If I were to ask you what is currently the most popular YouTube channel, would you know? Or, what genre of internet videos could earn one stay-at-home mom between $2 million and $13 million in advertising per year? What is your guess? What is the fastest growing genre of internet videos? Cute kitty videos? D-I-Y demos? Pornography?
The answer is none of the above.
The fastest growing genre of YouTube videos is a phenomenon known as unboxing. Yep. Unboxing. Have you heard of it? For the benefit of those who are not Millennials, I will explain. Unboxing is a video genre where the subject of the video is a product that is unpackaged or “unboxed” before the viewer’s eyes. The one doing the unboxing is normally not shown, except for the hands. But her voice is heard as she explains the opening of the new product step-by-step. The viewer hears a description of box quality, what the tissue paper feels like, the amount of plastic around a product, how many ties are holding it in place. In detail, the viewer is invited into the serotonin-driven experience that we all have felt when we get something new. It’s basically unpacking an item with recorded commentary.
The most watched YouTube channel is an unboxing channel. The owner is estimated to make from $2 – 13 million per year in Youtube ad revenue. And all she does is unwrap new things and share that experience with the viewers, tantalizing them with the sensory experience of sound and color and touch added to the visual image…
What would drive millions of viewers to watch someone unbox a new phone? What would be the purpose of millions of people religiously viewing, step-by-step, the unboxing of a purse or a new video game console or a toy or an iThing?
Does the unboxing phenomenon reflect a culture that has rejected religion for materialism? I submit that we remain deeply religious people.
We have not become less religious as a culture in our alleged post-Christian age; we have become differently-religious. We have become a culture of idolaters, and unboxing, even if unknowingly, is a bi-product of a materially idolatrous people. Colossians 3:5 says, “Put to death what is earthly in you … covetousness which is idolatry.”
Covetousness which IS idolatry. When a person turns to lusting for that which is material, he or she is practicing idolatry, which is practicing religion. When the heart of a person clings to the things that this world has to offer for hope or comfort, we call that being covetous, and the Bible calls it idolatry. Martin Luther said, “Whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, that is your God; trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and idol” (Luther’s Large Catechism). When the heart of man is connected to the material things of this world, the things that we can touch and taste and hold, the heart turns toward those things as the containers of hope and vessels of dreams. Material things become the image of god for the covetous. GK Beale said, “According to both the ancient Near East and the Old Testament, an idol or image contained a god’s presence …” (We Become What We Worship, p.17). In a covetous people, things are containers of hope.
It seems that for many, even though they are most likely not conscious of it, unboxing has become a means of growth in a covetous faith. Unboxing is a morning devotion. Unboxing is a prayer of hope. Unboxing is a “behold your god!” moment. Unboxing is a result of a people who have exchanged the worship of God for the worship of things.
When one watches an unboxing video for the first time, the reaction is usually something along the lines of “Who would spend five to fifteen minutes watching a faceless individual unbox an iThing?”
Both of these words are related to the Hebrew word for “idol.” 2 Kings 17:15 sheds light on this, “They rejected His statutes and His covenant which He made with their fathers and His warnings with which He warned them. And they followed vanity and became vain, and went after the nations which surrounded them, concerning which the Lord had commanded them not to do like them.”
They followed vanity and became vain. Check the translations. It’s idols. It’s falseness. It’s nothingness. And what does it lead to? It leads to becoming nothing. It leads to becoming what we worship. Covetousness leads to a worship of material possessions. It leads to people caring more about things and image and branding than they do about relationships and principles and Jesus Christ.
Unboxing for many may be harmless. It may be intended to be a way to keep consumers informed. For some it may be a way of saying, “Let the buyer beware!” But for many it may be the result of a heart that is not filled with Jesus Christ or with the Word of God; it may be the result of a heart filled with covetousness, which is idolatry.
Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Reader, where is your heart? Unbox the content of your heart and see where your treasure lies. As you unbox you will find one of two things, you will find false idols or Jesus Christ.
Both are demanding your allegiance.
Only one can have it.