Last night, work over, glass of wine in hand, I did what I’ve been doing every evening for weeks: I opened up YouTube.
Google isn’t stupid. It knows what I search for, it knows I’ve spend days furiously watching (at 1.5x speed, of course) every commentary video that’s been made about about the drama brewing in the YouTube community. I don’t need to type anything into the search bar for it to serve me the piping hot tea right there on my recommended page.
But instead of the latest revelations about Jeffree Star’s racist past, or yet more angry dissections of everything that was so horribly wrong with Shane Dawson’s bizarre four-page “explanation” of why he’s “leaving the beauty community”, what I got was a blast from the past: Jenna Marbles.
Now, as Peter Monn would say: if you don’t know what you don’t know is a lot.
To summarise: Dawson and Star are the two cis white men who rule YouTube. They are also astoundingly problematic (more on this later).
Marbles, in some respects, is sort of the female equivalent of Dawson. While she didn’t start her channel until 2010 – five years after Dawson – she followed a similar career trajectory, making satirical, self-deprecating and “edgy” content, shooting to fame in the early-to-mid 2010s when YouTube was at its peak, and evolving her channel over the years while maintaining an extremely loyal fanbase.
But yesterday they were in very different places in their careers. Marbles had long since pivoted to posting weekly wholesome content about her dog, comedy DIY videos and general chit-chats which viewers tune into for her down-to-earth, approachable and funny persona. Dawson meanwhile has been dropping one multiple-part docuseries per year, in which he tries to redeem some of the most controversial YouTubers on the platform.
Over the past weeks, Dawson has been in some serious hot water, largely due to his close friendship with Jeffree Star, who many believe orchestrated the attempted downfall of fellow YouTuber James Charles last year. This is a very long story to summarise, but basically, Star’s then-friend Tati posted a video entitled “Bye Sister”, which was supposed to “expose” 19-year-old Charles, implying – among other things – that he was a sexual predator.
Star hopped on the bandwagon faster than you can say “like and subscribe” and started tweeting to amplify these allegations and add fuel to the cancellation fire. Charles was ultimately redeemed and Star’s involvement was largely forgotten, but recently it’s resurfaced, along with new suggestions that Dawson (a pretty beloved figure in the community) may have been involved too.
Add to this the fact that the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement has seeped into entertainment at every level, and influencers are being held accountable for racially insensitive – or just outright racist – things they’ve done in the past, and two of the YouTubers with the most to expose in this space are Dawson and Star.
The video I was really looking for last night was the one to finally cancel one or both of them.
Instead, it’s Jenna Marbles who has been forced off the platform.
Marbles, who posts videos called “Bunny [her dog] eating things politely”, and “Trying to blow bubbles with my hair”. Marbles, who has only really found herself embroiled in serious drama once in her career because she bought the wrong kind of bowl for her fish, and made a heartfelt 40-minute apology video for it.
While she’s not explicit about the reason she’s leaving YouTube, it seems a lot of it is down to people aggressively calling her out for her past behaviour, including a video in which she impersonated Nicki Minaj in 2011, which in hindsight has been perceived as being an instance of blackface (Marbles has always maintained this was not her intent, and that her skin was darkened by fake tan which she wore all the time, not just for that video).
There was another in which she used offensive language mocking Asian people. She also addressed videos in which she played on gender stereotypes and used slut-shaming language, saying this was due to internalised misogyny at the time.
As a white person, it’s not my place to speak to her racial comments. I also can’t absolve her of the damaging sexist narratives she amplified on her platform and the impact this may have had on her young viewers. But as a woman who is around Marbles’ age, whose understanding of sexism and gender inequality has vastly changed over the past decade, I have to say I find her explanation of internalised misogyny extremely relatable.
It’s important to note that many of the videos she references have been hidden from her channel for years. This also isn’t the first time Marbles has seemingly sincerely apologised for her past actions, and managed to avoid repeating her mistakes again and live a fairly uncontroversial existence on YouTube for years, unlike many of her contemporaries – especially the male ones.
And here’s where we come to the rub.
One of the big reasons for the hoards of people suddenly bringing these issues up is the fact that she promoted an eyeshadow palette created by Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson. Her viewers were furious that she would seemingly endorse them, and as a result, she’s been essentially cancelled.
Yet… Dawson and Jeffree remain seemingly untouchable.
And this is not the first time a female content creator has taken the fall while the men around her have got off scot free.
In 2018, what is commonly known as Dramageddon saw the cancellation of Star’s ex-friends Laura Lee, Gabriel Zamora and Manny MUA (and, to a lesser extent, Nikita Dragun), based on resurfaced racist tweets. While their downfall may have been fair, it’s interesting to note that Manny MUA and Gabriel Zamora have managed to bounce back to their former glory, while Laura Lee’s career appears to be damaged for good.
During the aforementioned “Bye Sister” scandal, otherwise known as Dramageddon 2.0, it was Tati Westbrook who ultimately took the hit following James Charles’s vindication. While it’s true that she posted the original video, it was undoubtedly Jeffree Star who stoked the flames, taking the accusations further. Now, during what is being dubbed Karmageddon, or Dramageddon 2.5, it’s been revealed by Shane Dawson himself that he and Star were aware of the video before it was posted. But it’s Marbles who's paying the price.
Shane Dawson has posted numerous videos in undeniable blackface, in which he played on damaging and offensive stereotypes of Black people for “comedy”. He has made “jokes” about paedophilia and bestiality, and is known for associating with some of the most problematic YouTubers out there, such as Trisha Peytas and Tana Mongeau.
And if you think that’s bad, wait until I tell you about Jeffree Star.
He has used racial slurs (including the N-word) on camera, allegedly called two different Black women a “gorilla” and a “rat”, made “jokes” about throwing battery acid on a Black woman’s face to lighten her complexion, posted photos online posing with a confederate flag and glorifying self-harm, and associated with characters such as musician Dahvie Vanity after he was accused of sexually assaulting underage girls, tattoo artist and make-up brand owner Kat Von D after she was accused of antisemitism, and convicted felon Hunter Moore who founded of one of the earliest revenge porn sites. Believe me when I tell you this is just the tip of the problematic iceberg that is Star.
Think what you want about Jenna Marbles – for what it’s worth, I’m not a big fan – but for her to be chased off the platform and cancelled while these two men remain at the peak of their career, making millions from their videos, brand endorsements and products, undeniably betrays a double standard.
Much like traditional celebrity culture, it’s easy for YouTube to be dismissed as a low-brow microcosm of society, far removed from the real world and relevant to no ordinary person’s life or attitudes. But this is flawed. In fact, YouTube simply reflects the world we’re living in back to us. And the world we live in is sexist. It places a higher burden of morality on women, and systematically forces them to deal with the consequences of the disgraceful behaviour of the men around them.