The Social Ramifications of Cancelling James Charles
"Cancel culture does not care about fairness. It is simply an iteration of the kind of performative, shallow mentality which pervades social media, discourages genuine self-reflection and likely helped to nurture James Charles’ entitled behavior in the first place."
Caroline Dry discusses underlying problems with cancel culture.
‘Cancelling’ a social media influencer is, on its face, rather empowering. It is akin to boycotting a corporation - the masses recognise an egregious act and respond by voting with their feet, sending a resounding message to the offending party and their counterparts that such behavior is not socially acceptable. The majority of influencers who have been ‘cancelled’ have said or done a plethora of offensive things, ranging from fairly minor moral offences such as social climbing to serious instances of bigotry and sexual harassment. Recently, 19 year-old beauty Youtuber James Charles has been embroiled in a public scandal in which he has been accused of exploiting his friends, behaving dishonestly and, most disturbingly, harassing straight men and attempting to manipulate them into believing that they are attracted to him. He has lost a record number of subscribers and been publicly denounced by many other Youtubers who were once his friends. On the surface, it seems appropriate that the masses respond to James Charles’ behavior by hitting him where it hurts- his wallet. However, there are several layers of complexity to ‘cancelling’ an influencer which call into question the seemingly positive role that cancel culture plays in society.
The first underlying problem with cancel culture is that it rarely actually cares about the core issue of a scandal (be it racism, sexism, or some other moral offence). It cares about publicly eviscerating an individual. This is best demonstrated by the inconsistency with which cancel culture is applied to different influencers. Jeffree Star, who currently has the largest following in Youtube’s beauty community, has been dogged by a series of scandals throughout his career. They have included multiple instances of racist statements directed at African Americans, videos of physical altercations, threats of violence (many against women) and verbal attacks against individuals over the internet. Many of these scandals are recent, and yet Jeffree Star and his makeup brand have achieved phenomenal success and popularity. Meanwhile, in 2018 a makeup Youtuber named Laura Lee was caught up in a scandal in which members of her then-clique of beauty Youtubers mocked Jeffree Star and accused him of racism. In the days following this incident, old tweets of Laura’s were unearthed in which she made racist jokes directed at African-Americans. Her channel has yet to recover from the ensuing outrage and mass exodus of subscribers, who charged her with the combined offences of hypocrisy and racism. To this day, her subscriber numbers remain stagnant and she has lost a plethora of sponsorships and opportunities. The difference between her story and Jeffree Star’s is that Jeffree Star has enough magnetism to convince the masses that his past behavior should be dismissed or ignored. He sells high-quality makeup, he can invent memes and catchphrases on a dime and he creates entertaining videos. An individual’s cancellation is not determined by the severity of their behavior, but by a weighing up of the short-term entertainment the masses derive from their public humiliation against the long-term entertainment they can derive from that individual’s continued career. James Charles has been drawing the public’s ire for some time now with his persistent need to sing - loudly, poorly and often - and his insistence upon wearing assless chaps in public. His actions are not the core issue at play here. It is that he has simply become uncool, and his predatory behavior provides a decent justification for a round of public shaming.
The second problem with cancel culture is the fact that does not facilitate genuine contemplation of the offensive behaviour at hand. Previously, I mentioned that ‘cancelling’ an individual is akin to boycotting a corporation, but the reality is that the ramifications of targeting an individual are fundamentally different. A boycott, generally, will slowly chip away at the income and the image of a corporation until it changes its behavior or collapses - and few individuals have any moral qualms about contributing to a corporation’s demise.
Conversely, when an individual is ‘cancelled’ they are immediately placed under extreme emotional and financial pressure. They lose discount codes, partnerships, connections, friends and their ability to negotiate contracts in the future. Effectively, they are suddenly placed at high risk of having their income cut off entirely and their future compromised. This aspect of cancel culture is particularly insidious when we consider the nature of influencers’ jobs. It is becoming increasingly popular for young influencers to dropout of high school at their first whiff of fame (James Charles, incidentally, did exactly that and has long trumpeted the benefits of dropping out to his followers). They are almost required to move to Los Angeles and maintain incredibly ostentatious lifestyles in order to gain followers. The result is a group of individuals with no real alternative career paths available to them, an acclimatisation to a lavish lifestyle and a large volume of expensive assets which must be maintained (annual services for Lamborghinis don’t come cheap). When these people are ‘cancelled’ they are unlikely to actually look inwards at the offending behavior and seek to improve themselves, because they are fixated upon the fear that their income and career are crashing down around them. Given these circumstances, it is little wonder that Laura Lee’s infamous apology video came off as fake.
The core problem with cancel culture is insincerity. It is perpetuated by a public which, for the most part, does not care about the fundamental theological issue at hand. The affected influencer will then be so desperate to salvage their income and reputation that any attempts of redress will be reduced to a PR move. James Charles’ actions, if true, have been amazingly entitled, selfish and disrespectful to others, and it is certainly fair that he face some consequences for them. However, cancel culture does not care about fairness. It is simply an iteration of the kind of performative, shallow mentality which pervades social media, discourages genuine self-reflection and likely helped to nurture James Charles’ entitled behavior in the first place.