Before you click away, I’m not about to offer some cutting edge commentary on how the famous (or infamous) Youtuber Shane Dawson is a secret Trump supporter. Rather, both Dawson and Trump hold significant places in society, one in popular culture and one in politics. Their rise to fame and subsequent fall offer an insight into white euro-centric culture that I think is worth talking about.
I’m aware I might be targeting a very niche audience here since Dawson’s Youtube audience is on the younger side and any crossover between Youtube ‘comedy’ and politics that exists tends to favour an older audience.
For the uninitiated, Shane Dawson is a 32-year-old content creator on Youtube. He started back in 2008 when the website was in its infancy and accumulated a following of 21.4 million subscribers on the platform (as well as an additional 8.25 on his second channel ShaneDawsonTV and 3.44 on his beauty channel ShaneGlossin). His content has evolved over the years, moving from comedy skits to conspiracy videos to multi-part-documentary-series.
Shane Dawson fell into controversy this year for, among other things, some of his older content in which he did blackface, performed as racially stereotypical characters and made jokes about pedophilia. Dawson addressed some of these things in a video titled, ‘Taking Accountability,’ which he has since disabled comments and likes on.
Obviously, the internet was outraged. Dawson lost over 600,000 subscribers in the 30 days following his apology video, and plenty of people took to Twitter to exclaim their shock and disappointment in the creator.
What I find interesting is the timing in which the internet held Dawson to account. Some of the content we are talking about here is five to ten years old, and it’s been sitting on the internet for years for anyone to find and watch. When Dawson first published this content, he faced minimal backlash from his audience, a majority of whom were white. Any of the valid criticism offered by black or LQBT creators at the time was immediately dismissed as ‘hate.’ And yet the internet still acted shocked when they realized in 2020 that their favourite creator had such a problematic past.
The thing is, it is exactly this kind of problematic humour that gave Dawson his rise on Youtube. Dawson’s comedy comes at the expense of children, members of the LGBT community and people of colour. His entire brand is built on racism, sexism and ableism.
So it’s interesting that the internet not only accepted him five to ten years ago, it treated him as the dominant voice of a generation.
But where does Donald Trump fit into all of this?
A comment I hear a lot is, “how could someone like Donald Trump become President of the United States?” This is a man with no political experience, who lied about his wealth to get onto the Forbes 400, and bragged about grabbing women “by the p**y.” How could someone like that come to sit as the leader of the Free World?
The answer is simple; more than half (actually not really) of the eligible voting population in America voted for him. They voted for someone who is a known bigot, racist and misogynist, over a woman with over forty years of political experience.
That Trump is racist, misogynistic, and a bigot is not new information. We knew all of this before he was elected into office. In many cases, people voted for him because he is these things. So just as Dawson reflected the social views of the internet five to ten years ago, President Trump reflects the social dynamics in America right now. Racial tensions in America are at an all-time high, a woman’s right to choose is under threat once again, and welfare protections are slowly being torn down.
There have been movements to ‘cancel’ Dawson and Trump for their behaviour. While I’m all for holding people accountable, at some point, we need to turn the looking glass inward. A crucial flaw of cancel culture is that, while it holds the individual accountable, it fails to hold society to the same standard.
There is a reason Dawson wasn’t cancelled in 2012 when he first published the content he is now getting cancelled over. His attitudes reflected dominant culture. This is a man who won the Streamy award for ‘Content Creator of the Year’ in 2018. Similarly, Donald Trump is a man who we installed into the highest office in America. We supported them. We held them up on a pedestal. What does that say about us?
It’s only now during this time of racial reckoning that white society has started to look back and see how vulgar and hurtful some of the things were that we considered ‘entertainment.’ But we shouldn’t be shocked or claim “this is not us” when we see the kinds of people who emerge from this time as political figures and celebrities. Popular and political culture created the conditions for characters like Shane Dawson and Donald Trump to rise to acclaim.
Shane Dawson and Donald Trump are not ‘unique’ or freak instances. Their social climbs prove the pervasive nature of the issues they perpetuate within society. It’s all well and good to chase Dawson off the internet and vote Trump out of office in 2020. But to truly move forward, we must also hold ourselves accountable as people who let their destructive views persist in our society.