Unus Annus: Born to Die

How a YouTube experiment restored my faith in the possibilities of content creation.

Why am I writing about a YouTube channel that no longer exists? Pointless, right?

For several people, everything about Unus Annus seemed futile. Created by Mark Fischbach (AKA ‘Markiplier’) and Ethan Nestor (AKA ‘CrankGameplays’), the idea was to upload one daily video for exactly one year, before deleting all content entirely. In collaboration with Mark’s girlfriend, Amy, and a brilliant team of editors, Mark and Ethan were able to consistently produce original, wacky and impressive ideas, often putting themselves out of their comfort zones in the process. They got pepper sprayed, learned the art of mime, did life drawings of each other: nothing was out of bounds. All that effort culminated in a final livestream (or ‘deathstream’) on Friday 13th November, where the pair reflected on their year before deleting the channel for good.

Erasing such hard work might have been senseless if Unus Annus hadn’t told an important story, the story we all tell: that life is finite. Morbid as it may seem, Mark and Ethan used the facts of existence to motivate their viewers to ‘make the most out of every single second, because we will never get a single second back.’ That’s about as universal a message as you can find on YouTube, a platform that increasingly rewards those who shout the loudest and flash their cash the hardest. By contrast, Unus Annus marked a refreshing change of pace that resonated with over 4 million subscribers, myself included.

As grand as it sounds, I felt a connection when watching Unus Annus that I have not experienced before with a YouTube project. I was conscious of wanting to see every video, aware that I would not get another chance. When Friday 13th rolled around, I genuinely felt anxious – not for any superstitious reasons, but because, in a matter of hours, the channel would be gone. Somehow, despite the incessant ticking of the countdown clock, I still hoped that it might not happen. But why did I care so much?

Gone but not forgotten – the YouTube message confirming the deletion of Unus Annus

The answer lies in the fact that fun, original and authentic content seems so rare on YouTube – of course it exists, but it’s so hard to find without wading through the mess of late-night talk shows and entitled influencers. With Unus Annus, I could press play in the knowledge that I’d be watching something new and genuinely entertaining. It would have been so easy for Mark and Ethan to churn out low-effort, repetitive videos, especially when their ambitious plans were interrupted by the pandemic, but they overcame even this creative challenge and used it to innovate. The experience was made even more enjoyable by the pair’s true friendship and chemistry – in one of the channel’s final videos, Mark and Ethan openly aired grievances and praised each other, a level of respect that the on-screen and off-screen worlds could greatly benefit from.

It’s clear, then, why this project had such an effect on me and millions of others – but what about the impact on its creators? Both Mark and Ethan uploaded individual videos on their separate channels reflecting on the ending of Unus Annus, and their feelings seemed as complex as those of their audience. For Mark, the more experienced YouTuber (who I’ve been following for many years), deleting the channel brought a sense of immense relief after 365 days of hard graft. But the process also reignited his passion for content creation, just as watching it had got me excited about the possibilities of video-making again. Ethan’s response was more openly emotional, acknowledging that Unus Annus had shown him his capabilities and inspired him to make bigger and better things in future. Check out their responses in full below:

Mark ‘Markiplier’ Fischbach’s final thoughts on Unus Annus.
Ethan ‘CrankGameplays’ Nestor’s reflections on the end of the channel.

So, there you have it – my take on Unus Annus, the YouTube experiment that exposed the temporary nature of our lives and taught us to savour them. If, after reading this post, you feel like you’ve missed out on something special, then you’re close to grasping the point that Mark and Ethan succeeded in getting across. Unus Annus teaches us that there’s always things in life we’re going to miss out on, so we should grasp every opportunity that we can. And while that sentiment may be hard to appreciate while we’re stuck in lockdown, it doesn’t make it any less true.

You might, for example, be inspired to follow in the pair’s footsteps and start a YouTube project of your own. As Mark himself admitted, anyone could have made an Unus Annus channel, destined to last for only a year – indeed, I don’t doubt that others will try in future. But Mark also affirmed that such a channel would have an entirely different experience from his and Ethan’s experiment, just like my viewing experience will not match anyone else’s. No matter what comes after (and regardless of some sneaky re-uploaders), Unus Annus will remain an entirely unique experience – even if, or especially because, its importance wasn’t truly appreciated until after it was gone.

Featured image copyright Fanbyte.

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