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May 16, 2016

YouTube, celebrity and a passion for destruction

by John_A

A few sites on the internet are so vast and multifaceted that in some ways, they are the internet. Facebook is one, of course. YouTube, with its millions of videos uploaded every single day, is another. There’s almost no way to be surprised at what you find on the site, because almost anything you can think of is there, and almost everything has an audience.

My latest obsession is the Hydraulic Press Channel, run by a pair of Finnish factory owners who have garnered hundreds of thousands of subscribers and millions of viewers in the short time they’ve been active. The channel started about 6 months ago but has hit critical mass in the last six weeks. They’ve been posting multiple videos a week, most of which have garnered well over a million views. Press coverage of this new phenomenon has come from publications as diverse as The Washington Post, New York Magazine and People Magazine. The HPC has most definitely broken into the mainstream, in a big way.

But the channel is hardly unique. There are plenty of accounts like Tito4Re, which specializes in pouring molten copper on random objects and Carsandwater (general mayhem, including lots of burning) that are dedicated to what looks a lot like mindless destruction. The flip side of that coin are channels dedicated to creating odd, impressive, niche things (often in the service of destruction), like Jörg Sprave’s Slingshot Channel. They may seem pointless to the majority, but these acts of creation and destruction are clearly important to the people making these videos — as well as the sizable audiences that these seemingly random channels are able to gather.

There’s a clear passion and dedication required to make these videos week after week, and it seems like audiences respond to authentic, unfiltered enthusiasm like this. The hysterical cackling and cursing coming from HPC’s Lauri and Anni Vuohensilta when they crush objects (or experience ridiculous setbacks) is almost as much fun as watching the actual destruction — they’re clearly having a blast. Lauri said over email that he started the channel “for fun and for a hobby,” and that “as long as I get some YouTube money, making these videos beats my regular job 100 [percent].”

Sprave sounds even more passionate about his slingshots and the many other insane projectile weapons he creates. “My channel gives me a vent for that pent up creative drive in me,” he said via email, “which I enjoy immensely.” And the idea for focusing on slingshots came out of a childhood love of the toys. He let them go for a good 30 years though before rediscovering them as a “cheaper and more comfortable alternative to archery.” After a year of experimenting, the Slingshot Channel was born, and Sprave plans to keep it going “indefinitely.”

Neither Sprave nor the Vuohensiltas expected their channels to take off the way they did, and that’s part of the charm — they’re very obviously DIY affairs, with minimal production values. Both channels are run by a husband-and-wife duo, and the videos are labors of somewhat unusual love. That level of minimalism is something audiences seem to respond to. “Before YouTube, you were lucky if 5 people would be willing to endure your homemade video,” Sprave said. But his channel has picked up more than 158 million views to date — that’s a lot of people “enduring” his videos.

While Sprave never imagined his slingshot obsession would catch on, Lauri Vuohensiltas said that he had expectations his videos would find an audience — just not as fast as they did. “I expected that it would get quite popular within two or three years — but not this fast.”

A lot of these types of videos are rather formulaic — both the HPC and copper-melting channels follow nearly the same setup in every episode — but that belies a lot of the work that goes into figuring out how to crush a bowling ball or pour 2,000-degree copper onto a 5-pound gummy bear safely. Lauri says his process is the same every time: “Set up your cameras, crush, clean, edit, publish and answer for some comments for 30 minutes.” But there’s a lot he does to make sure his project won’t cause bodily harm. “I typically check [for] chemical dangers, and when crushing pressure vessels what gas they have inside and what is the pressure,” he explains. ” After that I think what would make this crushing safe and deploy necessary safety measures,” like his home-made blast shield.

He’s anything but reckless; Lauri admitted that he’s had to let some potential videos go in the name of safety. “I was planning to crush a full size fire extinguisher,” he says, “but I calculated that it can fly with too much force to trust my current blast shield.” Fortunately for HPC aficionados, he said that he’s getting a new, larger press that’ll have full protection for all dangers. “With that, I can crush almost everything that I can fit there,” Lauri predicts.

Ultimately, that drive to be able to crush anything or build contraptions that are then put into service to destroy things simply taps into the curious, child-like part of our brains. It’s that part of my brain that wanted to build up a giant Lego castle only to knock it down it, or craft a complex sand castle and laugh as the waves washed it away. But most of us don’t have giant hydraulic presses or the skills to build our own tools of destruction (not to mention the time for such pursuits). These YouTube channels let us get a little taste of what our lizard brains might do if we had unlimited resources. Let’s be honest — who doesn’t want to see what’ll happen when you try and flatten a bowling ball?

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