Mann is a serial entrepreneur, the owner of a cosmetics business and a former cannabis-industry supplier. He was engaged to a star of the reality show “Shahs of Sunset” and once pleaded no contest to charges of defrauding the City of Oakland; the conviction was later expunged. He started his YouTube account in 2018, dispensing motivational advice. The pivot into morality plays came fast, and he has since cranked out more than 400 videos. They cover an astonishing array of topics, from the workplace (“CEO Threatens to Fire Janitor, Son Teaches Him A Lesson”) to assimilation (“Son Hates His Mexican Culture, Friend Teaches Him A Lesson”), fatherhood (“Dad Abandons AUTISTIC CHILD, He Lives to Regret It”) and race (“Lady Calls Cops On Black Man Who Has 2 Bikes, Instantly Regrets It”). The same tropes recur in shifting combinations: spoiled kids, “gold diggers,” homeless men, chefs, people being shamed. The realtor story is repeated in a sketch about bartenders; the one about the Mexican American son is mirrored by another about an Asian American daughter.
These are stories we already know, having watched the real-life versions go viral. Mann, recognizing our appetite for more, obliges by staging it.
These clips combine the high-definition slickness of today’s YouTube content with the feel of a corporate-training video you would watch alone in your manager’s office on the first day of work. The sets seem hastily decorated, denuded of all but the most obvious props. The acting is either overexaggerated or barely there, and Mann’s subtlety-free writing broadcasts characters’ motivations as loudly as possible. (“Don’t waste your time with poor-looking people,” the dirtball realtor says.) His videos also exude a child’s dreamlike grasp of life’s finer details. The spoiled son still pays for pizza with cash on delivery; the dirtball realtor completes a multimillion-dollar loan application in minutes; the Mexican American son is bafflingly hostile about his mother’s Cinco de Mayo decorations and, incredibly, revolted by the smell of enchiladas. Some stories are built with such broad strokes that they insult the viewer’s intelligence; others are so surreal that they verge into great, if accidental, comedy.
To some extent, their vagueness works. These videos sit neatly in a long lineage of short-form moral education, from religious parables to fairy tales to the sentimental moralizing of some serialized Victorian literature. Even the dramatic presentation is familiar, recalling everything from the clunky “social guidance” filmstrips of the 1950s to ABC’s “After School Special.” This sort of content was once part of an inescapable monoculture — a part it was easy to assume that the internet, with its tendency toward the niche, was destined to eradicate. Yet it recurs not only in Mann’s videos but in the growing supply of “wholesome” content that resembles, more than anything, the kind of mass-market, chicken-soup-for-the-soul material that thrived decades ago.
Parents sometimes comment on Mann’s videos to say they intend to show the clips to their kids; like training films, the videos exist in part for one person to foist upon another. But the enthusiastic comments on each new video confirm that kids and adults watch these stories on their own time. In fact, this blend of moral instruction and entertainment is a winning tactic for driving views. A number of creators have found success with similar videos, including SoulSnack (“Passion, Purpose and Positivity”), Life Lessons With Luis (“Family & Kid Friendly”) and Sameer Bhanvani (“Content That Inspires and Uplifts”).