Karen Kurson, In-Depth Co-Editor

Whether you are a binge watcher or only use Youtube for how-to content, the term “cancelled” has probably crossed your radar at some point in 2021. Countless influencers, tiktok stars, and other well-known figures have been called into the limelight for all the wrong reasons; resurfaced videos of offensive humor and sexual assault allegations being the most common. 

The most recent cancellation has been of James Charles, one of the largest names in the beauty community (Youtubers who create makeup videos). Multiple underage fans have accused Charles, 21, of sending explicit photos of himself and flirting over Snapchat. He made an apology video on Youtube, but many of his sponsors have cancelled brand deals, and Youtube has demonetized his content. He claimed in his apology that he was “desperate” and turned to messaging his fans, many of them only 16, online. This is not the first time that Charles has been called out for sexual misconduct. In 2019, Tati Westbrook, a Youtube personality and long-time friend of Charles, made a video that’s since been deleted alleging that Charles was inappropriately hitting on a male waiter and “tricking a straight man to think he’s gay”. 

Others, such as Jeffree Star, another beauty creator, and Shane Dawson, a formerly beloved “storytime” Youtuber known for his conspiracy theory videos, have been called out for their offensive content and language. A video of Star hurling the N-word came out, and old videos of Dawson portraying a Black character named ‘Shanaynay’ while wearing Blackface were looked at under a new light. They both made apology videos for their racist acts. Many turned on them, but other die-hard fans stuck by their sides. At the time, both were collaborating on a makeup launch for Morphe cosmetics, which has since been scrapped.

While these instances involve gay relationships and beauty gurus, they still follow the formula that has existed in Hollywood for years; celebrities taking advantage of their influence over their impressionable audiences and hiding their prejudices behind their high status. What has changed? In 2021, people are being called out. ‘Cancel culture’ has been lauded as a way to finally hold stars accountable, but also been criticized for its punishing nature. 

As the status quo changes, many stars have been cancelled for their offensive content, tweets or language, often used over 10 years ago. Max Parlin, ‘21, feels that cancelling influencers who have been offensive in the past “allows no room for growth and self improvement, which is a key aspect of getting people to change for the better.” He feels that fans should encourage their favorite social media stars to educate themselves rather than attack their careers. 

Nina Krauss, ‘23, has “conflicting feelings” about cancel culture. She feels that it has created a means to hold socialites, who have historically acted recklessly without consequence, to the same standard as plebeians. However, she notes that the punishments often fade as abruptly as accusations of wrongdoing emerge. “It’s concerning that someone’s ‘cancellation’ is often temporary,” said Krauss, “and that they can bounce back and regain their previous popularity within weeks or months.” Additionally, she sees action taken on social media, such as “liking racist or otherwise prejudiced tweets” as a new way to judge the character of influencers who may put out a different image than the one they really represent. A downside to taking action online is the anonymity of social media; 

This all becomes more complex when one takes into account that there is a difference between a “social crime” and an illegal act. One issue with cancel culture is that it often punishes a socially unacceptable act and an illegal act in the same way: fans withdrawing their support and companies retracting deals. “Cancel culture is not a uniform policy,” said Parlin, who noted that stars can commit crimes without legal punishment, but others lose brand deals and profit over internet scandals. A common crime that influencers have been accused of is sexual misconduct. While accusations vary in how much they have been substantiated, or how much fans have cared, it is very uncommon for any of them to be taken to court. Therefore, it is up to the sponsors and fans to decide whether they continue to support an influencer, or if they believe they are guilty. 

Art by M. Shapiro

Parlin feels that the American Justice System “doesn’t take sexual assault as seriously as it should,” and has often failed survivors involved in high profile cases. Sexual assault is already a difficult crime to prove, and a high status perpetrator can make it harder for victims to come out. Many influencers have a diehard fan base who will verbally attack and dox (revealing one’s address to a public domain) people who criticize their beloved stars. For instance, Justine Paradise, 24, has recently experienced online harassment and threats after accusing Jake Paul, 24, of sexually assaulting her in April.  However, Parlin still believes fans should proceed with caution and “try to find eyewitnesses or hard proof instead of cancelling someone just based on hearsay.” Krauss agrees that “some of these types of rumors can be just that,” but also laments the casualness at which fans overlook serious accusations. “If someone I supported was accused of a crime, I {would} examine the allegations and formulate my opinion,” Krauss said. 

The invasiveness, anonymity and impersonal feeling of social media have changed the way we look at others- from friends and family to those we admire. While stars used to frequently get away with crimes and make offensive remarks, this was never circulated as quickly or thoroughly. Now that one can follow the life and whereabouts of influencers, many of whom are teenagers, people can scrutinize each action they take, all from the privacy of a screen. 


Designed by: Jared Garelick