How many times has the internet’s least favorite cockroach Shane Dawson crawled back from the nuclear war in his Twitter mentions to relative Youtube notoriety? I was in seventh grade in 2008, when I first encountered this un-killable internet gremlin, and he’s been cancelled at least once a year since. So at least that many times! Perhaps this next go-around will stick?
Insider reports that Dawson, the manifestation of ancient entropic forces slowly pushing our universe to a catastrophic heat death, has been demonetized by YouTube “indefinitely.” The news comes after some of his old videos resurfaced which include jokes about pedophilia, blackface “skits,” and a video where he “pretends” to masturbate in front of a picture of an 11-year old Willow Smith. The latter video garnered a cataclysmic tidal wave of ire for Dawson after Jaden Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith tweeted their dismay, with Jada Pinkett Smith tweeting, “To Shane Dawson, I’m done with the excuses.”
YouTube’s action against Dawson comes amid a growing effort to deplatform and demonetize racists and bigots across the internet, with companies like Reddit and Twitter removing sub-reddits and banning Twitter accounts like those of notorious transmisogynist Graham Lineham. While these steps are certainly a win for the many victims of people with violent beliefs and massive followings online, I also wonder what, exactly, are these platforms pointing to as the tipping point?
Shane Dawson’s blackface videos have existed in the wider internet consciousness for at least a decade. Women and journalists and people of color have, for years, sounded the alarm about sub-reddits like r/The_Donald and Twitter goons like Graham Linehan and his army of Mumsnet-adjacent TERFs. Sure, there is currently a nationwide abolitionist uprising against policing and its many associated carceral systems. But is that really it? This isn’t even the first time Shane Dawson has been “cancelled” online in the last year, having already apologized last March for racist jokes and a podcast episode in which he claimed to have sex with his cat. Similar callouts extend as far back as 2012, when he asked teen girls at VidCon to participate in racist, misogynistic skits. Or in 2014, when Youtube creators like Franchesca Ramsey once again drew attention to his long history of blackface jokes and bigoted behavior.
YouTube moderators and executives have perhaps come to some important realizations in recent weeks, but I’m struggling to find the grace within myself to trust it. Not unlike the recent crop of white actors suddenly swearing off voicing roles for characters of color when they have long collected royalty checks—or NBC’s decision to scrub 30 Rock’s numerous blackface episodes from the internet—YouTube’s decision feels more like legacy management than significant progress. The company is beyond late, considering that for a decade, Black Youtube creators have pointed out that racism fueled the empire of Shane Dawson. If his behavior on their platform was already a well known problem in the past, why else would YouTube wait so long to take action, if not for the now public backlash potentially driving a stake through its image and profits?
More interesting, however, is how YouTube’s demonetization of Dawson might affect the recent trends of “apology videos” that mostly consist of performative self-flagellation. In his most recent video, “Taking Accountability,” Dawson talked a lot about his guilt and his own efforts to scrub all traces of the “old” him from the internet. He waxed poetic about the harm he’s caused, and the countless fans who’ve told him that he made them believe blackface and racist jokes were perfectly fine, claiming he’d been a part of a culture that “normalized” these behaviors in millennial and gen-z audiences. Lacking in the video, however, was any sort of cohesive understanding of this particular moment in political action. Like most YouTube apologies, Dawson’s regrets extended as far as himself, centering his own pain and tribulations. Will his apology video’s failure to protect Dawson from demonetization lead to more “mindful” apology videos that actually, you know, “read the room”? It seems unlikely, at least from YouTubers of Dawson’s ilk.
Regardless, it will be nice to know that Shane Dawson can’t continue to harvest the rewards of YouTube notoriety, especially when his only real contributions to the internet—besides an underground nuclear waste facility’s worth of blackface and pedophilia jokes—is simping in the back of Jeffree Star’s Bentley. Good luck, bitch, and good fucking riddance.