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The Channel That Lived To Die

On November 15, 2019, YouTube was introduced to something very strange.

On a brand-new channel, popular YouTubers Mark Fischbach and Ethan Nestor, dressed in white and black suits respectively, stood on a backdrop of a black and white spiral and made the most interesting channel introduction I’ve ever seen.

Mark and Ethan described how the channel would work. There would be daily uploads for exactly a year, 365 days. These videos would be of anything they wanted, made with reckless disregard of the YouTube algorithm. This wasn’t the most shocking part, however.

“In one year,” they explained in turns, “this channel and everything on it will be deleted.”

The channel was called Unus Annus. The absolute maddest thing about it?

They did it.

Unus Annus

For 365 days, Mark and Ethan posted one video every single day, without fail. The videos were seemingly random. They cooked with sex toys (yes, really, and it went better than you might think), they did multiple escape rooms, both professional and homemade, they made multiple videos about urine (no, you don’t want to know the context), and they even made a silly spoof documentary about Mark having “gone feral.” They even kept videos up through the pandemic, recording separately during quarantine and together as safely as they could as soon as they were able to isolate long enough to work together again.

And, true to their word, exactly 365 days after the start of the channel, on November 13, 2020, after a twelve-hour live stream wrap-up, they deleted the channel live on air. The only proof I can offer you that this happened is that I was there, and I watched the timer tick down to zero, and the screen go black as the stream chat ceased to work.

In the wake of the channel’s deletion, instead of the anger and backlash that you might expect, the Unus Annus team received a massive wave of support from the larger YouTube community. #UnusAnnus and #WeWereHere trended on Twitter all night, number one around the world. The Tumblr tag #unusannus was swamped with goodbye and thank you messages, and the commiseration and absolute awe of the fans who’d watched the channel end.

So what was it that caused more than 1.5 million people to tune in for a channel’s deletion, on a stream that got more than one million likes before going away forever? Why would more than four million people subscribe to the channel if they knew it was going to end?

Well, for exactly that reason.

Mark Fischbach (left) and Ethan Nestor (right) sit in a split black and white set with a timer and a similarly split coffin between them.
Mark (left) and Ethan (right) discuss the end of Unus Annus as the timer ticks down during the final live stream. Screenshot by the author.

Mememto Mori

From the very first video on the channel, the catchphrase of Unus Annus was “Memento Mori,” a Latin phrase that most closely translates to “Remember that you will die.” Morbid as it sounds, it summed up the point of the channel quite succinctly.

The running theme of the channel was the inevitability of death. Every single video began and ended with a black screen and white numbers, a countdown to the exact moment of the channel’s deletion. It was mentioned at least once in every video, though it wasn’t always the central focus. It was practically shoved in your face. This channel was temporary. It was going to die. There was nothing you could do about it.

Of course, it being a project half headed by Markiplier, fans were instantly suspicious. They dug into every tiny detail they could find, going frame by frame to look for hidden messages and clues as to what they needed to do to save the channel. Many theorized that the timer would simply reset if they hit a certain milestone or found a certain code and that the channel would start again. Others thought that it was an elaborate setup for the characters of Unus (Ethan) and Annus (Mark), who would be part of another project revealed on the last day.

Unfortunately, this simply wasn’t the case. Despite all of the fans’ clamoring, the channel really did get deleted. It’s gone. The “characters” no longer exist. The project is over.

And oddly, no one was mad. What happened instead was a strange sense of calm and camaraderie.

Learning to Let Go

In the two weeks leading up to the final live stream, the videos on Unus Annus took on a different tone. A video called “The Truth of Unus Annus” was uploaded at 14 days remaining, in which Ethan and Mark railed against Unus and Annus directly, talking with them over walkie-talkies in a darkened set for a previous video.

They denied that the end was drawing near, they begged for more time, they screamed that they’d been cheated, they sat in silence as Unus and Annus told them they had done the best they could with the year, then, slowly, they walked around a coffin, decorated in the signature black and white, and became Unus and Annus, calming coming to the front of the coffin and taking the positions they’d held in the very first video as the timer came up.

This video was, very clearly, meant to mirror the stages of grief: Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression, and Acceptance. In the following videos, they reviewed the things they’d done on the channel and sat down to talk about what it meant to them.

For them, the channel had been an exercise in free creativity. Ethan admitted that he’d felt stuck in the gaming niche, and Mark, having just come off of his latest big project, felt as if he needed something that would let him create something new with abandon, removed from the heavy expectations of his other projects.

They both shared the idea that because the channel was temporary, there was an inherent value in what they were making as long as they were making something. It was the consistency and limited lifespan that made them special, and because of that, they felt freer to make whatever it was they wanted.

Seeing Tomorrow After the End

It was also something that meant more this year than it would have in any other. In a year with some of the hardest challenges faced by humanity as a whole in a long time, with the pandemic, the civil unrest, the United States election, and the growing fear of climate change, a channel that was focused on living in the moment for the joys you can find right now, that taught its audience to process grief and accept that most things in life aren’t permanent, Unus Annus was exactly what many of its viewers, and its creators, needed.

There’s something fantastic about the community that grew up around the channel. The sense of having been a part of something so special and exclusive led many fans to say that the channel was a life-changing experience, and as Ethan himself put it,

“No one else can do what we did.”

Last year, when asked why they put so much effort into the channel that they would throw away, Mark apparently responded, “It’ll make sense when it ends.” I think he was right. The old adage that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone is very true, but Unus Annus seems to be an exercise in the celebration of the end. The fact that it was so hard for the team and the fans to say goodbye meant that it meant something to them, that it had become what it was supposed to be.

Unus Annus was beautiful because it was temporary. It’s gone. The videos will never come back.

But the community it built? The lives it changed? The memories and impact that it had? Those will last a very long time.

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