James Charles, David Dobrik and Tati Westbrook are all back on YouTube proving cancel culture is a myth

Posted by Caroline Edwards in Comment

4 weeks ago

When US vlogger Shane Dawson released a “Controversy” makeup palette in 2019 with fellow controversial figure Jeffree Star, the name was a bit of a joke – the two used their previous scandals to produce a sellout product that shook the beauty community. Their pasts seemed to be forgiven and the two continued to grow their YouTube empires. Now, over the past few weeks notable influencers like Tati Westbrook, David Dobrik and Hannah Gale all returned to social media after facing controversies – and no one seems to care. Just look at James Charles – the beauty YouTuber posted his first video in three months this weekend and is racking up millions of views. This follows revelations that he had been sexting underage boys.

For influencers, surviving a scandal is like riding a wave during monsoon season – it’s dangerous and requires a skilled plan of action. Not that bad behaviour is enough to actually cancel anyone – it seems like the worst that can happen to an influencer post-controversy is a slap on the wrist, a social media detox, a dramatic apology and a careful rebrand. Sure, they might lose brand deals – but they’ll be bigger than ever when they return to the digital fray. 

“Breaking my silence”

I nearly spat out my tea when I saw US beauty guru Tati Westbrook had uploaded a video. The former mother of the YouTube beauty community, Tati has been involved in drama since 2019. To jog your memory, her last video pre-2021 was the now-deleted post from 2020, “Breaking My Silence”. This exposed beauty gurus Shane Dawson and Jeffree Star, who she claimed manipulated her into posting the 2019 controversial and now-deleted video, “BYE SISTER,” which accused fellow megastar James Charles for betraying her and trying to “trick a straight man into thinking he’s gay”. It goes without saying that it sparked a massive feud within the beauty community. 

After those explosive videos, Tati returned to YouTube with an 18-minute explanation in her video “A Year Later…” to say she “doesn’t want to talk about” the past events and has been on a break to get away from “scandal island”. She also revealed her marriage nearly ended, she received constant death threats and is being sued by her business partner. Despite all of this, she has resumed producing content as though she was never involved in the drama. And guess what? Her videos are getting similar numbers of views as before.

The King of YouTube?

A few days later, I came across a Rolling Stone article,“David Dobrik Was the King of YouTube. Then He Went Too Far.” One of the biggest names on YouTube with over 18 million subscribers, the US Vine star-turned-entertainment vlogger and leader of the Vlog Squad had risen to fame thanks to his puppy dog face, charisma and short comedic videos. His career had reached new milestones after launching the photography app Dispo and a “Doughbrik’s Pizza” business was on the way. Then four scandals broke, replacing news of his successes with controversies:

  • Former Vlog Squad member Seth Francois accused Dobrik of sexual assault when he was tricked into kissing Jason Nash while he was blindfolded.
  • Nik Keswani (AKA BigNik) said he left the group due to Dobrik bullying him.
  • Business Insider started an investigation after a woman who appeared in one of Dobrik’s 2018 videos accused member Dominykas Zeglaitis (AKA Durte Dom) of rape and being given alcohol despite being under the legal age of 21
  • Vlogger Trisha Paytas (whose pronouns are they/them) accused him of filming them nude and while having intercourse with ex-boyfriend Jason Nash.

And what did Dobrik do? He posted an apology video that viewers criticised for being superficial and insincere. He also lost at least 100,000 subscribers and partnerships with brands such as Chipotle, Bumble and Frank’s Red Hot. Ouch.

A few months later, Dobrik returned as if nothing has ever happened. On June 16, a new video appeared on his channel. No apology, no explanation, just a video titled “Surprising my Friends!!” and a week later, another vlog called “Surprising Best Friend With Puppy!! (Freakout)”. The comments are mostly positive, with one viewer noting: “This is why cancel culture literally doesn’t exist lmaooo look at david back with thousands of loyal fans and followers.” The videos do have fewer viewers than usually (five to eight million rather than 15 to 30 million) but even that’s enough for dozens of future brand deals.

“This time I will listen”

Following the emergence of racial slurs in an old blog post that she refused to delete, ex-digital editor and lifestyle blogger Hannah Gale deleted her Instagram and blog in June 2020. She remained quiet until she started lifestyle platform The Leopard in November but took a month hiatus after a weak apology where she filtered out any comments mentioning “racism”, “BLM” and “apology” on Instagram and deactivated her account. In January 2021, she wrote another apology on The Leopard and promised “this time I will listen” and created anti-racism pledges. In June, she made an official return to Instagram with a post titled “it’s time to do better” (with the comments turned off) and a second sharing anti-racism resources. 

Can cancel culture actually impact an influencer’s career? From apology videos to trending Twitter hashtags, it seems like the age-old saying that all publicity is good publicity is helping fuel these creators’ careers. Brand deals eventually return and die-hard fans are vocal in their forgiveness. The speed of digital means everything feels like history very quickly but a quick Google shows the internet never forgets. The question is, does anyone truly care?

By Caroline Edwards, staff writer of CORQ. Picture credit: James Charles via Instagram.