James Charles is no stranger to scandal, and he is finally addressing those grooming allegations by "holding [him]self accountable"
Question: When one of the most famous YouTube creators has become synonymous with grooming and sexual predation … then why is he still one of the platform's most successful creators?
When James Charles first hit YouTube, back when it was still a wealth of opportunity and creativity rather than a mob of identical content creators, he found success in the makeup community that eventually made him the first male CoverGirl ambassador in 2016 when he was just seventeen.
His higher profile came with higher scrutiny. Inevitably, people on the internet found problematic tweets in his archive and raised questions about just how revolutionary his success as a male makeup influencer was as a cis white man.
However, most of this criticism was attributed to youthful ignorance, then quickly brushed aside as Charles's success continued to skyrocket — meaning makeup palettes, sponsorships, and a cappella ventures galore.
In the past five years, James Charles has (I shiver before I say this) become the face of a generation. He's everywhere. Having moved outside of his original makeup niche to become an overall internet personality, James Charles is now one of the most influential Gen Z creators across all platforms.
James Charles also keeps the company of high profile friends and collaborators such as Kylie Jenner and a clique which includes all the most famous TikTok stars like Noah Beck and the D'Amilios. Together, they've all been the subject of some drama over various TikTok videos and criticism for being generally entitled.
But recently, with new, even more problematic patterns of behavior coming to light, Charles's behavior is no longer possible to ignore.
James Charles is no stranger to criticism or drama
No More Lies www.youtube.com
During the feud, Tati raised concerns about James's pattern of potentially predatory behavior. In her initial video, she accused James Charles of using his fame to manipulate self-proclaimed "straight guys."
Tati said, "It's really disgusting to manipulate someone's sexuality. You are using your fame, your power, your money to play with people's emotions. You're threatening to ruin them, you're threatening to embarrass them, and you're doing that to have them behave sexually in your favor, even if they're straight."
However, this aspect of the feud fell from the focus of public discourse as the spectacle of such high-profile, receipt-filled drama surpassed the substance and eradicated any hope of actual conversation about Charles's behavior.
Recent Allegations of Grooming and Predation
Though the Tati/James/Jeffree feud mostly blew over, speculation around Charles's problematic dating behavior have simmered in the background ever since, with rumors and accusations swirling about his questionable choice in potential partners.
This has all come to a head more recently as more serious allegations have come to light about James Charles reportedly pursuing and soliciting s*xual images from minors over social media.
The allegations began appearing/emerging earlier this year, and they have flowed in a steady stream ever since. In February 2021, a 16-year old shared that Charles had been grooming him and pressuring him to send images over Snapchat. Charles responded that he had been unaware of the boy's age at the time — a pattern of denial which has continued as more allegations have surfaced.
Still, James Charles went on as normal, until more accusations came alongside public criticism from other prominent YouTubers — especially in the wake of his controversial Kids Choice Awards win.
Congratulations to James Charles on his Kid’s Choice Award! It’s great because kids have always been his choice too… https://t.co/11tRckvg46— Ethan Klein (@Ethan Klein)1615698229.0
As more accusations came, Charles kept insisting that, despite the victims' claims, he had never been aware of the ages of the various victims. Still, sponsorships started dropping him and Charles was fired from hosting the YouTube reality competition show Instant Influencer.
James Charles Responds in a YouTube Video
After the barrage of testimonies and Snapchats made their way around social media, James Charles could no longer go on as normal, per his previous responses. Naturally, his next move was to make an apology video on YouTube.
holding myself accountable www.youtube.com
The video was released on April 1st, and everything you'd expect from an influencer apologizing for something they definitely, knowingly did: Teary eyed, dramatic, and devoid of any actual proof of change or acknowledgement of guilt.
In it, Charles recounts two specific allegations and claims that in neither case was he aware of their ages. He does admit that "doing research into these people's public social-media profiles would've revealed their true ages, and therefore these conversations would have never happened in the first place."
However, each of these incidents occurred far apart from each other, according to James: "One of them [was] from last year, and one of them [was] more recent." You would think that, if one had previously shown a pattern of poor judgement at discerning age and was actually concerned about not taking advantage of minors, one would be sure to do the necessary research the next time.
Charles also claimed not to understand the power dynamic between himself, a household name with millions of viewers and dollars, and the boys he was talking to. Instead, Charles claims, "What I wasn't getting before is that the excitement that comes from talking to a celebrity is literally enough to make somebody do or say something they normally wouldn't, even if that celebrity isn't intentionally weaponizing their fame, money, or power."
However, having been famous since he was seventeen, Charles has had time to become accustomed to his fame and its effect on people. The Tati Westbrook video broached this very topic, scolding Charles directly for exploiting his influence.
Charles also tries to turn the video into his pity party, saying all this happened because he was "desperate" — as if the obvious solution is moving onto predatory behavior and targeting younger, less experienced boys. This logic also seems to acknowledge that Charles knew, in some way, that he was approaching more vulnerable people who would be easier to influence with his status.
As we've watched celebrity apologies evolve, especially after summer 2020 when so many were called to answer for their racism of yore, these apologies have become increasingly replete with buzzwords and therapy-speak that imitates actual emotion and appears to absolve them of wrongdoing.
Celebrities Aren't Being Held Accountable by Anyone, Least of All Themselves
All of the pathetic notes-app apologies (we see you Justin Timberlake, and we do not forgive you) and crying videos instigated a rise in calls to "cancel cancel culture" (a rallying cry from people who had been "canceled" but were fine, actually).
Suddenly, accountability became the name of the game. Though the word has been used for years and has been prominent in ideologies such as restorative justice, a popular alternative to policing and the carceral system, the way it has been warped by celebrities has allowed many people to get off with a slap on the wrist despite continuing to exhibit harmful behaviors.
The term "accountability" has become as vacuous as PR statements and YouTuber videos because of the lack of action tied to it. James Charles can promise to "hold himself accountable" as much as he wants, but his repeated attempts to pass off his intentional actions as ignorance, despite years of being called out for abusing his influence and power, shows that there is no substance his proclaimed "accountability" — especially when video is monetized and his whole business model is based on attention.
The lifestyle and influence economy is propped up on a shallow conceit, one which reaps scandal after scandal because of the inflated egos of those at the top and their inability to handle the responsibility of influence.
James Charles knows that he can go unchecked and act without repercussions, except the occasional few weeks of heat on Twitter, so he does. So what incentive does he actually have to "hold himself accountable," when all he really has to do is hide his bad behavior better?
At this point, it seems that when they reach a certain point of fame, influencers become untouchable, unmovable. Charles may have lost a few followers and sponsorships, but he's still a millionaire making money from videos that claim to be apologies and using every opportunity to garner more attention, more fame.
And if it seems like every celebrity is getting canceled, it might not be cause to "cancel cancel culture," but to examine the ways companies and brands have given platforms to young people who don't have the best judgement, who aren't equipped to be role models, but who also don't have much to offer beyond their opinions and glimpses of their lives.