As social media influencers continue to gain notoriety both online and off, the idea of cancel culture is rapidly taking the world by storm. With this term recently coming to light, many people have speculated about what it means and how it can possibly affect their favorite celebrities and influencers.
Cancel culture is, simply put, a movement designed to call out famous people who have made controversial and problematic statements in the past, including, but not limited to, those that contain racist, homophobic, transphobic and misogynistic language. While it is important to let fans know about their problematic statements, cancel culture does not allow any opportunities for growth, and instead, it’s turned into a movement that results in public scrutiny and humiliation. One of the most recent examples of this pop culture phenomenon is the feud between popular YouTube beauty gurus James Charles and Tati Westbrook.
On May 10, Westbrook posted a video on her YouTube channel called “Bye Sister.” The title was an homage to Charles’ use of the phrase, “Hi sisters,” at the beginning of his videos, which he has used in association with his online brand. In her video, since deleted, Westbrook expressed her discontent with Charles because of his promotion of Sugar Bear Hair vitamins, which had previously been promoted by other celebrities and social media influencers, instead of her own recently formed company, Halo Beauty.
While some people following this feud closely believed that Westbrook posted the video because of how much money she might lose from this promotion, she quickly diverted the attention from this claim by “exposing” some of Charles’ past predatory behavior.
I'm working on not reacting out of anger & working through patience for what this right thing to do is. ??❤️ I remind you all… as I remind myself to do what you can to lead with kindness.
— Tati Westbrook (@GlamLifeGuru) May 18, 2019
Even though Westbrook’s video was over 40 minutes long, she provided little to no evidence to back up her claims, which caused some people to speculate about the validity of her accusations. However, at the time that the video was posted, many people were on Tati’s side and had no trouble believing everything she said about Charles, who she described as a friend and someone she used to mentor.
One of the most controversial statements in her video, that made headlines and brought the internet by storm, was that Charles manipulated straight men’s sexualities with his fame, money and power, after describing an incident where he made comments about a waiter at a restaurant they went to in order to celebrate Westbrook’s birthday.
After the video was published, social media was abuzz with comments on the situation, and people were quick to make negative comments against Charles. While Westbrook has since claimed that she did not intend for people to react to her video the way they did, the video itself contributed to the notion of cancel culture because of the severity of the accusations presented and the widespread disdain of Charles that had slowly begun to form even before Westbrook’s video was posted.
On the other hand, as Westbrook is more than a decade Charles’ senior, people also began to speculate why she would make this video in the first place, and not resolve her issue with Charles behind closed doors. While she claimed that she tried to deal with the issue privately, she felt her words would be misconstrued if the situation was not made public and wanted to provide closure to her audience about her public friendship with Charles.
On May 18, Charles posted a video to his YouTube channel in response, titled “No More Lies.” While this video was about the same length as Westbrook’s, he provided evidence to back up his claims, such as text messages and clips from videos posted and sent by Jeffree Star; Sam, the waiter who was referenced in Westbrook’s video; and even Westbrook herself.
— James Charles (@jamescharles) May 18, 2019
Charles showed messages he sent to Westbrook about the promotional post for her rival brand, which she insisted he never informed her about, as well as videos of him gushing over her new products. He also referenced a video he made called “tati,” where he is shown crying in front of the camera and apologizing for hurting Westbrook and her husband. Charles also addressed one serious allegation that Westbrook made against him, which was in reference to Sam.
In the video, Charles showed messages and a video from Sam that indicated his interest in him. Charles also addressed a claim that was made by Star, where he was making Star’s boyfriend’s brother, Zach, uncomfortable with his advances. He then stated that Star was the one who encouraged Charles to talk to him and pursue a relationship. At the end of the video, Charles revealed how this feud had put him in a dark place in regard to his mental health, and that he needed to take some time away from the situation and create other content.
The following day, controversial YouTuber Jeffree Star, who was a friend of James Charles and is still a friend of Tati Westbrook, posted a video in response to the viral feud called “Never Doing This Again,” in which he explained his desire to put the situation to rest and stated that he will no longer be engaging in the sort of behavior that results in the defamation of another human being.
In this 14-minute-long video, the 33-year-old beauty mogul also apologized for his comments on the matter, in a since-deleted series of tweets that stated that all of Westbrook’s claims were true and that he felt like Charles was a danger to society. He then stated that he regrets his actions and the messages he sent to Charles, with similar sentiments to those Charles talked about in his own video. At the end of the video, Star tells his viewers that he does not want them to send any hate to Charles and that he will no longer be making any further commentary on the situation.
After backlash from viewers who did not believe that her reasons for “exposing” Charles were genuine, Westbrook posted a video called “Why I Did It.” In this 18-minute-long video, Westbrook expressed that she still stands by what she said, but she did not intend for her video to receive such a widespread reaction. She also addressed the claim that she only talked about Charles’s action because of his brand promotion, by stating that there were other issues that caused her to make the video, which she did not want to make public. Westbrook, like Star and Charles, also wanted to share her side of the story, and told her audience that she just wants to move on from the feud.
While this feud was somewhat short-lived, the notion of cancel culture still remains prominent in online society. Through a series of videos that are the length of most television show episodes, Charles went from being cancelled and becoming the first YouTuber to lose over a million subscribers in a 24-hour-timespan, to suddenly gaining back some of those subscribers in a matter of days. After Westbrook, Charles and Star hashed out their problems for the entire internet to see, Charles posted a tweet saying that he wants everyone to move on from this situation.
I made my video today NOT to start a war, but to take responsibility for my actions & clear my name. There ARE two sides to every story, & now you’ve heard both. I’m sure more will be said, but I’m moving on. You can form your opinions, but PLEASE do not send any hate to anyone.
— James Charles (@jamescharles) May 18, 2019
As the internet is rapidly changing, so are people’s opinions on the celebrities and influencers they see on the other side of the screen.