Shane Dawson, blackface, and why YouTube reporters are whack

I whip my hair back and forth in support of the Smiths.

Share Conquest of the Useless

I’m 36 years old. In demographic terms, I should not know who Shane Dawson is, beyond a vague awareness that he is YouTube famous. But I spend a lot of time slumping around on YouTube trying to understand what people like and why they like it. Shane Dawson has ‘old school’ YouTube fame. He’s been posting on the site since 2008, shifting from a tedious controversy merchant to a more respectably tedious documentary maker, serving up highly-access dependent docs about other controversial YouTubers, notably Jake Paul. 

Dawson has pushed onward through several previous controversies -- check the Wikipedia -- but this time he has driven directly into the immovable object of ‘real world’ fame, finding himself in direct conflict with the Smiths -- Jada Pinkett-Smith, Will Smith, Jaden Smith and Willow Smith. It’s the youngest of that group, Willow, who he made a video about while she was just 11-years-old, pretending to masturbate over a picture of her. Clearly it was a sick joke, but it’s a sick joke that has resurfaced and come to the attention of the Smith family. And they are coming for Dawson.

Shane Dawson came up during a YouTube economy where acting appallingly was directly connected to making $$$. He’s tried to shift himself into being a ‘serious’ documentary maker, but he cannot shake off that past and didn’t do much to fix that past before he was called out. His latest apology video is not about the Willow Smith video, but about numerous examples of him having done blackface. He had a long time to address that behaviour before the current radical moment, he didn’t, because he didn’t see what was wrong. 

Dawson is 4 years younger than me. It is not credible that he didn’t know what doing blackface was wrong when he did it. He knew it was racist and did it anyway, hoping for the big views and attention that transgression brought to channels in that particular YouTube era. All that money, all that fame is built on horrible foundations. Can Dawson rebuild the house? I’m not sure he should be allowed to. Particularly as he is using his own abuse to justify the unjustifiable.


There are certain journalists — I’m not going to name the one I’m specifically thinking of because he gets too much joy from me calling him out — who write about YouTube as if it is something very different from the traditional worlds of fame and media. It’s not; it’s a different delivery platform, where fashions and trends move faster, but it does behave according to very established rules of fame, shame, and arcs of approval and disapproval. Hacks who tell you otherwise simply want to establish their ‘expertise’ as something special. 

On a similar note, you won’t see YouTube correspondents, who are as reliant on access to stars as any traditional showbiz reporter, offer real criticism of someone like Dawson. They’ll water it down because they want the big interview with him. It’s whack but they’ll frame it as being ‘objective’. Don’t be fooled by them. And don’t be fooled by whatever Dawson’s next apology is.