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How YouTubers Cody Ko and Noel Miller capitalised on cringe content

YouTube has been the springboard for many of the internet’s most successful online empires. It’s helped catapult eccentric personalities such as Jeffree Star, PewDiePie, KSI and Nikocado Avocado into the internet’s ether. What all of these content creators have in common is a knack for pursuing a variety of endeavours, with some finding more success than others. In the case of the duo we’re about to analyse, finding a niche in cringe content became their gold dust.

Introducing Cody Ko and Noel Miller, one of YouTube’s most popular and profitable online partnerships. Combined, they have an audience of 10 million users—spanning across three YouTube channels—an award-winning podcast, Tiny Meat Gang (TMG), that perfectly encompasses their unique brand and a roster of original music that receives over 800,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

But here comes the plot twist—it looks like Ko and Miller’s once die-hard fan base may have some troubles ahead as, following a recent TMG episode, the two have found themselves in hot waters regarding their opinion on the whole Andrew Tate debacle. Will they sink or swim?

The start of something new

But before we can even begin to talk about the latest online controversy and how it’s affecting Ko and Miller, we need to rewind back to 2016. At this point of time, the Mannequin Challenge had just taken over the internet, bomber jackets were everywhere and we were all frantically attempting to decrypt the lyrics to Beyoncé’s Lemonade.

2016 also happened to be the year in which our duo first met. Ko and Miller had both begun working for the American entertainment company Fullscreen, leading the two to quickly form a friendship. Then, in the following year, they decided to try their hand at creating YouTube content together.

 

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While the pair both had their first brush with fame on Vine (may the platform rest in peace) prior to even meeting, the video-sharing giant also suited their comedic style—with their first official collaboration, the F*ck this guy series, gaining over four million views in total. From there, Ko and Miller began crafting their personal brand, one that is deeply rooted in the concept of commentating on others’ cringeworthy content. And boy, was this format a winner.

THAT’S CRINGE

Ko and Miller’s most popular series, THAT’S CRINGE, which centres around the pair bantering and joking with one another while they react to—you guessed it—cringe or just plain dumb videos, immediately became a fan-favourite. The topics featured in the series’ videos have ranged from 2012 reality TV show Virgin Diaries to a strange user-generated clip that tells the love story of two people who met at the American supermarket chain, Whole Foods.

The two have continuously produced content that observes and pokes fun at the extremes that come with internet culture. That being said—because even reaction videos can be too much sometimes—Ko and Miller have also since opted for more lighthearted content, seeking to provide some levity to their audience while still managing to keep them engaged enough to shed light on noteworthy topics or problematic influencers.

Battling toxic masculinity

Within the pair’s content, one theme has a certain, shall we say, dominance. Toxic masculinity, or rather the dismantling of it, is discussed heavily in a number of the duo’s videos. Here, Ko and Miller often use their unique comedic style to comment upon toxic behaviours they see circulating on the internet. Listed below are some prime examples of this technique featured in their work:

In 2018, Ko and Miller mocked one of the internet’s most prolific bad boys, Jake Paul. It was the time when the influencer and aspiring boxer had released a unique ‘diss track’ about… teachers? Somehow, ‘Everyday Bro’ simply wasn’t enough.

Throughout the reaction video, which recently surpassed 25 million views, they joke with each other and marvel at how confusing Paul’s target is. “When you’re 21, that’s another thing—why is he dissing high school teachers? I graduated college when I was 21, I hadn’t thought about high school in four years!” Ko stated while Miller went on to take a jab at the music itself, “I don’t think Jake Paul realises he sounds just like KIDZ BOP.”

Their commentary aims to highlight the comedic absurdities of having ‘beef’ with teachers and while it may not appear as an immediate trait of toxic masculinity, Jake Paul has proven himself to be hyper focused on causing controversy and unnecessary chaos. With the Team 10 creator having such a young and impressionable audience, mocking and de-legitimising this form of content helps decrease his influence.

Another clear example of how Ko and Miller have mocked displays of toxic masculinity is the Valentine’s Day edition of THAT’S CRINGE. This particular episode explored a compilation of self-proclaimed pick-up artists—one of whom was Jack Manley, who often refers to himself as a ‘master of seduction’. Manley frequently visits busy college towns, waits outside of bars and attempts to interview and interact with intoxicated women.

In the particular interviews that Ko and Miller reacted to, Manley was seen aggressively interacting with a multitude of women and even trying to kiss a number of them. Ko commented: “It’s night-time, on a packed street of bars, these people are drunk, he’s sober and sticking a camera and lights in these girls’ faces. It’s weird.”

Later on in the video, they react to another man who films himself pulling ‘selfie pranks’—’prank’ being a loose term in this setting. Ko and Miller appear visibly uncomfortable as they watch this man ask random women to kiss him while he takes a selfie with them.

The duo have, on multiple occasions, used their platform to discuss and criticise online male behaviour that, over the past decade, have become far too normalised. Again, by highlighting the issues with fake kissing pranks or pick up artists with their own unique content format, they generate meaningful messages for their audiences.

The weird and the wonderful

One of Ko and Miller’s most beloved content pillars is pure weirdness. If there’s a cringe, strange or unique video on the internet, the duo has probably already reacted to it. You’ll find two of our favourites below.

Matt Rivera, dubbed “The Cheapest Wrestler in the World,” was featured in a 2019 episode of a TLC reality show exploring America’s most outrageous ‘cheapskates’. Ko and Miller reacted to the video in August of the same year and, of course, hilarity ensued.

The pair reacted to Rivera drying out tissues so he can reuse them, carrying out a ‘sniff test’ on one of his two pairs of underwear and shaving his head daily so he doesn’t have to buy shampoo. In one clip, he was also seen haggling for petrol in what Ko described as a “bad soap opera.” The two found it hard to contain themselves as Rivera went back and forth with the petrol station employee, with Ko joking: “You can’t actually haggle for gas can you?” To this, Miller responded: “No, this has never worked anywhere.”

Another example of truly-bizarre content was the duo’s reaction to “vape/weed advocate” Matty Smokes in their video, Vape Hotbox. Just a few minutes in, Ko and Miller immediately commented on how Smokes sounded “like he just learned how to swear.” Smokes undoubtedly has a lot of charisma and the pair even went as far to say: “This guy needs to be in a movie, just no lines, alright Matty just go.”

They definitely played into the mockery of ‘vape culture’ by poking fun at the classic douche stereotypes—while Miller also awkwardly points out the fact Smokes had named his video Vape Hotbox, when the term ‘hot box’ has historically been associated with smoking weed as opposed to vape.

Overall, however, it’s 15 minutes of unadulterated fun and we were even graced with a collaboration video. Only a few months after filming their initial reaction, Ko, Miller and the infamous Smokes all gathered together for a collab and we got to witness a beautiful friendship bloom—wholesome, indeed.

The perfect blend

To delve into all of the angles Ko and Miller have pursued in the past would be far too difficult. However, what does stand out is their ability to combine genuinely funny commentary while simultaneously adding to important conversations surrounding societal issues.

In 2020, Forbes covered Ko’s trajectory and singled out the creator’s unique comedic style.Ko’s body of work is constructed from humour equal parts crass, whimsical and referential, layered in other jokes from across the internet,” the publication noted. Both Ko and Miller have quite simply cracked the code. And more importantly, they have natural chemistry. The two organically bounce off of each other—immediately drawing viewers in.

Outside of THAT’S CRINGE, these two have even been touring comedy shows together for over five years, with performances spanning across the US. They’ve evolved the concept of Tiny Meat Gang into an incredibly profitable and successful brand, and their online following has only strengthened over time.

A recent scandal

This is where the story takes a potentially ironic turn. As mentioned previously, Ko and Miller have an incredibly popular podcast, Tiny Meat Gang. They’ve previously reviewed episodes of Love Island, considered online trends and chatted about weekly political news, such as the recent Roe v. Wade overturning.

However, in an episode posted on 28 July 2022, the pair discussed… Andrew Tate. Now, over the past few months, the British-American former kickboxer has flooded the TikTok For You Page (FYP)—quickly becoming synonymous with male misogynistic behaviour online. In particular, there is a genuine concern surrounding his digital reach and ability to radicalise an entire generation of young men.

The Guardian conducted an experiment to test this theory by creating an anonymous blank account for a teenage boy. The account quickly became flooded with content from Tate. After watching two of his videos, more were recommended—including clips of him blatantly expressing misogynistic views. The next time the account was opened, the first four posts featured Tate from four different accounts. Concerning, to say the least.

In episode 250 of their podcast, Ko and Miller joined the conversation and began to discuss Tate’s online influence, dramatically downplaying his impact. Miller expressed: “I just think what Tate is doing is not anything new… it’s just sort of like, who cares? People get so worked up, so what?”

Their perspective was rooted in the theory that, by not addressing Tate’s behaviour, his fame and presence may dwindle. Miller repeatedly insisted, “You’re not gonna win,” implying that those who stood up against Tate publically would be unsuccessful in dismantling him and, therefore, shouldn’t try doing so in the first place. During the course of the podcast, the pair even went on to compliment the TikTok star and his ability to articulate his feelings.

The internet, understandably, did not receive this hot take very well. There was an overwhelming feeling of disappointment, particularly from female viewers who found it incredibly insensitive and insulting that Ko and Miller would downplay Tate’s influence.

SCREENSHOT recently spoke to Dr. Ashley Morgan, sociology lecturer at Cardiff Metropolitan University and specialist in toxic masculinity. She commented on how common it is to see men adhering to a ‘pack mentality’, stating that “some men fear rocking the boat and don’t want their friends to turn on them. They find solace in a group and go along with the group behaviour because it makes them feel safe.”

“The internet, and especially social media, has been a force for good for many people who can now have their voices heard,” Dr. Morgan continued. “However, this has also meant the internet is a new forum for women to be attacked and harassed. Dick pics, inappropriate DM messaging, and stalking are now common occurrences.”

“While the internet gives many men a forum in which to express themselves, it has been successful in amplifying toxic male voices. It is now, [that] anything goes.”

It should be noted that Miller has since addressed his controversial comments and stated his deep regret, reflecting on how misguided his original opinions had been. He continued to acknowledge his own ignorance surrounding the topic, commenting on how, while it was easy for him to dismiss Tate, “we’re not the women who have to go outside and deal with the men who are fans of him or emulate him.”

While a majority of the pair’s fanbase accepted this apology, others were not so forgiving. Reddit, in particular, recorded a slight backlash—with some viewers feeling as though Miller had focused solely on providing justifications for his comments, rather than simply apologising for them.

Despite this, however, the duo has a lengthy history of calling out toxic behaviour—perhaps this really was just a case of speaking publicly about a topic they were not fully-versed in?

Tate, the Big Brother alumni, has recently taken a hit himself. As of 23 August 2022, the creator’s Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube accounts have all been officially disbanded and removed. Despite this victory, we doubt it’ll keep him quiet for long—one can dream though.

On the other end, I’m sure that Ko and Miller will be able to recover from this setback, and I hope that they do. It was, however, incredibly important that, as two men with vast influence themselves, they were made aware of how the Andrew Tates of the world—and their impact on younger generations—must be taken seriously.