Nothing makes me feel more like Steve Buscemi going full ‘how do you do fellow kids’ in 30 Rock like trying to explain YouTube celebrity drama. I talk about the agonizing minutiae of gossip, fame, and the entertainment industry for a living, a profession I believe has true social and cultural worth, but every time I find myself in a position to dissect or document people like Shane Dawson, I feel as if I’ve opened the Ark of the Covenant with my eyes wide open. However, I am good at my job and it is my duty to provide you, dear readers, with the information that matters, as well as the petty internet bulls**t that can provide a welcome distraction from the more important things in the world. So, here we go.
Shane Dawson is a 31-year-old YouTuber who, as of the writing of this piece, has over 22.4 million subscribers. He is most well-known on the site for sketch comedy, musical parodies, and discussing conspiracy theories. Over the past three or so years, he’s gained traction for a series of extremely long pseudo-documentaries about fellow YouTubers such as Jake Paul, who he tried to have diagnosed as a sociopath, and his friend, the notorious Jeffree Star. Aside from his YouTube career, he has two-bestselling books, a popular podcast, and he famously appeared on the Starz original series The Chair, where his winning project do offended producer Zachary Quinto that he removed his name from it.
Dawson has long been what journalists like to euphemistically describe as controversial. That’s the nice way of saying he’s a screaming racist who frequently used blackface and the N-word in his ‘comedy.’ He offered a 20-minute video on ‘taking accountability’ for his past racism last month, which didn’t exactly do as he desired. His past habit of shock jock-style jokes about pedophilia and finding young pre-teen girls sexually attractive also came to bite him in the backside this past week when Jada Pinkett Smith and her son Jaden found out about old jokes Dawson had made where he sexualized then-11-year-old Willow Smith.
Jaden Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith react to the clip that resurfaced of Shane Dawson staring at a photo of a pre-teen Willow Smith while pretending to masturbate:— Pop Crave (@PopCrave) June 27, 2020
“SHANE DAWSON I AM DISGUSTED BY YOU.” pic.twitter.com/1StGTraC03
But wait. There’s more.
Last year, you may remember that Dawson became embroiled in even more YouTube drama courtesy of the deeply strange feud between beauty bloggers Tati Westbrook and James Charles. Westbrook, who is 17 years older than the 21-year-old Charles, accused him of betrayal, abusing his fame, and manipulating straight men into thinking they’re gay. The drama blew up in a major way and eventually led to Charles essentially debunking Westbrook’s points piece-by-piece in his own video. As was befitting of any YouTube drama, Dawson and Star could not help but try to stir the pot against Charles, who entered the scene as a teenager. That drama came to an end, or so we thought, and YouTube moved onto its next scuffle of the minute.
But wait. There’s more.
Westbrook returned to YouTube with a FORTY MINUTE VIDEO that currently had over 5.8 million views. As with all videos of this type — it’s practically an artwork unto itself — it’s simultaneously tawdry, exhausting, and oddly gripping. Westbrook reads from a statement which she said had been approved by her legal team. After a long ramble about the power of God and not wanting to be a part of the herd anymore, she reads from the statement and discusses how she and Charles met in December 2019 and ‘compared DMs, texts and stories’ about the drama that had engulfed their lives.
‘We apologized to each other, forgave each other, and agreed to wait patiently until it was safe for me to share my story,’ she said. Westbrook added that Charles had ‘repeatedly said that he wanted to be beside me for this video, but I felt that it was important that I do it alone because he deserves my first apology.’ She then issued another apology to Charles.
She then follows that up by insisting that her initial video about Charles was rooted in truth and that she had never called Charles a predator or a danger to society because she did not air any of the dirty laundry that was allegedly swirling about the young man behind the scenes. It’s a bold move for Westbrook to take, that’s for sure, given that it was her wildly popular video where most people first heard wind of the idea that there was a rapacious young gay man hunting for straight men to forcibly convert. It turns out that, according to Westbrook, she made that video in large part because of the ‘poisonous lies that were fed to me by Shane Dawson and Jeffree Star.’
But. Wait. There’s. Moooooooooore.
Tati said allowing herself to be ‘gaslit’ into making the video ‘was one of the biggest regrets of my life.’ She also noted that YouTube had asked her to make the video private because they said it was a bad look for their platform. Bold f**king move from YouTube there given all the literal Nazis, violent misogynists, and hate-groups making serious bank on their platform. Westbrook alleges that Dawson and Star told her that ‘a lot of victims’ of Charles were going to come forward.
Westbrook also explains her past friendship to Star, a noted racist who, only last month, was forced to apologize for photographs of himself draped in a Confederate flag and earlier plans to release a brand called Lipstick Nazi. Believing that she could ‘be a good example for him,’ Westbrook maintained the friendship even as Star’s public controversies became nastier and his bullying behavior made the beauty community particularly toxic. During her discussion of Star, she deviates from topic to apologize to Jackie Aina, another prominent beauty blogger who had called out Westbrook for working with, what Westbrook describes, as ‘a history of being labeled by other people as a racist.’
Believing herself to be ‘a positive influence in his life,’ Westbrook admits that she often overlooked his shady behavior or would find ways to justify to herself his comments. She claims that Star would ‘frequently comment about how much dirt he held on other brand owners and fellow members of our YouTube community. I believe that he held blackmail material on many people and was capable of destroying the entire community.’ But still, she said that she stayed because she believed she was a positive influence on Star. Speculating on Jeffree’s reaction to her video, she said, ‘He’s going to go off […] and I think we need to be prepared to understand that we need to forgive the people he is holding hostage with veiled threats of exposure, we need to be prepared to forgive them, otherwise this won’t stop. So, prepare to not cancel everyone and give them a chance.’
Regarding Star and James Charles, Westbrook says that Star seemed to be obsessed with taking down Charles, claiming to her that the young vlogger was ‘out of control’ and making nasty comments about him whenever they met. Star then introduced Westbrook to Shane Dawson, who quickly sucked up to her and invited her to his inner circle. With Charles, Westbrook says she shared with him details of her faith, her experiences with sexual assault, and other parts of her past she kept secret. Dawson then allegedly claimed that Charles was ‘a monster with many victims,’ many of whom were minors, and that he and Star planned to interview some of them for a documentary series. Westbrook claims that Dawson offered his help in editing, titling, and providing the thumbnail for her video on Charles that kick-started so much drama. She also said that Star sent her an audio clip of what he claimed was one of Charles’s victims, and to ‘listen to the pain’ in their voice.
On the advice of her attorneys, she says, Westbrook says that she cannot share the incriminating evidence she has against Dawson and Star, but that ‘in my opinion, [is] that Shane and Jeffree were bitterly jealous of James Charles’ success’ and wanted to sabotage his growing fame in time for the launch of their make-up collaboration. She further speculates that there were ‘many players’ in this drama for the purposes of financial gain and that she may seek justice through a civil suit. ‘For everyone else whose hands are dirty and have not yet come forward,’ she said. ‘Be careful of your allegiances, you don’t want to be on the wrong side of the truth.’
Shane Dawson initially responded with a tweet, that has since been deleted, claiming. ‘THIS IS A F*CKING LIE AND I’M LOSING MY MIND!!!!!!!!!!’ He later took to Instagram Live to yell about Westbrook being a liar. In one moment, he seems to roll his eyes after Westbrook discussed her experiences with sexual assault. ‘You are fake crying. That is not real,’ he said. Dawson’s fiancé, fellow YouTuber Ryland Adams, tweeted that Westbrook had given a ‘master class in manipulation.’
Between this story and Dawson finally facing retribution for his racist and sexist past, YouTube finally pulled the plug on his ability to make money from ads on the site. His three separate channels have been fully demonetized. Tubefilter noted that it remains extremely rare for YouTube to take such action and that in opting to demonetize Dawson, they ‘took into account both the impact and nature of previous videos, as well as his off-platform behavior.’ It is unknown if this move will be permanent. Dawson is also suffering consequences in other ways, as Target announced that it was ‘in the process of removing’ Dawson’s books from its shelves. The popular Twitter account Pop Crave also reported that beauty brand Morphe had removed all of Dawson’s make-up products from its website.
As of the writing of this post, Jeffree Star has not responded to Westbrook’s claims. Of course, if you didn’t know that he was a racist piece of sh*t by now then I have a bridge to sell you.
So, did you get all that? I know it’s a lot. Take a breather and we’ll get back to it. Go pour yourself a cup of tea or walk the dog or stare at the wall in existential agony for a few minutes. I can wait.
Here’s the thing about all of this drama: We knew that Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson were awful. Both of them made their names through racism and proto-shock jock behavior that they tried to spin as edgy. I remember writing on my old book blog way back in 2014 that it would backfire on publishing house Atria to give a book deal to a man best known for repeated use of blackface. That didn’t stop them from publishing two essay collections by him. Star’s make-up brand is beloved on YouTube and in the general beauty world, even though you can find page after page of receipts regarding his racism, bullying, and general nastiness. For a hell of a lot of white people, from fans to executives and everyone in-between, the controversies that shadowed the pair from day one were just part of the fun, an exciting new way to make money in a variety of fields.
We’ve become so numb to the notion of internet drama that we don’t take much time to consider the truly insidious nature of people like Dawson and Star, or the ways that people in power wish to cultivate collaborations with them for as long as is financially beneficial. Target may be pulling Dawson’s books now but they kept them on shelves for years beforehand even though Dawson is a well-documented racist. YouTube made its money from Dawson and the often-dangerous drama he stirred up because he got views. He’s not unique in that regard. PewDiePie, anyone? If YouTube cared about the supposed sanctity of their platform then why the hell does it keep recommending me videos of baby Nazi stooges spinning conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and a pizza restaurant?
YouTube, along with many others, got to whitewash years of racism, misogyny, bullying, and right-wing propaganda as ‘drama’, just another wacky part of their wonderful world, in-between the cat videos and 10-hour ASMR compilations. Racism wasn’t a deal-breaker for YouTube, for Morphe, for Atria, or myriad beauty bloggers who wanted some of that clout, Westbrook included. Such abuses were defended for years as ‘a thing of the past’ or ‘just a joke’ that people didn’t get. Dawson faces consequences now because it took this effing long for these industries to be embarrassed enough into taking action. Shane Dawson is shameless. So is Jeffree Star. They have no incentive to change or truly atone for their abuses because not doing so made them very rich and beloved. Just check out the sheer volume of people on Twitter who think that Dawson is some sort of beleaguered underdog and not a literal millionaire with a love of blackface. How long before YouTube decides that Dawson has learned his lesson and they reinstate monetization to his channel, further rewarding him for racism, making rape and pedophile jokes about 11-year-old girls, and allegedly being part of a community-wide cycle of bullying and intimidation? The sad part is that YouTube has no shame either.
Header Image Source: YouTube