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If Life's Worth Living, It's Worth Recording! - When Family Drama Becomes Public Property

Image Credit: The ShayTards

Ok, this is my first weight loss vlog. I will try and do one every day. Also, I will only accept video responses that are about your weight loss.

These are the words that started off Shay Carl Butler’s YouTube journey. Hailing from Utah in the United States, Butler, then 29-years-old, decided to document his weight loss journey through YouTube, using the platform as motivation for his goal. But that’s not how it ended, and what ensued kickstarted a genre that makes even the strongest social media commentator shiver in fear: family vlogging channels.

In 2016, the self-proclaimed ShayTards were at the top of their game. Interviews with Fox News, high-profile engagement with Disney, and millions of dollars led them to YouTube superstardom, and they were widely proclaimed as the platform’s ‘First Family’, with millions of subscribers tuning in every single day to watch their daily vlogs throughout the year. Shay and his wife, Colette (known as MommyTard), along with their five children, Gavin (SonTard), Avia (PrincessTard), Emmi (BabyTard), Brock (RockTard), and Daxton (BroTard), were riding high and raking in the cash. The future looked bright for the internet’s most charming family. 

And then it all came crashing down.

After Shay was proven to have been cheating on his wife of fourteen years with cam girl Aria Nina, who exposed him via social media, the ShayTards vlogging channel went dark for a while. A few scattered come-backs, and a few lack-lustre attempts at vlogs came through, but it wasn’t much, and it was never for long. Colette’s solo channel revealed someone struggling to get through the hurt that Shay had caused - someone trying to reconcile her strong Mormon beliefs to her anger - and Shay’s few uploads (now all deleted) showed he was suffering just as deeply. They’ve come back now - it seems, for a more serious (and healed) go of it - but the magic that had kept the vlogging channel going for years has died off with that deeply personal scandal, and it raises a question.

Image Credit: The ShayTards

Should we vlog our families?

This question has been in the news recently aplenty, mostly attached to the Saccone Jolys, a UK-based vlogging family who have attracted a lot of criticism with accusations of child abuse and a controversial documentary with journalist Stacey Dooley. Scandal has abounded, from DaddyOfFive (Michael Christopher Martin) and his abuse of his children, to Myka and James Stauffer returning their adopted child (and facing all the backlash on social media). But people seem to ignore the ShayTards nowadays - perhaps because the kids are older, or because of the back-step the family have taken. 

Let’s take a look at their YouTube story as a whole before we answer that question.

The ShayTards started as a weight loss accountability channel for Shay, as mentioned before. It then quickly blossomed into a narrative of the family’s life together, with daily vlogs, insight into mundane episodes like Colette’s cooking and the kids’ first day of school, and taking the trash out. At this point in the YouTube journey, the Butlers were a family of five, and it’s worth getting to know them from the beginning. 

After marrying his wife Colette in 2003, Shay Butler settled in Idaho with her, and, at the time of the beginning of their YouTube channel, they had three children: Gavin, Avia, and Emmi. It wasn’t long before a fourth child was born, called Brock, whose birth in 2010 was the first to be documented on YouTube, as well as much of his childhood. As a result, he was called the internet’s ‘first Truman baby’, after the cult classic The Truman Show. Then, in 2013, a fifth child was born, who was also recorded from birth - Daxton Butler. The internet were truly integrated with the family - we’d seen two of these kids be born - and we were another part of the family of seven, navigating the ups-and-downs of the good old American Dream. 

Image Credit: The ShayTards

We weren’t just part of their family, though. In fact, we were also integrated within an extended family, who took part in the ShayTards’ family Christmasses, Thanksgivings, and birthdays, with matching pyjamas and Nativity performances all around. Shay’s siblings are all YouTubers, too - family vloggers, who share their personal lives with the internet. 

And it’s not just their personal lives: it’s also their faith. Shay, Colette, and their kids (and extended family) quietly follow their Mormon faith, with the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, and while they don’t speak about their beliefs all too explicitly, we’re quite aware of it. Shay’s said himself:

I leave our faith out of it a lot just because sometimes I just don’t want to deal with it in the comments. The official name of our church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The nickname of our church is Mormons. We’re Mormons. I kind of don’t talk about it a lot. I could talk about it a lot more. Honestly, a lot of the answers to the questions that people ask me, “Why are you so happy,” and stuff, is because of our faith and what we believe. It’s not crazy. I know there are a lot of stereotypes of Mormons and stuff like that. We believe that our family is sealed forever. That’s kind of the basis of our belief. Me and my wife believe that we are married not only until death do us part but we believe because of our faith that we are sealed for time and eternity. We believe that we live after this life, and we believe that we will remain in this relationship after we die and that our children are sealed with us and that we’re an eternal family and that we’ll always be together. 

We’re religious and we’re Mormons, and I don’t talk about it a lot because of the comments and people are freaking out [and] these giant fights in the comments break out. Sometimes it’s not worth it. I did a funny video the other day where I was at church, and I was filming myself in front of the church with the sign of the church behind me saying, “You guys always ask me which church we go to, and I just really don’t want to talk about it. I want to keep that private,” but the sign is really big and then of course in the comments they’re like, “The sign was behind you!” and people are fighting and people take it too serious sometimes. Anyway, yeahh, we’re Mormons. I don’t hide it, but I don’t come out and shove it down people’s throat.

And it was this intense awareness of the happy, loving life that the ShayTards led, under Mormon principles, coupled with our absolute integration with their lives, that cause so much shock when we found out that Shay had cheated on Colette in 2017. The channel stopped, content stopped, and people were genuinely furious.

Screenshot from @rainbowmiller (Twitter)

And, after they were furious, they were worried - and especially worried for Colette and the kids.

Screenshot from @fabuloushannahh (Twitter)

People were intensely involved in the fallout, even as the ShayTards themselves withdrew, and, during the hiatus that followed, it was like many of their viewers had lost a limb. Even the prospect of not having one of their yearly Christmas vlogs was something to be mourned:

Screenshot from @stgcaylen (Twitter)

What should’ve been a private family issue turned into an online spectacle and a buzz that still follows the family now. Perez Hilton, Affair Post, and even Reddit got involved in breaking the scandal, and their lives were ripped apart because people felt entitled to be outraged. They felt that, as a result of the false intimacy created by so much daily and personal content, they were allowed to be angry about what happened as if they themselves were part of this family unit. It’s the same phenomenon that allows us to become so attached to reality TV - and the same phenomenon I’ve spoken about previously, with YouTube couples. 

Shay Butler shared his life online - and when that life got messy, so did the reaction on social media. 

Now, after a few lacklustre comebacks, the ShayTards are creating regular content again. After years of speculation of a divorce, Colette and Shay are back seemingly stronger than ever, and their kids are growing up, with the eldest, Gavin, having just received his mission with the LDS church last month. They’ve gotten past the drama personally, but it still follows them on the internet, and their fans, whether returned or not, remember. The proof of the scandal will always be there to see. God knows how they feel about it off-screen. 

The big question we need to ask, though, is whether this is actually okay. Is it okay to be filming a child from the moment they’re born? Is it okay to film a birth? Is it okay to vlog your life every single day, especially when there are children involved? Is all of this healthy?

Finding an answer to all of those questions is a difficult task, but I think we can set out some facts, for the jury - you guys - to chew on.

Family vlogging channels provide content that millions clearly enjoy, as they watch children grow up. They develop parenting styles, attachments, and gain comfort from family dynamics that they perhaps didn’t even have. Family channels do good in the world. That’s obvious.

But we don’t know what goes on behind the camera. Do these kids even want to be filmed? And crucially, what happens when public opinion turns on those channels that make their kids their content? What happens when family drama is aired out on the screen for all to see?

I don’t know. Shay Carl maintains that, if life’s worth living, it’s worth recording. It’s up to you to decide whether all of that recording should make it past the director’s cut. 

Anna Coopey
4th-year undergraduate student in Classics at The University of St Andrews in Scotland. Keen writer and researcher on a number of topics, varying from Modern Greek literature to revolutionary theory. 
Twitter: @anna_coopey 

Works Cited:
If Life's Worth Living, It's Worth Recording! - When Family Drama Becomes Public Property Reviewed by Anna Coopey on Friday, September 23, 2022 Rating: 5
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