FRIENDLY JORDIES

'Jordie' offers politics wrapped in memes for millennials

Politics

The YouTube star takes aim at Australian politicians and mainstream media.

Do a quick Google search for Friendly Jordies and you'll be bombarded with content dissecting every Australian stereotype. There are videos detailing what it's like working at an Australian Bottle-O, recounting a typical night for an Aussie in Bali, and, more surprisingly, recaps of Nine's reality TV juggernaut Married At First Sight.

There have been lots of laughs, but recently, the YouTube comedy channel's content has taken on a more acerbic political edge. There are videos on what the Prime Minister can learn about leadership from Saint Francis and what Clive Palmer can do with the defamation suit he recently filed against Friendly Jordies.

Addressing Palmer via video, Jordan Shanks, 29, the creative force behind the channel, says Palmer made "one tiny miscalculation. I'm a millennial. Going bankrupt doesn't scare me. I don't have a house." Both the Morrison clip and the response to Palmer clip have been viewed more than 1 million times.

Slowly, but surely, the channel is moving away from reviews of KFC's popcorn chicken bucket and inching closer to becoming a creator of political discourse that strongly appeals to young Australians. Shanks says the Australian public, particularly young people, don't care about Australian politics. "The particular brand of democracy in Australia thrives off people not being interested in elections," Shanks explains. "It is in the media's interest to make politics boring."

He wants to shake that up.

For me, watching a Friendly Jordies video takes me back to my confused high school self, when I used to type "[concept I couldn't understand] for kids" into Google.

Shanks, who studied international politics at UNSW but says "all [he] got was indoctrination", wants to help. How? By offering complex analysis of news events for politically unengaged Australian youth, littered with enough references to memes and relatable Australia culture to keep them interested. It's hard-core political discourse, but, you know, for kids.

The Friendly Jordies channel wasn't always focused on discussions of politics and media bias, both now favourite targets of his in-your-face rants. In February 2013, at 23, Shanks, turned to YouTube to share his content after failing to find a job that appealed in mainstream media. At first, it was just him producing clips for the channel. Within the first year, he had uploaded 64 videos, ranging from skits teaching his followers how to "attract the opposite sex" to his own versions of advertisements for UNSW.

'I'm a mouthpiece for independent journalists. I see myself more or less [as] an Alan Jones for them.'

Throughout the first year, his channel experienced a slow but steady increase in viewers, with most videos viewed a few hundred times. Then, in September, Shanks uploaded his first political video, a satirical analysis of the 2013 Australian Federal election. The stab at Tony Abbott went viral.

"Let me clarify," he laughs over the phone. "It went viral for 2013. Now those numbers would be shit." He laughs again. This was the moment, Shanks says, when he began to consider moving his channel in a different direction, combining his strong understanding of what young Australian audiences find relatable and funny, and his knowledge of the political landscape. He realised it was both an untapped market "and [he could] actually provide a social good".

Shanks credits his motivation for creating this content to the slow realisation that nobody else was doing it, and he says, largely, that's still the case. Then he assures me he isn't so self-aggrandising as to think he's the only one.

"There are journalists that do it," Shanks explains. "They're independent though. They don't have a recognisable platform or brand behind them. They are basically doing it because they have a soul and they are few and far between." Does that makes Shanks a journalist by another name, I ask. "No," he laughs, cutting me off. "I'm a mouthpiece for independent journalists. I see myself more or less [as] an Alan Jones for them." He pauses before laughing again.

Shanks says it's not just that he has a greater reach than many independent news sources, it's that he has a reach at all. When Shanks and his team started citing Michael West Media, the website noticed a rise in the under-35 demographic of its audience.

Michael West, whose site "focuses on public interest journalism, covering stories showcasing the rising power of corporations over democracy", told Newsworthy "we noticed a spike in young readers which was surprising, given the often complicated nature of MWM subject matter.

"Somebody mentioned our stories were often featured on YouTube by Jordan," said West, a former business editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. "We checked it out and joined the dots."

Shanks says "Michael West does exceptional journalism … the thing is, it is inaccessible and it counters the narrative, so why is it going to come up on search engines. Their job isn't trying to maximise search engines and stuff like that."

'[I want] an audience as big as Channel 7. I know that I'm very far off that goal, but it's my only goal.'

Given Shanks is also an independent content creator, how does he survive? Since 2017, he says every video on the Friendly Jordies channel has carried a link to its "Patreon" page, which is designed to help creators acquire patrons, via a subscription style payment model. Fans can choose from three levels; $1 per video allows viewers to skip YouTube advertisements before and during videos, $2 per video to see rough cuts of their videos, and finally $3 to be included in an early release of their videos (to either "impress your friends or vex your enemies").

"Not a dime of the Patreon money goes to me," Shanks insists to his audience in a video. "It all goes to the staff that pour countless hours into this channel."

With the success of his main channel (he now has four permanent and two casual staff and has amassed 422,000 subscribers), Shanks has started a second channel, publishing self-help style videos for his followers. In a video called "Follow your passions – don't work for money", he remembers back to when he decided to shift the Friendly Jordies brand towards political satire.

"I didn't know how I was going to pay [my staff]. I said 'guys, can I just owe you money for the next couple of months,' and they said, 'Yeah.' Do you know why? Because they were passionate about the enterprise as well. Because we were thinking about something bigger than ourselves. Because we were thinking about how we want to change the direction of this country."

So, what should viewers take from his content: the need for young Australians to participate in political discussion? to fight for what they believe in? For Shanks, it's simpler than that, and very partisan. "I really want them to understand this one point," he begins. "Vote Labor".

He sees the Liberal Party as "essentially consultants for their donors", saying "they are not thinking about the national interest. There is a very deliberate mechanism in place to make sure there is no one governing this country. That is by design. There is an invisible government that is controlling people pretending to be the government."

With regard to the Australian media, barring those few he champions, Shanks is just as dismissive, seeing "a complete inconsistency between journalism and its idea of itself. That gives me hope. Journalism should be a noble profession. It's should be something above wanting to make money out of."

Which brings us back to his hopes for Friendly Jordies. Shanks wants "an audience as big as Channel 7. I know that I'm very far off that goal, but it's my only goal."

And in that, he's serious.