On Thursday, YouTuber Jenna Marbles (real name Jenna Mourey) posted an 11-minute vlog titled, “A Message,” in which she apologized for past sexist and racist content—including performing in blackface to impersonate Nicki Minaj in a 2011 video—and announced she was “moving on from this channel.”
“I feel like we’re at a time where we are purging ourselves of anything and everything toxic... I want to hold myself accountable, and it’s painful... I’m ashamed of things I’ve done and said in my past,” she said. “It was not my intention to do blackface... I do want to tell you how unbelievably sorry I am if I ever offended you by posting this video or by doing this impression, and that that was never my intention. It’s not okay. It’s shameful. It’s awful... I need to be done with this channel, for now or for forever.”
Ideally, for forever.
Marbles declaring that she is leaving the platform—after setting those past offensive videos to “private” for years—feels like new YouTube behavior. Typically, any sort of “canceling” is met with an apology video, a few weeks of silence, public forgiveness (or, more accurately, forgetfulness), and a triumphant return. Some of the most powerful players on the platform have behaved even more egregiously than Marbles, followed the aforementioned formula, and continued to make millions from the platform. That’s because other than a performative “I’m so sorry” and a few alligator tears, YouTubers are not expected to be held truly accountable for their actions. Marbles choosing to leave the platform speaks volumes. I consider it to be a symbol of hope, in some weird roundabout way: it’s time for a YouTube regime change, and she’s leading the charge. (You know, if she stays gone.)
Last month, Colleen Ballinger (also known as Miranda Sings) released an apology video addressing a handful of controversies, some dating back over a decade, like pretending to be Latina and making fatphobic remarks. I made the joke that other YouTubers should take this time spent social distancing to do the same—if you can potentially get ahead of a controversy for your past fuckups, why wouldn’t you? Historically, those vlogs drum up incredible attention and clicks anyway, the ultimate currency in the YouTube economy. But the only people who really benefit from them are the creators. The rest of the YouTube world watches as those social media celebrities cry on camera and are tasked with determining which moments feel most honest—from people who play pretend onscreen for a living. Marbles choosing to leave the platform feels much more like accountability. There are consequences for her actions. By taking responsibility in what sounds like an actionable way, she is showing her young viewers that the previous post-controversy publicity playbook is no longer acceptable.
Marbles’s departure also feasibly leaves room for new creators to grow—those loyal subscribers will need to find entertainment elsewhere—and why not invest in creators who are funny and also unproblematic? The world looks much different now than it did when YouTube was created 15 years ago, so accordingly there should be a new wave of talent that better reflects the values of those watching.
Now, a great YouTube purge only works if the most frequent offenders, like Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson and Trisha Paytas and Jake Paul and Logan Paul, do the same. And they should, next time they inevitably screw up. I will be waiting.