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It's Time for a YouTube Regime Change

Illustration for article titled Its Time for a YouTube Regime Change
Image: Getty

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.”

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“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.

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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.

Senior Writer, Jezebel. My debut book, LARGER THAN LIFE: A History of Boy Bands, is out now.

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DISCUSSION

First of all, Jenna Marbles didn’t do blackface. She had a dark tan when she worked in a tanning shop. Tacky? Yes. Blackface? No. She had that tan in every video at the time.

I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you know nothing about Jenna, and that you wrote this because you were told to.

Jenna Marbles is someone who I used to dislike back in the day. I thought her humour was juvenile and edgey for the sake of it. It wasn’t until 2 year ago that I started watching regularly

Jenna is fundamentally a good person. She has made mistakes in the past, and always genuinely apologised and changed from it. She has NEVER apologised and then reverted to past behaviour.

The videos in question: she has apologised for them before, multiple times. She privated the videos years ago. She has been outspoken for years about equality, privilege and owning up to your mistakes.

She is a textbook example of someone who has learned from her mistakes and become a better person.

But the cancel culture machine doesn’t want people to change, you don’t want people to grow. You want your pound of meat and to think the worsr of people always.

If you want to look at youtubers who deserve to ve deplatformed? There are plenty, without cheering for the demise of someone who is a genuinely good person.