For offenders like Shane Dawson, cancel culture has no meaning

Three months ago, Shane Dawson returned to the internet with his head held high and a shameless three-part series close behind him.

Most internet users are aware of Dawson’s recent history—a mob of justified hatred and backlash chased him off the internet after his old content and comments came back to bite him for repeatedly using blackface in his videos. Actually, “repeated” is too tame of a word to use—it was in most of his early online content.

To say Dawson’s career was built on a foundation of racism wouldn’t be an exaggeration. The other wrongdoings Dawson has been called out for, like the sexualization of children, could be considered even worse than the copious amounts of blackface that hold up his platform.

Cancel culture, meant to punish public figures for actions like these, does nothing to hold the perpetrators accountable.

Many influencers and celebrities have committed crimes or horrendous acts on camera. And most not only get away with it, but profit from it.

Dawson is one of the more egregious examples of this: his platform was built on it. He’s emblematic of how online culture, discourse, and content thrives off the premise of anti-Blackness and child exploitation.

The word “cancelled” has become a tongue-in-cheek reference to people receiving wide backlash for their actions. With the variety of reactions celebrities and influencers face for misbehaving, “cancelled” means a dozen different things at once—and nothing at all.

It doesn’t matter when people get “cancelled.” It doesn’t matter that the Shane Dawsons and David Dobriks of the world get hate on Twitter, since they’re often too big to fall. Their platforms are raised on pedestals made from the most potent of materials, like racism, sexism, and more. 

Cancel culture is just another buzzword, one especially frustrating because of the consensus that it's bad because it hurts the feelings of a few millionaires.

But I don’t care if someone like Shane Dawson has his feelings hurt. 

We need to stop fearing words like “cancel culture.” We need to stop empathizing with awful people like Dawson, who makes glib remarks brushing off his past controversies in favour of emphasizing the “good” his content has achieved rather than taking accountability for his actions. 

That “good” content came hand in hand with normalizing blackface and saying racial slurs online. The positive impact Dawson claims to have had on viewers came from a community that normalized the sexualization of children.

“Cancel” isn’t a bad word—it's as toothless and as nebulous as “accountability” at this point in our online social discourse. The threat of being “cancelled” accomplishes nothing, except creating a bogeyman for racist influencers to rally their fans against when consequences rear their head.

Clanny is a third-year English student and The Journal’s Editorials Illustrator.

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