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Reflections On Falling YouTube Stars (O Nornna, Where Art Thou?)

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When I heard about Caleb Brataley dying, I thought it was sad. The kid was only thirteen years old.

Then I thought, Who’s Caleb Brataley?

He was a YouTube star.

Apparently he and his family have been making videos of their life for a while now: going to Australia, moving to a new house, eating lunch.

Caleb’s memorial was broadcast on Periscope so YT fans could watch.

To be honest, after hearing about this news, I felt really out of it.

I don’t know any of the YT “stars.” I freely admit I spend too much time on YT. Be it watching an old video of Rod Stewart singing “You Wear It Well” or old clips of Guiding Light, it’s time waste at its finest. I’ve even thought about doing videos of me reading old YA books from the eighties.

Not sure that would make me a star, but I’m not sure how any of these people have become stars or if they even are stars.

And frankly, I don’t even remember any of them.

Except for one.

I remember Norna.

In 2006, YouTube was pretty new on the scene. Everything was fascinating. Charlie bit his brother’s finger? How darned cute is that? A cat playing a piano? How precious! A new unlikely star was in the wings. Her name was Nornna from Wausau, Wisconsin.

Nornna taped everything she did in a day. She played with her cat. She ate dinner. She watched television. She brushed her hair. She sang along with Weird Al. She went to her church’s Christmas fair. Visited an anti-abortion “memorial.” She got to meet her favorite author Meg Cabot. Cabot bragged in her blog about meeting Nornna. Nornna became famous. She wasn’t a movie star, she wasn’t a singer, and she wasn’t a Kardashian. She was just Nornna.

I found Nornna by accident when I was looking up Meg Cabot on YT. There was Nornna holding up the new Cabot, and then she ate lunch. That was it. That was the content of the video. I watched it thinking, people watch this? It was oddly hypnotic to watch. To be quite honest, I felt awful that I was watching in the first place. It was quite clear Nornna had some mental delays, or as one sensitive soul put it on a message board: “She loves everything Tard related.”

I don’t even like typing that sentence. It reminds me of when I was a child; a girl walked up to me and asked, “Are you half retarded or something? You’re like, super good at reading but you’re terrible at everything else.”

But Nornna, God bless her, kept on putting out videos. One time she talked about her video camera breaking down, so she wanted money for a new one. Hey! Why don’t you send Nornna money to buy a new camera! Many people gave her a hard time, saying she couldn’t just go and beg for money for a new camera. Get a job, babe! (She would explain she had a job, but it didn’t pay much) Looking at the video now I thought she was on to something: she was fundraising before fundraising became cool.

Norrna had her followers. People taped themselves watching her videos. They sent her money for a new camera. She was written about in The New York Times.

I’m serious.

The New York Times!

She refused to be interviewed. How Salinger/Garbo of her!

The winter of 2007 was when everything changed. Nornna’s videos were pulled off YT. Rumors went wild. The rumors were nuts and absurd, but the one that was perhaps the most damning was that Nornna filmed herself taking a bath. YT objected and pulled the video. Someone called Nornna’s work and told them about the “inappropriate” videos she was putting up, and they put her on warning, saying that if someone called again, she would be fired.

But the one rumor that I actually believed was this one: Her parents decided Enough and pulled the plug.

Nornna disappeared.

And yet, her videos have appeared again. There haven’t been any new ones since February 2007. That makes me mad: Nornna never got to capitalize on her fame. She didn’t get the money many are getting for their YT videos. Why shouldn’t get a piece of the pie? The thing was Nornna wasn’t in it for the money. She just loved showing her life to people.

I truly feel bad for the Brataleys, who have several YT channels and sell backpacks on their website with the children’s faces on them.

They’ve lost a child and seem to not know how to turn the camera off in his absence.

Maybe Nornna got out at the right time: maybe she didn’t want to be famous anymore, with people judging her Eeyore pajamas and favorite books. Maybe she didn’t want to be a star. Maybe she just wanted to be Nornna again.

Maybe she was smarter than we think.