- Karmageddon is currently tearing its way through YouTube’s beauty community, with Tati Westbrook claiming Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson manipulated her into almost destroying James Charles’ career in May 2019.
- But while Dawson is currently experiencing a catastrophic fall from grace, Star is nowhere to be seen.
- Some celebrities seem to be able to brush off criticism and backlash whenever it comes their way, either by staying quiet, or continuing as normal.
- According to experts, this is down to the brand they have built themselves, what the audience expects from them, and relentlessly fierce fanbases.
- When someone has a supervillain persona, they are more likely to get away with bad behaviour. It’s the ones who set themselves higher standards who get “cancelled.”
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Shane Dawson’s reputation is currently hanging in the balance. He’s lost over a million subscribers in the last two weeks after old footage resurfaced of his past involving racism and jokes about the sexualization of animals and children. The final straw for many came when Tati Westbrook dropped her video and claimed Dawson and Jeffree Star were the ones who manipulated her into almost ruining James Charles’ career last year.
However, while Dawson responded to Westbrook’s video in real time on an Instagram livestream, Star is nowhere to be seen. While several of Dawson’s friends have publicly supported him, Star is not among them. There have been a few theories about his whereabouts thanks to fan photos cropping up on Twitter, but his own social media presence has been silent.
The uncancelable star
Star’s past is littered with as much controversy as Dawson’s. Clips periodically resurface that capture him hurling racist abuse and being violent. One video even seems to show Star and a friend belittling and abusing a vulnerable intoxicated man as he tries to leave their house. Some of this he apologised for in a video in 2017.
He’s lost 500,000 subscribers since Westbrook’s video was posted, but for the most part, has managed to stay a secondary character in this particular wave of drama.
Some celebrities, like Star, seem bulletproof to criticism.Morgan Freeman, for example, was accused of sexually harassing eight women and issued a statement denying the allegations in 2018, which everyone seems to have forgotten about.
Chris Brown also still has fans despite being convicted of assaulting Rihanna in 2009 and a long history of violence towards women. High profile stars like Justin Bieber are among his fanbase, which vehemently defends his right to still make music. YouTuber Gus Johnson said in a video he “continues to be shocked” at how Brown’s career is not over when he listed all the legal issues and charges he’s been involved in over the last 15 years.
In the internet world, YouTube creators like Keemstar, Trisha Paytas, Tana Mongeau, and Star are constantly called out for controversial statements or behaviour, but it never seems to damage their careers too much.
Esme Rice, the marketing director of the influencer marketing agency Tailify, told Insider this could be because some people are simply better at shaking off criticism than others.
“I believe some influencers are held to different standards,” she said. “And often this is a reflection of how they are originally portrayed.”
Chaos and controversy is a brand for some
Chaos and controversy have built the brand for some celebrities. Mongeau, for example, has never really faced serious backlash, despite being one of the most controversial creators on the platform. In her past, she’s been filmed driving while reportedly under the influence of drugs, been accused of microaggressions and using racial slurs, and was responsible for thousands of fans getting sunburned in the California heat when her disastrous event TanaCon fell apart.
But Mongeau has managed to lean into her chaotic persona, and fans love her for it. She even has a song called “F–k Up,” about how she’s always making mistakes and apparently never learning from them.
Rice said some creators use their platform as “an attention-seeking mission to spark conversation and debate around themselves.”
“A sense of voyeurism keeps the audience coming back,” she said. “A sense of indignation keeps them commenting and a sense of importance keeps the influencer posting chaotic content to drive the cycle.”
However, YouTuber Donna, who runs the channel PsychIRL, told Insider Mongeau’s fanbase has followed her since she was very young, when much of her behaviour was ignored.
“When she was smaller, she did similar things of course, but we let that behaviour go because of her status,” she said. “Now she’s bigger, she’s built all that stuff into her personality.”
She said a social contract is made between the audience and the creator about what they expect from each other. It’s when they deviate from this expectation that they have a problem.
“If you think about the way that YouTube garners its audience, I think it’s very similar to how you develop a friendship,” she said. “[Mongeau]’s viewership has agreed to the social contract that this is who she is.”
They are never expected to change
Chris Boutté, from the YouTube channel The Rewired Soul, told Insider some celebrities can seem relatively uncancelable because they’re never really expected to change. They will come out and apologise for the dramas they get involved in, and continue the cycle of getting into them in the first place.
For example, when Charles lost 3 million subscribers last year for Westbrook’s accusations that he was inappropriate around straight men, Star called him a “predator” and a “danger to society.” He promised evidence in an upcoming video, but then removed himself from the situation as quickly as he’d inserted himself into it.
“He makes a video saying, ‘I’m never doing this again,'” Boutté said. “It’s been a little over a year and Jeffree Star has been involved in like 10 different dramas since then, talking s–t, and shading people.”
Dawson really disappointed his fans when his history was dredged up because he had an almost universal image of being kind and empathetic. Star, on the other hand, has always had a bit more mystery and darkness surrounding him.
“When you have somebody like Jeffree Star, Trisha Paytas, or Tana Mongeau, what do you really expect from them?” Boutté posed. “Do you expect them to be this kind, generous, giving person? Or do you expect them to be kind of an a–hole and constantly be in controversy?”
Having an aura of being a bit of a villain means your bad behaviour is almost excused, because you’re playing the correct part. Paytas, for instance, has insulted perhaps every community on the internet, but is still hugely popular because she “speaks her truth.”
“Same thing with like Keemstar,” said Boutté. “If Keemstar does something s—-y or terrible, or says something awful, people are like, ‘Oh, that’s just Keemstar.'”
The fiercest of fans never give up
Star also has a huge fanbase of over 17 million, many of which are fiercely loyal to him. Even if 500,000 of his followers turn against him – the population of a small city – that still leaves millions who will run to his defence. Some celebrities cross a threshold where enough people have their back that it doesn’t matter what they do.
Star has also been around since the Myspace days, so many of his fans will have grown up with him. Turning their back on him for making a mistake may feel like abandoning an old friend. The same might be true for mainstream celebrities like Brown or Freeman – fans want to believe the people they idolized as youngsters are better than what they are hearing.
“We can look at our own personal lives and think how we all have a friend who keeps f—ing up, but we’ve known him for so long, it’s hard to just cut them off completely,” said Boutté. “They want to feel this connection. They want to feel like this celebrity actually cares about them. And what do you do for a good friend that cares about you? You defend them, you back them, you go online and you fight for them.”
Internet celebrities develop a particularly strong parasocial relationship with their fans because they speak directly to the camera, and give you an intimate snapshot into their lives.
Boutté said this connection may even be strengthened by the loneliness epidemic that’s sweeping across every generation. When a YouTuber is saying “I love you guys” and “you guys mean the world to me,” they are talking to a faceless crowd. But the faceless crowd is made up of individual people, all watching the screen and feeling a connection.
“They have fame, they’re attractive, and when people have what you want, you think they must know something,” he said. “So you listen to their opinions on everything and you develop this trust for them.”
A new era ahead
There was once a theory that Star’s recent explosion in popularity was thanks to his connection to Dawson. He, Mongeau, and Paytas have basically been given a free pass when they found themselves in the midst of a drama because the halo of the “King of YouTube” was protecting them.
However, Dawson’s association is no longer the bullet-proof vest it once was. The YouTube reckoning over the past couple of weeks has shown nobody is safe, and everyone’s past is free game. Star might finally get the comeuppance that many commentators have been asking for.
It’s only now Dawson has fallen that we may well see others fall too.