A national health crisis. Cries of activism. The answering tide of social reform. Along with this havoc, comes a stirring within the YouTube community in 2020 to question our influencers’ intentions. During this era of restlessness and fatigue, we reflect on the scars marring America’s relationship with race. Wounds that still reverberate in every institution today. And even stans can’t endure against the threat of their beloveds’ pasts, which trip on the heels of the present and demand to be addressed.
In Shane Dawson’s most recent upload on YouTube, he responds to the barrage of criticism about the beginning of his career. More specifically, the times he acted out offensive caricatures of various races — Black, Asian, Hispanic — as a form of “entertainment,” along with a slew of other lurid or salacious remarks. The video is a sedate contrast to the rest of his content, a recounting of his prior actions. While, thankfully, it is not a melodramatic, scripted mess of tears and repeated apologies, viewers are still dubious.
Despite the declaration that he’s changed, his redemption arc will require much more. This acknowledgment of his hypocrisy comes after so many days of backlash that many resolved to move on. Many lost hope, believing Dawson would never leave his delusions behind. In fact, he even states at the start that he was inspired by Jenna Marbles’ upload, which released shortly before his. There, she’s also actively holding herself accountable for derogatory material she’s since made private. But rather than reassure, this only made us recoil — would his apology even exist were it not for Jenna Marbles?
While the vast majority of us flock towards her with sympathy and bemoan the state of YouTube without her in it, Jenna Marbles sets a sterling example for YouTubers: it’s high time for creators to, willingly, hold themselves to the same moral strictures as they hold others. We shouldn’t have to coerce or pressure them. It shouldn’t be necessary for us to be vocal for them to confront their wrongdoings.
I, and many others, have watched these events unfold with rapt attention through the lens of commentary channels. After watching various critiques of Shane Dawson’s Twitter message — now deleted — I’ve had an epiphany about the insurgence of commentary. Taking into account the hyper-partisanship in our political climate, which is a can of worms in and of itself, there are parallels between our scrutiny of politicians and our scrutiny of social media influencers.
After all, social media influencers have just as much controversy and scandal surrounding them as politicians. The media publicizes them just as heavily, branding their missteps into our collective consciousness just as severely. Both groups, despite being in completely different arenas, have a prominent presence on the internet. They tend to be either universally loved or universally hated.
Given how polarizing these people are, it’s no wonder that commentary channels (like Luke Alexander, Smokey Glow, and As Told By Kenya) have arisen to become, in effect, the spokespeople for viewers of YouTube celebrities. As citizens, we expect our politicians to represent our interests within the federal government. We expect them to serve their constituents to the best of their ability, to never renege on the promises they made during their campaigns.
As an audience, we expect our creators to put out sincere, valuable content. More importantly, to take great consideration in what they promote on their platforms, whether that be a product or an ideology. Those in positions of power, whether that power is gained through political capital or number of views, have a responsibility to those who support them. Commentary channels are specially-curated to ensure that influencers don’t shirk that duty. If you’ve watched any, you know that, while they usually stay civil, they take no prisoners in their criticism, which is why it can sometimes exude malice.
Still, I believe that commentary channels are a vital part of YouTube right now, equivalent to a breath of fresh air from the fetid atmosphere that the most toxic YouTubers have contributed to (Jeffree Star, Tana Mongeau, Trisha Paytas, Gabbie Hanna, etc). It’s refreshing and comforting to find others with sensible perspectives, which is a needed reprieve from the witch hunts of cancel culture.
Commentary channels have not only become the watchdogs of YouTubers, lingering on issues that others may dismiss, revealing the nature of whom we watch but ways through which we can dissect the trends on social media. Through which we can step back, assess the situation and evaluate what should be done from there.
Photo Courtesy of Jenna Marbles