9 Truck Stops and Fashion Shows: A Case Study of the Discursive Performance of Evangelical Christian Group Affiliation on YouTube (2/4) – Social Media and Religious Change

user by observing who made video responses to his videos, who he discussed in
his videos and commenters. Following this pattern of identifying potential con-
nections, I was able to build a group of between 15 20 Christian and atheist
users who frequently interacted with one another. The number of users fluctuat-
ed during the observation period, as certain YouTubers joined and left the site. In
the course of the observation period I also began to identify potential drama ep-
isodes for analysis, particularly episodes in which users took positions that
aligned with or distanced themselves from other users. Inclusion of atheists in
the dataset was necessary, as users frequently interacted with one another,
and it would be impossible (as I will show in the data) to understand the inter-
action of the Evangelical Christians on the site without also considering their in-
teraction with atheists, as this interaction is, especially in this dataset, a key
source of disagreement. Although linguistic ethnography (LE) takes an explicitly
emic perspective (often informed by user interviews and participant observa-
tion), attempts were made to contact users but this largely failed, and I was un-
able to elicit reports from users about their perceptions of interaction; therefore I
relied only on reports from videos.
In early 2009, an episode of drama began when the Evangelical Christian
YouTuber Yokeup used the term human garbage in a subsequently removed
video. In the video, Yokeup calls an atheist user crosisborg (CB) human garbage
in response to insulting comments CB had made in an earlier (also subsequently
removed) video about Yokeups wife. In this video and others Yokeup produced
during January 2009, Yokeup makes the claim that calling someone hum an gar-
bage is based on the biblical parable of the vinedresser and the branches (John
15: 1 24). The initial exchange between CB and Yokeup is marked by insults and
strong disagreement and results in a long-term argument among Yokeup, atheists
and other Christians over whether or not Yokeup should use this term. I attempt-
ed to identify videos which were both related to the drama episode and still post-
ed on the site. Starting with a search of the term human garbage, potential vid-
eos related to the dramatic episode were identified as appearing in the search
and/or from examining responses to these videos and/or videos made around
the time the controversy was responded to by key users, but which did not ap-
pear in the search as the text human garbage was not attached to the video.
After 40 videos were identified as having some relation to the dramatic episode,
I determined that there were 24 videos which related directly to this episode and
were posted either near the time of the drama or re-posted later, but in obvious
reference to the episode.
YouTube provides users two options when they post a video: they can keep
the video private and only viewable to friends, or they can publish the video
openly on the site, allowing for access by anyone at any time. Although the dis-
Stephen Pihlaja
tinction between private and public space in social networks has been problema-
tised, most notably by Lange (2007) in discussing how users present themselves
in YouTube videos, in terms of the technical function of the site, YouTube is clear
about the implications of posting videos publicly. Its user policy states explicitly:
Any videos that you submit to the YouTube Sites may be redistributed through
the Internet and other media channels, and may be viewed by the general pub-
lic (YouTube 2010). Because of this, informed consent to use the videos was not
Videos were transcribed and entered into the qualitative analysis software
Atlas.TI, where I coded all categories and metaphors. I identified a category as
any word or phrase used to describe a group of people (e. g., Christians, atheists,
the religious) and metaphors using Camerons vehicle identification procedure
(Cameron 2003). Although the videos included responses from both atheists
and Christians, this chapter will focus primarily on the response of Christians
to the use of the term, particularly in one video in which Yokeup makes explicit
issue of Evangelical Christian categorisation, wondering whether one user in par-
ticular, jezuzfreek777,issaved or whether he is simply religious. The video was
made in April 2009, well into the drama episode, and addresses Yokeups sense
that other Christian users have joined with atheists in denouncing his use of
human garbage in insulting crosisborg.
Figure 1 shows the key information about the video.
Figure 1: Video information: I doubt JezuzFreek is saved …’
‘…but my opinion doesnt matter think about it, think about what Jesus Christ taught us, and
then make your own choice as to how you want to respond to God …’
YokeUp Ministries
Time : (mins:secs) Date  April 
Views , [ -] Comments  [ -]
YokeUp, Ministries, Salvation,
Jesus, Christ
Category People and Blogs
The description box text and tags were written by the user, Yokeup, and the
number of views and comments were taken at the time of transcription on 18
May 2010. As the video is not still online, the number of views and comments
may have continued to increase before its withdrawal, but, as with most videos
on YouTube, there is generally a period of high traffic when the video is first
9 Truck Stops and Fashion Shows
posted, which can be assumed to have passed for this video. As new videos are
made, both the number of comments and views tend to stabilise, as users watch
and comment on new videos.
In another article (Pihlaja 2011b) I present a more in-depth textual analysis
of the video, identifying all categories and their interaction with metaphorical
language, but for this chapter I focus only on the development of two categories,
saved and religious, in both the video and the text comments.
3 Video analysis
The video (YokedtoJesus 2009) is recorded early in the morning and starts with a
video bumper
that Yokeup has used on many of his videos, and this includes the
man counting down from 5 and loud music playing. The image consists of Yoke-
up, a middle-aged American man, standing in front of what appears to be his
house as the sun is coming up behind him. Yokeup is wearing a t-shirt with
cut-off sleeves, and the tattoos on both of his arms are clearly visible. As in
many of his videos, Yokeup makes the video after returning from working out
and is sweaty and energetic in his presentation. There are small edits made
throughout the video, but Yokeup does not appear to have prepared the actual
content of the video, although as a frequent vlogger his delivery is clear and re-
laxed throughout. At the beginning of the video, he greets the viewer loudly over
the sound of the edited-in music, shouting Good morning! while the music
fades. He stops and listens quietly to the sound of birds singing in the back-
ground and says to the camera, Listen to that and returns to listening to the
birds. After several seconds, he comments, We serve an awesome God and re-
minds the viewer that God has created all the animals before repeating, We
serve an awesome God.
After the opening of the video, Yokeup begins to address the main topic con-
tained in the title I doubt JezuzFreek is saved. Speaking directly to the camera,
Yokeup says the following:
But one interesting thing that that Ive been thinking about: I wonder if jezuzfreek is saved.
I wonder if hes had a salvation moment. I wonder if Paulas saved, if shes had a salvation
moment. And you know, I, I [sic] wonder about a lot of people. A lot of people that claim to
be Christians, and it seems to be a theme in the Baptist community, you know, are they re-
An element that acts as a transition, e. g., to or from commercial breaks, or, as in this case, at
the start or end of a video clip (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_broadcasting_terms,
accessed 27.6.13).
172 Stephen Pihlaja
ligious or are they saved? I mean, is the holy spirit, have they, have they [sic] had that mo-
ment when the holy spirit comes into their heart, and uh, the reason, uh, and you know,
and in [the Christian user] hislivingsacrifices, Paulas video, you know, she talked about
church in one of her videos; she talked about church. And um, and she said, You know,
its more like a fashion show. And, and its kind of struck me, are you going to church
to be seen? Are you going to church to hear the word of God? You know, we preach
down at the truck stop every Sunday. Aint no fashion show. Its people hungry to hear
the word of God, and I, uh, and I thank God for that church. I thank God for, for putting
us in the ministry of preaching at a truck stop, um, because when people show up, theyre
hungry for God. And I dont care if theres two in there or ten in there. I dont care, you
know? Id rather be talking to those folks who are hungry to hear the word of God, rather
than to be seen and, you know, have it be a fashion show. (YokedtoJesus 2009).
In this extract, Yokeup employs two common descriptions of Christians: saved
and religious, but goes on to develop how other YouTubers can be placed into
these two categories. First, Yokeup identifies two users for potential inclusion in
the religious category: Paula and jezuzfreek777. Jezuzfreek777, who the title of
the video identifies as someone that Yokeup doubts is saved, is identified as po-
tentially religious rather than saved because Yokeup wonders if he has had a sal-
vation moment, suggesting that one key difference between the religious and
the saved is a moment when the holy spirit comes into [ones] heart. Although
the term salvation moment appears elsewhere in Yokeups discourse, here there
is little description of what this moment might entail and how one might know if
another has had one. Paula, another Evangelical Christian YouTuber who subse-
quently closed her account after the drama episode, is also singled out for reli-
gious categorisation. Yokeup positions Paula and jezuzfreek777 both as also not
having had a salvation moment, but he presents Paula as engaging in an addi-
tional category-bound activity similar to that of jezuzfreek777: she is overly con-
cerned with appearances rather than with hearing the word of God.
Categorised with Paula and jezuzfreek777 are several other groups that are
also suspected of being religious rather than saved. First, Yokeup suggests
that a lot of people fall into the religious category. Moreover, not only Paula
but Paulas church, and not only her church but the Baptist community, are in-
cluded in the potentially religious category. Paula
s church is included in this
category based on Yokeups reporting of Paulas speech that the church treats
meetings as fashion shows rather than instances to hear the word of God.
Throughout the video, although Yokeup repeatedly talks about other groups of
users, Baptist is the only denomination of Evangelical Christian mentioned. Yo-
keup makes it clear in his description of the users that their actions are evidence
of their placement in the religious category, not their denominational affilia-
9 Truck Stops and Fashion Shows
tion. What they have or have not done is explicitly the issue for Yokeup, not what
they believe or which church they attend.
The category of saved by contrast appears implicitly in the section, namely
as the inverse of the category-bound activities of the religious. The contrast, how-
ever, does not occur between Yokeup and Paula or jezuzfreek777, but rather be-
tween the institutions they are associated with. Yokeup doesnt present himself
in contrast to Paula and her church; rather he says of the truck stop church,
It aint no fashion show. Instead, he says, Its people hungry to hear the
word of God. Although Yokeup and his wife Caroline are put in the ministry
of the truck stop church, the description of the people attending is not a descrip-
tion of Yokeup per se, but of the other attendees of the church. In additi on to not
being a fashion show and being populated by people hungry to hear the word of
God, Yokeup states that he doesnt care how many people attend, another state-
ment that contrasts with jezuzfreek777 who, as Yokeup goes on to describe him, is
overly concerned with the number of people hearing his message, a subwhore
who is more concerned about the popularity of his message than the content.
As the video progresses, Yokeup includes discussion of another set of users,
including several atheists and Christians who Yokeup doesnt regard as saved,
further expounding the difference between the saved and the religious Chris-
tians on YouTube. In particular, Yokeup criticises jezuzfreek for considering as a
friend and hanging out with an atheist YouTuber, tommyfromthebronx, with
whom Yokeup also occasionally had an adversarial relationship. In this instance,
Yokeup contrasts jezuzfreek
s actions with those of Jesus, whom he describes as
not caring about numbers and reaching out to the lost, but being adamant
about not being friends or buddies with those to whom he was reaching out.
Instead, Yokeup presents Jesus as preaching what he considers a hard mes-
sage to his disciples, saying, Look, this roads getting awfully hard, man. You
know, if you aint willin to sell everything and, and uh, you know, come and fol-
low me, and give it all up, you know.
In this presentation of Jesuss message (apparently a re-voicing of Luke
18:22), Yokeup presents the message of Jesus as aggressive and difficult, not in-
tended to gain great numbers of followers and causing many people to leave
him. Although Yokeup seems to accept that Jesus was at times popular, he
casts Jesus as rejecting a popular message in favour of a hard message that
drove people away from him.
Subscriber whore: apparently someone who is willing to do anything to increase the number
of people subscribed to their channel.
174 Stephen Pihlaja