A screenshot of Shane Dawson from one of his many YouTube videos

The Downfall of Shane Dawson: Temporary Uproar or the End of a Career?

The YouTuber's success has been hit hard by the revival of his many past controversies concerning racism, blackface and the sexualization of minors.
July 11, 2020
9 mins read

For the first time in his 12 year reign, it seems the so-called “King of YouTube,” Shane Dawson, might have finally met his downfall.

Dawson has been a major figure on YouTube since he joined the platform in 2008. Since then, he has amassed over 22 million subscribers on his main channel, won several awards, released two books and collaborated on a makeup palette with Jeffree Star Cosmetics, a popular makeup brand owned by fellow YouTuber Jeffree Star.

While many other YouTube creators fell in and out of popularity over the years, Dawson managed to stay relevant, eventually becoming one of the most popular creators on the platform. Unfortunately for him, that seems to have changed over the past month with the recent revival of his many past controversies.

Dawson has been facing renewed criticism for the blatant racism in many of his early videos. When he first started on YouTube, his videos consisted of comedy sketches featuring him as a variety of original characters. Several of the characters were based on racist stereotypes, and videos of Dawson doing blackface and using the N-word have resurfaced on Twitter.

If the racism wasn’t enough to fuel the surge of former fans canceling Dawson, he’s also facing criticism for making jokes about pedophilia and for sexualizing young children. YouTuber Tati Westbrook also released a video claiming that Dawson manipulated and gaslit her into starting the 2019 feud with James Charles.

In response to the criticism of his past behavior, Dawson posted an apology video on June 26 titled “Taking Accountability.” In the video, Dawson credited YouTuber Jenna Marbles, who apologized for her own racist videos and announced an indefinite hiatus from YouTube in her own video the day before, as the inspiration for his apology.

Dawson said, “Blackface was something that I did a lot … and there’s no excuse for it.” He also seemed to imply that his racist past was born out of ignorance, and said of his use of blackface, “I didn’t actually look into the history of it and why it’s so wrong and why people were so upset.”

His apology video has garnered both positive and negative responses, but the combination of controversies has so far had devastating effects on Dawson’s career.

According to Social Blade, Dawson’s main YouTube channel lost 1.2 million subscribers over the last 30 days. Target decided to remove both of Dawson’s books from its stores, and the makeup brand Morphe quickly followed suit by removing Dawson’s collection from its website. Finally, in what might have the most crippling effect on his career, YouTube has suspended monetization on all of Dawson’s channels.

None of the controversies are particularly recent, and Dawson has apologized for the same acts of racism and inappropriate sexual jokes several times throughout his YouTube career. In the past, he’s been able to move on and escape criticism relatively unscathed. Now, with his major subscriber losses and the demonetization of his channels, it seems like he’s finally seeing the consequences of his actions.

But is this actually the end of Dawson’s career? Or will he simply bounce back in a few weeks and continue making content for his remaining 22 million fans?

Unfortunately, the latter is far more likely.

For all the criticism and negative press surrounding “cancel culture,” when it comes to successful YouTubers, it’s rarely made a lasting impact on anyone’s career, even when they might deserve it.

Like Dawson, other famous YouTube creators, including Logan Paul, James Charles and Jeffree Star, have all dealt with serious controversies. For the most part, they’ve all recovered pretty seamlessly.

In 2018, Paul uploaded a video to his YouTube channel in which he discovered the body of a suicide victim in the Aokigahara forest, also known as the Suicide Forest in Japan. Despite the backlash he received, Paul actually gained 300,000 subscribers soon after the video was posted. Two years later, he has 22 million subscribers — around 7 million more than he had in 2018.

Over the course of his career, beauty YouTuber James Charles has been accused of racism and transphobia, and in 2019, after his feud with Tati Westbrook, he lost almost 3 million subscribers in one weekend. Only a year later, he has nearly 20 million subscribers compared to his 13.8 million after last year’s drama.

Jeffree Star, who in addition to being a popular YouTube creator owns the makeup brand Jeffree Star Cosmetics, has faced accusations of racism consistently since the start of his career. Star’s past is full of examples of racism, possibly even more than Dawson’s, yet he currently has over 17 million subscribers and was one of the highest paid YouTubers of 2019.

If Dawson’s recent downfall follows the same pattern as Paul, Charles and Star, he could regain his status on the platform at any point. The most serious result of Dawson’s cancelation is YouTube’s decision to demonetize his channels, but it’s unclear how long the punishment will last, and it’s most likely not permanent.

Despite the fact that Dawson’s career is undeniably tainted with racism, sexualizing minors and several weak attempts at apologies over the years, he’ll likely have the chance to make a dramatic and wildly successful return to YouTube if he chooses.

If Dawson really believes he should lose everything like he said in his apology video, he needs to take another page from Jenna Marbles’ book and step down from YouTube himself. Otherwise he’ll simply retain his remaining 22 million subscribers and, if the trend of YouTuber controversies continues, likely gain even more after he begins posting again.

Instead of truly taking accountability for his actions and removing himself from YouTube, he promises that whatever he does next will be “putting good into the world.” He claims he doesn’t expect people to accept his apology or continue supporting him, yet many of his fans have already done so and remain loyal to him.

I stand with the thousands of other people who believe it’s time for Dawson’s YouTube reign to end. He’s been given countless opportunities for redemption but has consistently responded with weak, excuse-ridden and self-centered apologies.

Demonetizing Dawson’s YouTube channels is a step in the right direction but ultimately, Dawson will quickly be able to regain his YouTube supremacy. If his momentary downfall can tell us anything, it’s that we still have a long way to go when it comes to holding creators accountable for their actions.

Katherine Brand, University of Michigan

Writer Profile

Katherine Brand

University of Michigan
English major, minor in Gender & Health

Katherine Brand is a senior studying English at the University of Michigan. She is passionate about women’s rights, LGBT+ rights, and hopes to have a career related to social justice or journalism.

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