Inside Cancel Culture



Cancel culture. It's a movement coming from social media, predominantly YouTube, but has made it's way into more mainstream media as well, with J.K. Rowling making some interesting comments, getting her "cancelled". Cancel culture is a movement holding people accountable for past or present mistakes and digressions, and "cancelling" them if they do not learn from these mistakes, or at least appear to be sincerely apologetic and make amends. But it seems like cancel culture has gone berserk.


I don't know how much you’re into “YouTube drama”. Maybe you know everything there is to know. Maybe you hardly ever visit the platform. Assuming you know very little, let me disseminate: In 2019 famous YouTuber Tati Westbrook posted a video titled “Bye Sister” in which she explains why she no longer wants to be friends with, or technically speaking mentor to, younger YouTuber James Charles. She accuses him of entitlement, endless scandals, but most notably: inappropriate interactions with straight men (James is gay) and baiting. The video went viral instantly. People came forth accusing and defending James Charles. Other Beauty YouTubers, most notably Jeffree Star, jumped in to say their piece. It took to mainstream media (like magazines and tv channels which no one under 30 uses anymore, so mainstream isn’t the most accurate term…). It ended up being dubbed “Dramageddon.” No joke. How does this relate to cancel culture? Well, this is when it really took off. People were cancelling James Charles. He lost approximately two million followers in under a week. And that is huge. Now, a year later, Tati has launched another video, apologising to James publicly and accusing Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson of manipulating her, feeding her lies and turning her against James. Tati tried to cancel James one year ago, but is now shifting blame and trying to cancel Shane and Jeffree. People are confused. Who can they believe? Who needs to be cancelled? It doesn’t help that at the same time, one of the accused, Shane Dawson, often referred to as “the King of YouTube”, known for making comedy-based content in his early YouTube days (10 years ago) and documentaries as of more recent, is under attack himself for old footage that shows him doing blackface, making racist jokes and having recorded really inappropriate content relating to paedophilia. The other accused, Jeffree Star, a Youtube Mogul who owns his own make-up brand was already controversial: having had so many scandals related to racism, sexism and being aware of inappropriate relationships of others, that it’s impossible to keep track. Seems fair to cancel either of them. Yet the issue here is, they are some of the most popular people on YouTube, having millions upon millions of followers who are perfectly happy to defend them. And refuse for them to be cancelled.


Dirty laundry is beginning to air, and more people are being cancelled left, right and centre. But not Jenna Marbles. No, not her. She cancelled herself. For context: if Shane Dawson is the OG King of YouTube, Jenna Marbles is the OG Queen. And she’s a lot less problematic to top it off. Something she’s been known (and loved) for. So if she’s so unproblematic, how did she get cancelled? She uploaded a video of her going through her own videos that she has made that she now knows are problematic. One of the videos is her doing a Nicki Minaj spoof in which Jenna is very tan. Some have accused her of this being blackface and she has privated the video and apologised, although loads of people (of all races) have come out against this saying it didn’t qualify as blackface at all. The same goes for a rap spoof called “bounce on that dick”, in which there is a racist joke aimed at Asians. She again privated the video, said it was disgusting and there were no excuses, and apologised. The same goes for videos she made such as “Things Girls do in the Bedroom” and “Things Guys do in the Shower”. She apologised for those videos reinforcing gender stereotypes and the binary system, things she no longer believes in. Again, the video was privated and Jenna apologised. She ends this video which has left many of her (over 20 million) fans in tears, as she announced her indefinite leave of YouTube as she no longer felt she sparked joy, to either herself or her followers. It was when Jenna Marbles cancelled herself, whereas problematic people like Star and Dawson were still, going that people started to wonder whether cancel culture was going in the wrong direction…


Now, that’s a long ass introduction for such a phenomenon, but the intricacies of YouTube drama are, well, intricate. Obviously, cancel culture goes far beyond YouTube. If a company slips up it too can get a lot of backlash. But this somehow seems different to me, and I’ll tell you why. Companies are brands, they are entities. Unless they have build themselves around a single person (a representative, if you will), they are often not perceived as a single being. It is understood that there are many cogs within the wheel. And many wheels within the machine. As such, it is difficult to target an entity that is so much bigger than a person. Moreover, there might have been a single person in a company that f***ed up. That doesn’t mean the whole company, or the whole brand should be held accountable. In this case, what often happens is that the perpetrator gets singled out. If this is not possible, it is often possible to single out the leadership. In case of perceived failure, the leadership can get targeted. Some CEOs have suffered being cancelled. They were asked to step down, retire early, or just mysteriously “disappeared”. The same goes for sport club coaches, politicians, religious leaders etc. If there is a person that can be singled out and scapegoated, you can be damn sure that is exactly what’s going to happen! But this doesn’t mean the brand or the company suffer as much as a result, despite it potentially having played a large role in this behaviour, by allowing it, looking away or even enabling it. Often, this is also difficult to establish. And quite frankly, it’s difficult to cancel an entire company. Especially if it’s large and in charge. Yet this does happen where YouTube is concerned. Why? Because even though a lot of YouTubers represent a brand by having turned themselves into one (and have made good money with it), they are still a person. As a person they have built their brand and have thrived. We cheered for them. And when they made a mistake, we sneered at them. Why? Why are we so eager to cancel?

Despite YouTubers being human, they are also role models, a label which I often find dehumanising. People literally aspire to be (like) them. Especially the younger viewers. People of all ages watch them and this comes with a certain responsibility. Moreover, it has become known that a lot of money can be made from YouTube, and being popular on YouTube. So to some extent, it might be envy. Wanting people to fail and looking for the most minute flaw in their past to make their downfall a reality.

Besides responsibility and envy, activism has also grown. The Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted the many forms (micro)aggression against people of colour can take. Things that were deemed acceptable (by whom is a good question) years ago are no longer deemed acceptable by a crowd that seems a lot more “woke” as a result of being a lot more diverse in race, age and gender (non-binary).


Cancel culture in itself isn’t a bad thing. If the aim is to hold people accountable for things that were once "okay" but look terrible in retrospect, that seems fair. If the people being put on the spot acknowledge their lapse in judgement, apologise, are willing to do better and have done better, that seems like a job well done. The issue is, cancel culture, as I’ve said before, is going a bit berserk. After people have shown remorse and improvement, people aren’t very eager to forgive. They continue to cancel, bringing up the same old stuff over and over again. Now some things are unforgivable, naturally. I'm looking at you J.K. Rowling... But to continue to hamper someone’s career because of a now inappropriate joke on someone’s gender, sexual orientation or race, granted that the joke isn’t the most disgusting thing ever heard and can at least be interpreted as coming from a place of comedy and not viciousness, seems too much. We have to acknowledge that we ourselves aren’t perfect either. We too, have made inappropriate jokes. And we too have laughed at inappropriate jokes ourselves. We are people. We learn and we change. Hopefully for the better. YouTubers just happen to be people too. So we should hold them to the same standards. In conclusion, and call it ignorant if you will, but I think we’ve got better things to cancel than a very woke female YouTuber (Star and Dawson you can cancel, however). I feel like it’s time we properly sit down and cancel things that really should not be allowed in the 21st century. It’s time to properly cancel racism (support the BLM movement), poverty, sexism, the patriarchy and the gender binary system (J.K. Rowling is cancelled too for both her past and current opinions...). And to cancel anyone who has shown to continuously partake in the propagation of the aforementioned, without remorse and without a genuine desire to change for the better. Who’s with me?


Side note: if you think the YouTube Beauty community is bad, you should check out the “Paul Brothers”. They have had rows for years, hundreds of scandals and one of them even showed the body of a suicide victim within a Japanese forest in a video on their YouTube channel. YouTube still endorses them. Talk about needing to be cancelled…

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