When I first stumbled upon Baylen Levine’s (formerly known as “Benitez”) Instagram page, I got the wrong impression. Like many other people who have written “prank culture” off as problematic and toxic, I assumed that the face behind the series of 1 minutes clips I had binge watched was no different from the Logan Paul wannabes of the world. But the more his prank videos surfaced on recognizable meme pages, the more I began to realize that Baylen was not a one hit wonder-and he just might be the type of person to change the face of Youtube prank culture.
On surface level, his videos are funny (okay, I’ll admit, some of them are hilarious), but what really stands out about Baylen’s Instagram page is his strangely positive fanbase. Anyone who knows anything about the kind of audience that prank videos attract know that it’s usually trolls or people who have nothing nice to say. Yet, every time I have scrolled through his comments section, I am met with a bunch of positive comments ranging from “Your overall message has helped me stay sober, I can’t thank you enough,” to “I just had a really bad day at school and this video put a smile on my face.”
Now, you could write this off as sheer luck as to how Baylen attracted such a positive fanbase. But after sitting down for a one on one interview, I can now see that this 18 year old Youtuber is actually influencing his younger audience to be more positive.
“The most important part is you have to be a leader... Most kids aren’t leaders- they follow other people. That’s why I want to be a leader- so they follow me.”
Baylen has decided to use his platform for more than just pranking random people- he has also started to express his advocacy for sobriety. At a young age, Baylen has seen people around him turn to drugs and alcohol all because they think they’ll be labeled “straightedge” or “uncool” if they opt out. “With getting a following, it opens up so many doors... I want to do a clothing brand, my friends do music... I want to help them with that. I want to make ‘Benitez’ a whole brand... I have singers, I have clothing... We just take over the world and start this new revolution... Instead of promoting drugs, we’re these real kids- we’re like this new generation of Youtube.”
But, it hasn’t always been easy for the rising star. Between receiving backlash from his small town community of Roswell, Georgia (the main setting of his prank videos), to having to leave his high school in order to continue making content, the life he has cut out for himself isn’t going to be easy. There will always be people who won’t agree with the idea of pranking unsuspecting victims, or people who will view Baylen as immature. His family has even been isolated from the rest of the community because of the negative connotation that follows people who attempt to create prank videos. “A group of parents kicked my mom out of their group chat when I got in trouble at school... Everybody just cares so much about what other people think to the point where they don’t want it to seem like their children were a part of my channel, so they threw it all on me. And that’s fake. I hate fakeness so much.”
“There are some adults who claim that I’m ‘bringing in a crowd of druggies,’ yet my whole thing is promoting sobriety. Little do they know I’m teaching these kids to be positive. These parents can think what they think; these kids know what I’m doing. I get several DM’s a day from kids saying stuff like, ‘You helped me with my depression. I’m sober because of you. I’m following my dreams because of you,’ and that’s all that matters.”
No matter how you feel about the state of prank culture, it’s important to recognize that there are people who are working hard to change the toxic nature that is associated with it. There are many people who want to take the Logan Paul route in order to achieve quick fame, but that’s not what Baylen is striving for. He cares about his fanbase and making a significant impact in his small town, as well as the kids around the globe who is tracking what he’s doing. For someone who is so filled with positivity and love for all that he is willing to dedicate hours responding to every dm and comment he is sent is huge. Now, kids can look up to someone who wants to see them finding alternatives instead of following the crowd and using drugs/ participating in underaged drinking.
And it isn’t just about Baylen as a person, but the people who will begin to make Youtube channels because of him. He is truly leading a revolution of teens who want to help one another and create content without feeding into the toxicity related to prank culture. As Baylen’s channel grows in numbers, we just might have found our next big Youtube star with a mission of helping and inspiring today’s youth.