No, I'm Not Impressed By Xiaomanyc (Arieh Smith). Here's Why.
- Donovan NagelTeacher, translator, polyglot🎓 B.A., Theology, Australian College of Theology, NSW🎓 M.A., Applied Linguistics, University of New England, NSW
Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator. Founder of The Mezzofanti Guild and Talk In Arabic.
For the love of God, please stop sending me links to Xiaomanyc videos with comments like:
“Have you seen this guy? Check this out.”
Yes, I know who Xiaoma (real name: Arieh Smith) is. And no, I’ve never been impressed by his content.
Read on and I’ll explain my reasoning.
Firstly, who is Xiaoma?
If you haven’t been unfortunate enough to be inboxed by his videos yet, Xiaoma runs a YouTube channel called Xiaomanyc with a massive, 5 million+ (at the time of this writing) subscriber base.
The channel itself is in the language learning niche and is predominantly (but not exclusively) Mandarin-focused.
Arieh Smith, a young New Yorker and near-native Mandarin Chinese speaker (lived in China as a teen and is married to a Chinese woman), creates viral content with what I call “language parlor tricks”, where he goes into public places and “shocks” people by speaking (or attempting) their language.
Their reactions are often recorded without consent or secretly.
The videos are then clickbaited to great effect on YouTube with titles like:
“White Guy Stuns…”
“White Guy Shocks…”
“White Guy Surprises…”
The rest of Arieh’s content is mostly comprised of him making ridiculous facial expressions during unusual, foreign spa and medical treatments, such as getting his ear wax and dandruff removed.
I have no interest in these myself and find his reactions utterly nauseating to watch, but I will say this in his favor:
Providing an entertaining glimpse into Eastern and alternative medicine may be the only redeemable content on his channel.
I have no issue with entertaining documentary-style content, but allow me to make a few general comments on the rest of his language-focused videos and style.
Recording people without consent or secretly is unethical, and using it for profitable entertainment should be banned
In many jurisdictions around the world, including many US states, it’s totally illegal to secretly video people (justifiably so) or not get consent before filming.
Some jurisdictions make it more of a gray area.
But it’s completely legal in the State of New York to secretly record someone (as long as you’re part of the conversation):
New York is a one-party consent state. This means that only one party must consent to the recording of an in-person or telephone conversation. In other words, if you are a party to the conversation, you may record without the other person’s consent.
Source: Romano Law
So when Xiaoma walks into a NY establishment and fires off some phrases with his camera on standby and records stunned reactions, he’s not breaking NY law.
He can take that footage and make a viral, profitable YouTube video out of it.
Regardless of the law, I’ve always considered this to be completely unethical.
Imagine for a moment if you (or worse - your wife or daughter) ended up on some punk’s viral video without your family’s knowledge or consent.
Who would be happy about that?
What about when Xiaoma goes into a Chinese nail salon and eavesdrops on a private conversation between some ladies, who up until that point felt safe to disclose information privately, and then shares that conversation with millions of viewers?
I’m not okay with it.
But we’ve seen this kind of thing before, haven’t we?
Laoshu (Moses McCormick)
I was one of the first influencers back in the day to openly criticize the recently deceased Moses McCormick (Laoshu) for this exact thing.
Laoshu gained popularity by going into stores, food courts and supermarkets, speaking a few phrases of an exotic language to people, and then filming whatever ensued.
Ironically, Moses was doing the same thing Xiaoma does but in the State of Ohio, where it is actually completely illegal to film people like this.
While we’re on the topic of Moses…
Xiaoma’s R.I.P Laoshu video
This has got to be in the top 5 “worst videos I’ve ever seen on YouTube”.
Immediately following the announcement of Moses McCormick’s passing, Xiaoma put out what was clearly an opportunistic attempt at benefiting from this tragic breaking news.
He published a video titled R.I.P Laoshu, where - I kid you not - he tried really hard to pretend to cry for 8 straight minutes over the death of a complete stranger.
It’s one thing to report on a sad news story, quite another to force tears and recount online memories like he was your cousin.
I’m talking Amber Heard levels of tear-fakery, with an emotive, funeral backing track for added effect.
This is why I can’t tolerate YouTubers, Tiktokers and Instagrammers generally - no act is too low if there’s potential for virality.
Similarly, he put out a video recently that he recorded in an airplane toilet crying and saying his final goodbyes because of a mechanical issue on the plane that forced the pilot to return to the departure airport.
He was subsequently ridiculed in his comments by airline personnel for overreacting.
I would be afraid too in that situation, but who on earth prioritizes recording their tears in a plane toilet for YouTube when death may be imminent?
It’s all straight-up theatrics.
What languages does Xiaoma speak?
Arieh speaks near-native (or is it? 🤔) Mandarin Chinese.
I’m not nearly proficient enough in Mandarin to judge his ability, but it’s quite clear his level is excellent. He lived in China as a college student and is married to a Chinese woman, so it’s unsurprising that he speaks as well as he does.
The overwhelming majority of Xiaomanyc’s content is busting Mandarin Chinese out to surprise people.
Arieh claims to have learned Spanish at home during COVID lockdowns and also claims to have some proficiency in other Chinese dialects.
Other than that, it’s not really clear what other languages he’s proficient in (he did make a video titled “How I Learned to Speak 15 Languages in One Year” which he admits is false).
There are also lots of other clickbaity videos where Xiaoma claims to learn a language in 24 hours or 2 weeks which is, again, false.
Most of Xiaoma’s non-Mandarin-related language videos consist of memorizing a handful of phrases in various languages and “shocking” people in public places (true Laoshu-style).
The economy of “shock”
To get online attention in 2023 on YouTube, TikTok, IG and so on, one has to strive to be increasingly outrageous.
A decade or so ago, a blogger could say, “I’m going to learn language X in 3 months”, write a handful of blog posts or emails, and that would blow up the Internet.
How things have evolved in the age of swipers.
Now you have YouTubers like Xiaoma saying things like:
“I Learned Italian In 24 Hours”
“White Guy Suddenly Busts Out Arabic In Market, Shocks Locals”
“American Learns Fluent Spanish In 15 Days, Shocks Native Speakers”
This is increasingly audacious, outrageous clickbait. In terms of virality, it absolutely works (my email and FB inboxes are testament to this fact).
But other than being entertaining, what does it contribute?
Nothing worthwhile, in my opinion.
So no, I’m not impressed by Xiaoma’s content
His entertaining previews of Eastern and alternative medicine and spa treatments is potentially quite interesting (I had no idea that “professional back scratcher” was a thing, for instance 😊), but I personally find his exaggerated reactions unwatchable.
Secretly recording people (or doing so without prior consent) to make viral YouTube content is unethical, and in many places, totally illegal.
Going full blown Amber Heard over a guy who just tragically passed away that you’ve never met before to make viral YouTube content is shameful and absolutely reprehensible.
His Mandarin Chinese level is seriously impressive but also to be expected, given his time as a youth living in China and his wife being Chinese.
Xiaoma is a YouTube entertainer, not an educator and there are far more remarkable polyglots (albeit less entertaining) worth learning from.
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