Depth of Field: The Quiet Force of YouTuber Etika's Gaze

The body of popular YouTube gamer Desmond Amofah (aka Etika) was found in Manhattan's East River this week.NYPD
What is the weight of a young black man's gaze? Who does it trigger? What does it want to say? What is he trying to say? We will never know for certain what more Desmond Amofah wanted to communicate—this week, the body of the popular YouTube gamer was found in Manhattan's East River—but we can hazard a guess.

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The answers are in the wonder of his face, that fleshy prism of delight and entrance. In Amofah's sustained looking, in the stunted, human gestures of his youth, we hear color and see sound: the echo in his eyes, the shout of his brown skin. There's a sensitivity to the image; I know the posture well—I can feel vulnerability being kept at bay. He doesn't want to let us all the way in. Silence eats at the photo but never wholly devours it. Such is the tricky serpentine nature of black life in America; it is always battling against forms erasure, seen and unseen. But Amofah's stare carries an emotional loudness. It is a presence marked.The 29-year-old was known online as Etika. He garnered a degree of fame for his charismatic videogame reviews on YouTube. It was no secret that Etika struggled with mental illness, and recently his behavior had become more worrisome to friends and fans. A number of comments in the course of the last year often put him at odds with his devoted following, which he'd named the JoyCon Boyz (a winking reference to the Nintendo Switch controller). Allusions to suicide, on his YouTube channel and in Reddit forums, had previously sparked concern as well. On the surface, Etika embodied social media fame, but his actions counteracted that narrative. The truth, the less convenient account, is that stars sometimes metabolize fame in much more complicated ways.Etika disappeared last week after uploading a since-deleted video in which he discussed mental health and admitted to suicidal thoughts. "One thing I didn’t realize was that the walls were closing around me so fast," he said. "Let my story be one that advises caution on too much of the social media shit, man. It will fuck you up and give you an image of what you want your life to be and it can get blown completely out of proportion, dog. Unfortunately, it consumed me."
Jason Parham is a senior writer for WIRED. Depth of Field is his weekly dispatch about culture's most searing current images.
I first caught sight of Etika's image on Twitter, via a post by the NYPD, and immediately thought of the photographer Dawoud Bey, and how the portrait-style angle is reminiscent of his work. Bey's portraits—and the subjects within—coolly spellbind the senses. They are stares and poses and gestures full of emotional volume. They do not scream for attention, but demand it all the same. There's a calm confidence saturated within. That's what draws the viewer to Etika's gaze. The image is not seeking a narrative of humanity—that increasingly trite, misused genre of identity-making we recklessly apply to black people—but a language of presence. It is an image of quiet force. It says simply: I am here.
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