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The Toxic Meaning of “Iconic” — And Why I’m No Longer A Jeffree Star Fan

New year, new me. Months ago in a previous article — “Shane Dawson and Jeffree Star: What Makes This Duo So Dynamic?”— I analyzed the nature of the relationship between these two YouTube celebrities, and, while I always strive to remain impartial, my bias was clearly evident: I painted both YouTubers in a rather favorable light, despite also touching on their flaws or mishaps. Looking back now, I would not wish to go back and change my wording. My assessments still stand, but my perspective towards Jeffree Star has altered drastically, and I’ve realized he’s displayed quite alarming behavior that shouldn’t be discounted.

Courtesy of Shane Dawson

My shift in stance was a gradual at first, but it abruptly flew over the line from me being appreciative of Jeffree Star, to weary, when I watched Smokey Glow’s (a YouTube commentary channel) video on Olivia Jade. Now, we all know that this college admissions scandal is news that has been wrung dry by the media, but she made a striking point when she addressed Olivia Jade’s friends commenting on her posts with such adoration, flooding her feed with hearts and oohs and ahhs. There is a microcosmic feel to it: Olivia Jade only allows those who shower her with unconditional praise to enter, and where her — complicit or not — participation in an elitist crime doesn’t exist.

I’m not opposed to the concept of friends supporting friends, but I am opposed to the idea of shutting reality out and refusing to acknowledge a wrongdoing. And, more vehemently, I condemn other popular influencers for spreading this ignorance and wrapping her in cotton. At the very least, they should offer her guidance rather than compliments, counseling her on how to properly handle a mistake she made.

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But, unfortunately, it seems that what Olivia Jade and her parents did was not a shocking, devastating blow to those who are less privileged, but rather, she is “perfect” and “looking gorgeous” and … “iconic.” That last word is a favorite of the media, used typically to describe those who are fearless, relentless in their pursuits and audacious in a way that empowers others. Jeffree Star is seen as the practical definition of “iconic,” and, if his profligate wealth doesn’t demonstrate that clearly enough, his photos certainly do. 

Lately, I’ve come to terms with some truly problematic (another media favorite word) sides to Jeffree Star, one of the most concerning being his appalling treatment of his customers and fans. Perhaps I’m being too harsh on him, but Jeffree Star is a businessman and entrepreneur, and he should act with the decorum that his profession requires. Even as a YouTuber, which is considered an informal job, one of his main priorities is to please his viewers by creating valuable, original content that his audience would like to see. Yet, each time someone contacts him about a shipping inquiry or something else related to his products on a public platform, Jeffree Star seems to suffer momentary amnesia and forget his obligation to consumers — his reactions are unexpected, impulsive, visceral and often-times cruel. Along with his racist behavior in the past, his current infamy and ballooning subscriber-count is a telling revelation of YouTube’s dysfunctional system.

After all, Jeffree Star’s complete inability to take constructive criticism with grace is disappointing to me, but unsurprising. Jeffree Star — as do many famous YouTubers — has a vast and almost zealous fanbase, who are at his beck-and-call to attack any poor soul who dares point out his flaws. These are all due to highly-frustrating phenomenons such as stan culture and cancel culture (check out “Cancel Culture Doesn’t Work And James Charles Is Proof” and “Black Twitter And The Hypocrisy Of ‘Cancellation Culture‘”) which encourage reactionary, selectively attentive mindset. Nowadays, fans and haters both are afflicted with this tunnel vision that limits their capacity to evaluate all angles of a situation. The danger in all this, particularly with “stanning,” is that it encourages these YouTubers’ egos to thrive until they believe that they have impunity and that they are above being criticized by others. 

Comments on a deleted post from Olivia Jade (Courtesy of Smokey Glow)

This intersects with the idolizing language that viewers employ, which tend to multiply and attract others to use the same thing. Herd mentality is a major factor when it comes to virulent words because it cultivates a place of security, where dozens of others are saying and thinking the same thing. Eventually, the population multiplies until there is a fanbase infamous for its ability to overwhelm and intimidate dissenters, such as Jeffree Star’s mass of viewers. “Iconic” has taken on a distorted role in the media due to who it’s being attributed to and in what context, exaggerating its connotation of being bold to lashing out at so-called haters. Jeffree Star’s replies to such people leave a rancid taste in one’s mouth, but he’s hailed for this, his status easily overpowering the diminutive power of his targets.

Jeffree Star, Olivia Jade, and the usage of glamorous terms such as “iconic” exemplify the debilitating influence of YouTube celebrities as their platforms continue to rise to that of the elitists of Hollywood. Moreover, many of us lack the ability to consider both the virtues and vices of someone’s character, permeating the media with polarizing attitudes that contribute to its toxic culture. As the popularity of influencers continue to expand, it’s time we consider treating them with both the fairness they deserve and the scrutiny that holds them accountable for their actions.

Photo Courtesy of Bridget Fitzpatrick via Lithium Magazine

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Phyllis Feng is an Ohio-based writer who loves venturing into a diverse array of topics, from literature and music to mental health. She always seeks to emphasize honesty and empathy in her work. In her free time, you'll usually find her with a book and a mug of tea in her hands.

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