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YouTube: A Creative Outlet or a “Hedonistic Treadmill?”

YouTube is arguably one of the most popular social media platforms of the 21st century. With video topics ranging from cooking, physics, and music, to lifestyle vlogs, education and various other videos being uploaded every day, YouTube has become a platform for people to express themselves. Thousands of people have channels either for niche interests or that are designed to cater for a large audience. While this provides entertainment to many, when does it go too far?

The Beauty Community

The earliest memory I have of watching a make-up tutorial on YouTube was when I was in high school. I was obsessed with anime at the time and found the YouTuber, Michelle Phan, by accident. Her channel immediately caught my eye and soon I was binging her videos about make-up and her love of drawing. While I enjoyed make-up as an art, I didn’t wear it often so I saw no need to watch countless people do make-up looks on their channels. I started watching NikkieTutorials and loved her video called ‘The Power of Make-Up’ and subscribed to her regardless of the fact that I hardly wore make-up. I liked her energy and overall positivity and it was what I wanted to hear from someone who saw make-up as power and not an object. Looking back on this demonstrates how much the beauty community has changed into a collective of scandals. Shane Dawson and Jeffree Star, two of YouTube’s most well-known content creators, are currently at the centre of attention because of a scandal they allegedly organised to bring the downfall of another beauty YouTuber, James Charles, in 2019. Dawson and Star collaborated, last year, on a palette called, ‘Conspiracy,’ and did all their marketing and promotion via YouTube. Amidst the release of ‘Conspiracy’, James Charles was losing thousands of subscribers because of a video that Tati Westbrook, another beauty YouTuber, released titled, ‘Bye Sister’. In this video she claimed that Charles was a predator and felt that his ego was getting too big now that he was a celebrity. That video caused Charles to lose friends, subscribers and he had to piece his reputation back together in a video with proof that he was not a predator. The scandal caused Star and Dawson to have their palette sold out online and had people debating which side they were on. The scandal had lasting effects on Charles and Westbrook and once 2019 ended, everyone thought the drama was over. However, this was not the case as Westbrook released a video last month titled, ‘Breaking My Silence’. In this video she explains that she is getting her legal team involved and that she can’t say everything she wants to say because of it being a legal matter. What shocked many fans was that she stated that Star and Dawson were the ones feeding her consistent rumours and scandals about James Charles, in 2019, before she made the infamous, ‘Bye Sister’ video, which has now been deleted. She also stated that Star was obsessively jealous of Charles’ success and viewed him as a threat and that is why Jeffree Star planned to manipulate her into making the ‘Bye Sister’ video to bring down James Charles. This added a whole new spin on the scandal and caused Dawson to react aggressively on an Instagram Live claiming that Westbrook was lying and was faking it all. A month after Westbrook’s video was posted, Star went back on social media and released an apology video called, ‘Doing What’s Right’. In this video, he apologised to James for not getting facts correct and listening to rumours from other people. Charles and Westbrook have not commented on Star’s apology and Dawson has remained silent.

Family Channels

Discussing family channels is hard as they are channels meant for other families to watch together or even offer advice to expecting parents. These channels are supposed to produce wholesome, family-friendly content, yet some of the more popular family channels have gotten into messy situations. The ACE family are a YouTuber family made up of Austin McBroom and Catherine Paiz with their three children, Elle, Alaïa and Steel. They’ve been accused of stealing money from their fans via an app they made, which cost a monthly membership fee, but there wasn’t any content on the app for the first couple months. As well as this, they’re known for holding fake competitions to gain views and Austin was accused of sexualising a child (it was not one of his children) when he bought her a phallic shaped lollipop from an adult store. Other family channels have been scrutinized as well, for example Myka Stauffer’s channel. She was a mother of five children and one of them was adopted and had special needs. The majority of her videos on her channel feature her children, how she cares for them and how she raises five children at once. Earlier this year, she made a video with her husband apologising for being a bad mother as she had decided to ‘rehome’ her adopted son, because she wasn’t ready to take care of him and all his special needs. They faced public backlash as they had their son, Huxley, for three years and had stated countless times in their adoption videos that they knew what they were signing up for. But, they gave up when raising him became too difficult. These scandals have made fans weary of family channels as the parents are constantly documenting their children’s lives without necessary consent.

YouTube can be a creative platform to work on and, if successful, can be a way to make money while still having fun. Ultimately, the struggle for relevancy is what can be the downfall. People are getting caught up in scandals for the sake of being popular, and this has been happening on a regular basis. With accusations flying, no one knows the full truth about the YouTubers they thought they knew. YouTubers have taken to getting involved in scandals in order to stay relevant and to get the views and ad revenue they need to make money. While making money is important for many YouTubers, who have resigned from their 9 to 5 jobs in order to do YouTube full time, there is a way to stay away from drama and stop making the environment toxic. The beauty community, a once positive place to experiment with make-up, now revolves around rumours and scandals and family channels could be displaying something totally different on camera than what happens behind the scenes. YouTube was designed to be entertainment for the masses, but when views, likes and subscribers are all that matters in the end and the creator is forcing drama to happen so that their channel doesn’t sink, it can become a cesspool of unnecessary angst and a tarnished name.

Joelle is an Anthropology Honours student with a Bachelor's degree in English Literature and Anthropology at UCT. She is a feminist, aspiring author, k-pop enthusiast and avid reader.
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