Benjamin Bennett probably has the most bizarre YouTube channel. For the past six months, he has been sitting in front of a camera in zen-like silence, smiling, for hours on end! He’s put out at least 120 hours of footage of himself doing nothing but sitting, without offering any explanation whatsoever.
Ben’s videos made no noise at all – literally and figuratively – until he reached the middle of his 25th live stream. Once he started getting a decent number of views, everybody wanted to know what he was doing and why. Some thought it was art, while others speculated that he was meditating. A few were convinced that he was mentally ill.
The mystery was finally solved a few days back when Vice published an interview with the man himself. When asked why he was doing this, he was quite vague about it. “I don’t know,” he said. “It seemed like something the internet was lacking. It seemed like it needed to be done, and nobody else was going to do it.”
“There isn’t really a purpose,” he added. “My inbox is full of people asking me why I’m doing this, but I don’t think that question is really applicable to this type of activity. You could definitely place this into a performance-art context, and I definitely am interested in performance art and relational aesthetics.”
“If someone can watch it, I think they can understand it,” he said. “Even if they think they don’t understand it, I think that what they perceive to be their non-understanding is actually the correct understanding.”
All he does in terms of preparation is to drink a little water and take a pee beforehand. He insists that he never gets hungry during the livestreaming, and that he doesn’t really eat much food on the days that he makes the videos. He did forget to pee once, and when asked what happened during that video, he said: “I think I’d like to leave that a mystery.”
Ben said that smiling is an integral part of the videos – if he isn’t smiling, then he’ll just look like he’s meditating, or like someone with a martyr complex, and no one would want to watch that. “I think that smiling is a better reflection of how I’d like to address the world than if I was just sitting there not smiling. I think it offsets the seriousness of the duration.”
During one video, someone actually broke into Ben’s house, and believe it or not, he did not react. “It was around Thanksgiving, and I heard a knock on the door, and I was the only one home. Then I heard some loud bangs and somebody lurking around downstairs while I was upstairs.”
“This was already suspicious to me because my housemate was gone for work, so I had an idea that it was somebody breaking in, but I knew from the beginning that I wasn’t going to move. Then I heard him, you know, creeping up the stairs towards my room, and he opened the door and said “Hello?” and I didn’t move, and he closed the door and left the house. And then I just finished the session. I found out he had kicked in the door.”
Ben said he didn’t react because whatever was going to happen in that situation would have made a great video. “It was streaming live, but I don’t think there was anyone watching at that point. My heart was beating like crazy, but I knew that not reacting was the best thing to do, and now there’s that guy out there with his own crazy story to tell.”
He revealed that he likes making the videos so much that he might consider converting this into his full-time job – just sitting and smiling for 40 hours a week. He might start accepting heavier donations if he ever does that. But so far, he’s only received $24 from the donation button on his website, half of which came from his mom.
Most of the comments that Ben has received so far have been ‘dismissive’. “But the emails I’m getting are mostly positive and supportive,” he said. “I think that a lot of people who are emailing are really interested in meditation or they’re meditators and for them they like the idea of what I’m doing. A lot of people say that it makes them smile”