Sweltering in an oversized suit, a young reporter watches as adults in animal costumes shout ‘Free Palestine’. A year later, surgical mask donned, he interviews a couple claiming that ‘Lockdowns are Slavery’ at a protest in Sacramento, California. In Minneapolis, he wears a gas mask and black clothes amid the looted Target that sparked international debate. The reporter is Andrew Callaghan of the YouTube channel “All Gas No Brakes”. In this article we take a look at their rise to prominence, and what sets them apart from more conventional sources of news and entertainment.
Picking Up Speed
Comprised of three men born in the 90s and an RV of a similar vintage, All Gas No Brakes is a rapidly expanding YouTube phenomenon from Seattle. Described as ‘New Gonzo Journalism’, the channel aims to give a voice to the fringes of American society. Its subjects have included Furry conventions, Flat Earth conferences, and far right milita rallies. The goal in every interview, no matter how brief, is to listen and not judge. Its style has really connected with a digital audience, and after only one year online has already garnered 1.2 million subscribers on YouTube and over 1.7 million subscribers on Instagram. For an increasingly political and content-hooked Gen Z audience, the channel is rapidly becoming a household name.
This isn’t just a product of the comedy implicit in a lot of the content posted by the page, however. The content of the channel has become more serious in light of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Where many businesses and media groups have diminished their operations, All Gas No Brakes has flourished, making videos at anti-lockdown demonstrations and Black Lives Matter protests in Portland and Minneapolis. The flexibility of their small production meant they were able to maintain continuity on the channel, something many other larger networks struggled with. Having recently signed a deal with Abso Lutely Productions, the company owned by veteran internet entertainers Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, the only way is up for the channel.
Gen Z Journalism
Stylistically, the channel’s content is geared towards an Internet-savvy Gen Z audience. There are several factors that play into this. First and most obviously is the editing style. Increasingly, young people get their news from comedy and comedians. All Gas No Brakes, especially in their early content, assemble their montages with the intent of getting laughs. Quick cuts, satirical music, and lingo lifted from hip hop and internet subcultures make their content a far cry from something one might see on CNN.
On top of this, the events they choose to take the RV and film are all fields that young people would be familiar with; conventions for ‘furries’, a subculture for people who share an interest in anthropomorphic animal characters; the infamous raid on Area 51 in 2019; a Flat Earth convention, and so on. Citing skate videos from the 90s, as well as Jackass and Vic Berger, a master of the supercut, their style belongs on the Internet. As we will see, much like their audience, the channel has seen some big changes over the last year.
There’s no denying how the platform has grown. But the way it has been used has been in an increasingly political direction. With their Minneapolis Protest coverage the initially frivolous, fun and light-hearted channel began to cover more and more political content. The significant part here is that it isn’t motivated by a particular party line, or a political ideology. Many channels, including and sometimes especially news sources, have a through line. All Gas No Brakes, by contrast, is just trying to give people a voice.
A critical part of this is the lack of insertion of Callaghan’s own opinions. Segments aren’t structured according to a typical ‘frame argument, provide evidence, reinforce point’ that’s more typical of the genre. Instead, we get an apparently free-form, but still very carefully assembled, sequence of spontaneous pieces. He’s spoken about keeping neutral, saying that the only thing he doesn’t want to make light of is black liberation. Otherwise, he’s quite happy to let people ramble and make fools of themselves, or to try and get their point across. In an interview with H3H3 he suggested that his interviewing style was to ask questions that he might already know the answer to, or what his subject was going to say, in order to get them talking.
The ‘Radical Left’?
Politically, the channel seems to align with a lot of the sentiments of his generation. There is a major trend among American Gen Zs (not universally, obviously) towards left-wing politics, championed by Bernie Sanders but spreading both into liberal and more radical camps. Though nominally Democrat voters, they are by no means ‘Blue no matter who’.
Style definitely plays into this. Gen Zs are the generation most integrated into the internet. Memes and free-form political content play a huge role in shaping ideology, and it is primarily through social media that they get their news. Unlike previous generations, this does not typically come from a particular channel (be it on TV, radio or in a newspaper). Instead, news arrives in an endless spiral of content from scattered, algorithmically determined sources on social media.
All Gas No Brakes taps into this style, presenting fragmented, comical yet revealing interviews with unnamed strangers. It’s not dealing with the refined, fleshed out opinions of think tanks or reporters. It doesn’t cite its sources. It’s concerned more with raw feelings, with truths and representations that seem self-evident, with voices that aren’t heard in the political mainstream; frustration about Bernie, about climate change, about political inaction.
Rather than lionising this generation, however, the channel interrogates it as well. Apart from particular videos, most of their ‘guests’ are young as well. Ignorance and arrogance are common across his interviews with frat boys at a beach party in the middle of a pandemic, or at a Proud Boys rally. Across their interviews, the channel examines unusual lifestyle choices, drug use, and blatant rejection of public health guidelines on mask usage and social distancing. As with all of its content, the channel’s depiction of young people is unfiltered, sometimes unflattering, but always sincere.
There is also a strong through-line of weird internet sub-cultures, and the ways in which the modern world have alienated people who crave community. With the conference videos it becomes clear that people are mostly just looking for a group where they can feel heard. Though it isn’t explicit, the channel shines a light on these self-fulfilling communities that form online, and that radicalise themselves through the echo chamber of social media.
There are a few groups we see in this instance. The first is Trumpism and the more zealous fringes of MAGA, covered in the Lockdown Protest and Donald Trump Jr. Book Launch videos. More involved is the Flat Earth movement, but also Furries and the AlienCon content. Throughout, however, there is a trend towards conspiracy theories, and a command to ‘do your own research’. The particular groups and individuals pushing these theories vary wildly. Some psychologists believe that ‘conspiracy ideation’, or a tendency towards a belief in conspiracy theories, is a product of a lack of control in one’s personal life, though this theory has been called into question. Regardless, what is consistent throughout is a regular and extensive connection with online communities, and a general disdain for mainstream education sources.
Most alarming of all these ideologies, however, is the anti-Semitism at the root of many of these movements. Callaghan makes mention in an interview with VICE of the ‘Parables of the Elders of Zion’, a debunked and plagiarized text published in Russia in 1903 as justification for anti-Semitic violence.
According to Callaghan, the book is always touted at any conspiracy theory convention. Its message of a shadowy international Zionist conspiracy appears almost inevitably as a basis for several mainstream conspiracy theories including Flat Earth and QAnon, a rapidly growing far-right digital cult.
All Gas No Brakes, then, seeks to present without comment the effects of a media-saturated America. The channel’s wide-ranging content casts a light on the rapidly splintering superpower from the bottom up, giving a voice to its increasingly divided fringes. Its style is indicative of its creators, Gen Z people who are confused and frustrated by the world they were born into, and that feel increasingly powerless to change it. Despite the serious times it documents, however, the channel nonetheless remains upbeat. After all, there’s always someone out there with something fun to say, if you’re willing to look for them.
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