to be less focused on delivering relevant, informed topics, and instead concentrating on the agendas of their owners,that won’t allow open criticism: media moguls like Rupert Murdoch, corporate entities like the mining sector or even our own government.

Enter, FriendlyJordies.

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Jordan Shanks set up this political satire YouTube channel during the 2013 federal election, when it suddenly dawned on him what exactly Australian media needs: real biting, cutting-through-the-crap satire. “Some television shows have it, but it’s not the same as political satire that you get in the US (e.g. Jon Stewart or John Oliver), because we don’t have the avenues for it.Everything you get in Australia is very watered down, very mild, very careful. Our media is controlled either by the government or media moguls, and if you are saying things against their interest, they are not going to put you on television. There are lots of people saying exactly the same things that I’m saying, but they can’t get a wider audience because it’s just not accessible.”

Yet, accessibility is one of FriendlyJordies’ greatest assets, having developing a diehard fan base since its inception. Shanks videos have racked over twelve million views on YouTube alone, as well as close to 100,000 subscribers. His style of biting satire appeals to many politically aware viewers, particularly younger Australian adults. “Satire is an extremely important tenet of democracy, it breaches something that most people think is a very difficult political message, and puts it into terms that make people realise it’s not difficult at all – just the same bullshit over and over again.”

In the time that this article was written, Jordan attracted huge attention with his video on Sydney’s recent Lock-out laws, where he launched a scathing, satirical equivalent of a smack down on Premier Mike Baird. The video has amassed over 1.5 million hits on Facebook; cutting through many shady statistics and moral opinions Baird has used to defend the laws, as well as showcasing how the new Barangaroo Casino and Star City casino, have been exempt from the new laws.

The response has been unanimously positive, for one very obvious reason: “once you have seen something, laughed at it and realised it is ridiculous, that neoconservative argument loses all of its power; and everybody looks behind the veil, not matter what they say on top of it. It’s like with Mike Baird saying, ‘this will protect lives’ – bullshit!”

“The biggest motivation for me, is just seeing how tired the system is. How it is so obvious that people are trying to push through damaging policies, and nobody in the media can speak about it? That is just startling to me. Thousands of journalists say the same dot-point shit you hear from the Canberra Press Gallery, they must know what they are saying is regressive, particularly if your manager is Rupert Murdoch”. This is what makes satire so important, both for democracy and entertainment although he describes his obsession with the flaws as ‘almost sickly’. “While many people prefer to look at open meadows and flowing rivers, satirists get real pleasure out of seeing a rat eating garbage”.

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There is no denying the passion and work ethic he has for it: “for (the Sydney lockout laws), that alone required two days of research, four days to a week of writing, one day of filming and three days of editing.I’ve got editors who do that, then I look at it and make final changes.” All for a seven-minute video.

Compare this with TV programs who inundate us with a constant stream of filler content, hurriedly produced and poorly composed. “Useless information is constantly inundated into your life. You are drenched with it! Just heaps of factoids, not anything with any real substance is ever really delivered in the media. “Whenever you watch the news, it’s just five murders and Prince Charles visiting a zoo; stupid stories that have no real impact on the direction of society. It’s just a constant stream of titillation. I think that the media tries to give off this impression of impartiality; either through trying to push an obvious right-wing agenda, or through being too scared to say anything on the subject, which then makes the story extremely boring. You should be separating what the actual facts are of interest from the nonsense fluff pieces of information. Someone has got to fucking say something!”

“YouTube is an incredible avenue. In the past,with television, if you jumped through all the hoops and got enough sheer dumb luck to make it onto the television screen, you could become extremely wealthy. But now with YouTube, there’s the outliers who have become extremely wealthy and famous, but most just become comfortable and recognisable.

“But again, that’s still a good thing for art.I pull a big audience if I ever do a show or say I’m going to be somewhere. That’s great. Without YouTube, I would not be able to do what I’m doing right now.I owe my career to YouTube and Facebook. This career wouldn’t have existed seven years ago, and it’s so weird to think about that. Someone like me or even Bernie Sanders, who say things just outside of the mainstream narrative, would not have been able to attract a huge audience until 2008! That’s remarkable.”

Jordan has big plans to continue into the future, with his sights set on gaining a mainstream media-sized audience. Judging by the people his channel is attracting, the future is certainly looking bright. “I’m aiming to have a YouTuber channel that has the same viewership as the Channel 7 nightly news. I’m not quite there, but I’m on my way. I’m on 200,000 and Channel 7 is on about 770,000 a night; give me a couple more years and I will be competing with Melissa Doyle! That’s really my only goal, to get as many eyeballs as a national broadcaster can get.”

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For those hoping to jump onto social media, Jordan has some very simple advice. “The key to massive success in life is to just go low, I reckon. Do some really base shit. There’s a very easily trodden path in social media.

But there must be a ‘why’ to what you are doing. “You can rise up but you may quickly simmer because there is some dickhead doing exactly the same thing as you, and you won’t get that exact same traction. You need an underlying purpose for what your content is trying to deliver. When you hit that niche of you conveying something that you actually believe in, other people start getting attracted to that, and believe that as well. That’s when they start actually helping and believing in you; which will help to propagate your message, give you the funding and the avenues that you need. As long as you are true to your niche.”

There is the power of social media, of self-expression. Channels like FriendlyJordies enable us to look beyond the veil of agenda-driven mainstream media, and see it for the ridiculous mess that it is. And isn’t that the whole point of democracy? And isn’t that the *cough* media’s *cough* job? What this shows is that through satire and open criticism, one voice change many. And what an awesome voice it is.