What levels of narcissism do you need to reach before you begin to rope your own children into traumatic "prank" YouTube videos?
Image via DaddyOFive YouTube channel.
How far would you go for fame? What are the depths to which you'd sink for a taste of celebrity? Masturbating livestock, consuming maggots and testes, ingesting vomiting agent ipecac – all things people have done for a few seconds in the limelight. Some, though, do not just debase themselves in the pursuit of stardom. They reel others into their dangerous play for celebrity.
Over the last week, one such instance has appalled people in a greater way than any before it, more than the pig wanking, the grub and kangaroo testicle feasts. And that's because children are being affected in one couple's desperate attempt to be noticed.
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I have written more than once about my disdain for "prank" videos on YouTube. More often than not these videos are complete fabrications – many YouTubers pay actors to play the shocked members of the public, and in the case of couples prank teams, both partners are often in cahoots. Sometimes these pranks morph like diseases into what people like to call "social experiments", which are, for the most part, unbelievably racist or misogynist theatrics which paint black people as violent and women as sex objects.
Ultimately, though, these are quite easily identifiable as fakes, as the Gumtree actors hired for the job can't quite pull off a convincing performance. For instance, every person in this video puts on a sub-primary school Christmas play display; you'll see more persuasive acting from diving European footballers.
In the case of deranged prank prince Roman Atwood, his family were staples in his goal of creating huge emotional upset for YouTube hits. Mostly, though, it was his partner Brittney Smith who bore the brunt of these pranks. Whether it was pretending to launch his child over the side of a bannister or fabricate his child's death in a dirt bike fire, the child was always in on it, and it was Smith who cried the tears of anguish. In the case of Mike and Heather Martin, it's the children who are very much at the receiving end of this troubling behaviour.
DaddyOFive is the Martins' YouTube channel, which, in the fallout of the great controversy surrounding it, has been completely purged, aside from one apology video. So what exactly did they do?
The initial rush of complaints came as a result of a video called "Ink Prank", in which Mike and Heather scream expletives at Cody, their young bespectacled son, accusing him of spilling ink on his bedroom carpet. They berate the child to the point of tears as he desperately tries to tell them he's innocent. Another child is roped into the "prank" and also begins to cry. In the end, as Cody, red-faced, wipes away his tears, Mike implores him to say the channel mantra of "click, like, subscribe, leave a comment, etc".
At the time of writing they have 765,835 subscribers, no doubt a number that will plummet in the coming weeks.
As self-stlyed YouTube news anchor Phillip DeFranco has pointed out in his extremely damning video, this is not the only instance of the Martin parents subjecting their children to emotional distress. Cody in particular seems to get a disproportionate amount of mistreatment. He's often seen screaming and crying, his siblings bullying him, breaking his possessions, dragging him off of furniture, all while his step mother Heather demands he "take a joke" (further ostracising him by saying he's "the only one in the family who can't take a joke") and to stop "acting like a butthole". He looks to the camera and pleads for the filming to stop. Of course, it doesn't. In one video Cody asks his father to stop filming, to which the response is, "No, I need to vlog my life, you know that."
And herein lies the crux of the problem: Mike and Heather Martin are apparently willing to put their children through visible suffering to satiate their own narcissistic greed for fame. In those children they have their own cast of characters with whom they can do whatever they want. And there is no escape for them: if mum and dad want to prank and prod, they will have to endure the pranking and prodding.
The whole saga speaks to how the desire for fame – even fame as middling as that of a minor YouTube celebrity – can begin to consume you, to the point where you forget yourself. For every one comment decrying their behaviour, Mike and Heather Martin will see 10 defending it, and it's those they will listen to because it normalises the route they're taking in the quest for recognition. The children are just collateral.
In their initial apology video – which, along with all their other videos, has now been taken down (and replaced with an even more apologetic video) – they claim Cody wants to be "an actor". This is after they try to assure the viewers that the videos are fake. They're indirectly suggesting that their son's tears of pain and confusion are the result of his supreme acting talents.
We know, of course, that this isn't what's going on at all. That his tears are really the result of a claustrophobic campaign of filmed mental poking, all undertaken so his parents can feel the petty buzz of YouTube fame for just a moment.
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