YouTube sensation

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Tuesday November 17, 2015
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Binge by Tyler Oakley; Gallery Books, $24

With cover art awash in rainbow-colored, foil-wrapped candy and outspoken author Tyler Oakley's platinum coif bursting through, what's not to love? Go ahead and judge Binge by its cover since the same can be said of the material contained within, which spotlights Oakley as a seasoned raconteur and chatty gay who, at 26, has already led a colorful life. If you're looking for brainfood or essays amounting to something more introspective, you may not be the target audience for a book that Oakley dedicates "for my people."

These "people" perhaps include the young sensation's 7.7 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, through which Oakley has become a pseudo-household name, a recipient of two Teen Choice Awards, and even scorer of an interview with Michelle Obama, who, he opines, inexplicably smells like "the haunting scent of hastily discarded, bruised apples." Who knew?

In many respects, the book feels like only a partial reflection of Oakley. The author touches on the intimate, personal aspects of his life only from time to time, deflecting the rest with humor and schticky banter. Readers will receive the benefit of his youthful wisdom on subjects ranging from his "carnal thirst" for porn, growing up in a family with serious financial issues, his horrible driving record, and time spent living in the Castro district.

Adorable childhood photographs paint the author, born Mathew Tyler Oakley, as a cute, awkward blond kid (think child star Peter Billingsley from A Christmas Story) years ahead of his time, hitting the stage at five in a Kindergarten production of "Teddy Bears' Picnic," with no problem making friends and sharing his vibrant personality with the world. He writes of the horror of being forced to get braces at University of Michigan's Dental School, until he dreamily "met the man who was going to be tightening them every four to six weeks"; coming out to friends and family ("So, yeah, I'm gay as fuck"); drug experimentation; and an engaging, lengthy chapter on the lovely evolution of Oakley's relationship with college boyfriend Adam.

Conversational in tone and witty without being overly bitchy, Oakley is at his best when addressing more taboo subject matter, such as the scatological eccentricities of his childhood, his propensity for being "a bit plump," and overcoming the self-loathing that accompanied it. There is fun yet mindless entertainment, as in Oakley's ranking of cartoon men (Mulan's Li Shang comes in at #4, since he "might be a bit bi-curious, given that he seemed into Mulan when he knew her as Ping"), a silly section on unnecessary holiday traditions, how much he loves The Cheesecake Factory, and so on.

Oakley knows he has a responsibility to set an example for the tween generation, lisp and all, so this is as close as this book gets to humility: "I'll never be a gay that every other gay can relate to, but if by being myself, lisp included, I'm a gay that one lonely 12-year-old gay in the Middle of Nowhere, with his parted bowl-cut and inadvisable zip-up vest, can identify with and thus feel less alone, then I've done my job." There are also some great pages on both his biological parents and stepparents.

Digested in small portions (recommended) or impulsively gulped in one sitting, Oakley's tapestry of insights and observations can be intermittently entertaining and perfunctory. He offers a limited yet outrageous glimpse inside the man behind all that grandiloquence.