On November 14th, 2020, over 1.5 million people tuned in to watch a YouTube channel be deleted. Two men sat in front of a camera, one dressed in all white and the other in all black, a TV mounted between them showcasing a clock counting down. The livestream had started twelve hours earlier, the time filled with reminiscences and interactions with fans. As the end grew near, the two men became serious. Their plea was simple: let them and their channel slip away into obscurity, and do not attempt to bring them back. As the timer behind them hit zero, they pressed the delete button and the livestream cut to black.
This event was the closing act of a YouTube channel known as Unus Annus, Latin for “one year.” The channel, created by popular YouTubers Mark Fishbach (Markiplier) and Ethan Nestor (CrankGamePlays) was a pet project of creative self-destruction. Their goal, a lofty one to be sure, was to post a video every single day for a year. And then, once the year was up, the channel would be deleted. They made it clear throughout the year that they would not tolerate reuploads of their videos, and that any attempts would be met with harsh copyright takedowns. Once the project was done, it was done, and their creative efforts should be relived only through memories. The two men hoped to push themselves to their creative and physical limits, with no take-backs or do-overs, posing the question to themselves: “if you had a year to live, what would you do?”
The videos varied widely in content, developing alongside all the unexpected twists of 2020. Mark and Ethan attempted aerial aerobics, hypnotism, and cooking classes (between COVID lockdowns, of course). They went camping together, forced themselves through bizarre physical and mental challenges and created videos together over FaceTime for a few months to accommodate social distancing. The two even went custom casket shopping early on for the eventual death of their channel. Naturally, not every single one of the 369 videos posted was a hit. Some videos were chaotic, some a bit dull (in my humble opinion), while others were so entertaining that they demanded rewatching. This variance, however, was integral to the spirit of the channel. Mark and Ethan had only one chance to make and put out each video, unable to postpone or remake anything in the pursuit of perfection. The videos were the best that they could be simply because they were finished. Viewers could choose to watch or ignore each video as they saw fit, knowing fully that the day would come where they could not change their mind.
By the channel’s end, it had accrued over 4.5 million subscribers, many of whom were dedicated fans. Some were previous subscribers of Mark or Ethan’s individual channels, but many were completely new to both creators. One of the channel’s most remarkable qualities was how deeply it became entrenched in viewers’ lives. It takes about 66 days to form a habit, and Unus Annus quickly became a core part of the daily routines of millions. Many became emotionally attached to the channel, having watched their antics every day for a year, making the deletion of the channel even more heart-wrenching. The final livestream featured thousands of submissions of memes, fan-art, and even tattoos to memorialize the channel. Unus Annus, as ridiculous and off-the-cuff as it could be, clearly touched a large group of people and continues to do so even after its deletion.
Yet, the real draw of Unus Annus was its unique willingness to let go. Most content creators will fight tooth and nail to keep their hard work up, pursuing the money to be made through increasing view counts. Those who do plan to delete videos rarely invest as much energy into their production. Unus Annus challenged both of these practices, instead dedicating as much time and effort into a project as possible, despite knowing that it would be deleted and the resulting loss of potentially significant profit. It is, at the risk of being melodramatic, an apt reflection of life itself. The channel’s impermanence did not detract from the dedication of the two creators. They are content knowing their now-deleted work exists in memory only. Do I wish I could rewatch old Unus Annus videos? Of course. But their absence makes them more precious.
Unus Annus signed off most of their videos with a solemn “Memento Mori,” to remind viewers of the inevitable end of their channel. But, if anything, Mark and Ethan’s complete and genuine dedication to the project and each other left viewers with a different message:
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