Perhaps the most dramatic scandal in the YouTube beauty community's history erupted over the weekend.
The controversy arose when established beauty guru Tati Westbrook posted a 48-minute long exposé on James Charles, a prominent 19-year-old makeup artist and influencer. The exposé led to Charles' subsequent "canceling." The road to this James Charles blowout has been a long one. Known for scandals, Charles is no stranger to being scrutinized and criticized.
But this latest scandal may be more than Charles can recover from. Tati's video begins with clips of the beauty vlogger's continued support of Charles, from celebrating when he hit his first million followers on Instagram to plugging his promo codes in her videos. She starts off by giving some context to their relationship. As a veteran of the YouTube beauty community, Tati saw herself as a mother figure who mentored and took James under her wing when no one else would (particularly after his offensive Ebola tweet), even having her husband offer legal help to negotiate contracts and help his career take off. Financially and socially, James' career grew exponentially—until it even overshadowed Tati's, but she always remained a steady supporter.
But things began to turn sour between the bloggers at this year's Coachella, where Charles promoted a product called Sugar Bear Hair, a beauty supplement company that's known to be Tati's biggest competitor. Tati, who has been vocal about promoting Charles and his makeup products for nothing in return, runs her own company called Halo Beauty, which sells hair and nail supplements. James claimed that his betrayal was because he needed a security guard at Coachella and Sugar Bear Hair offered him one—if he promoted their product.
According to Tati's video, James originally told Tati that he wouldn't promote Halo Beauty because his fanbase is too young, yet he went and promoted her direct competitor. There's a pervading sense of disrespect and betrayal of Tati's trust and friendship, as well as the clear implication that Charles is willing to prioritize wealth over friendships.
Consequently, James Charles has lost nearly 3 million subscribers. Meanwhile, Tati has gained over 3 million since posting her scathing exposé, which has been applauded for her eloquence and well-prepared approach. These massive fluctuations show just how serious these fanbases really are about Cancel Culture.
One of the main functions of "canceling" allows fanbases to feel like they have a sense of agency over who they choose to support, signifying what values they identify with. However, the Cancel Culture trend can sometimes reduce nuanced conflicts or even people into an over-simplified moral binary.
The second major contention that Tati and the YouTube community have with Charles is his repeated pattern of trying to seduce straight men. It's an open secret that Charles often jokes about in his videos, and it's been well-documented on his own Twitter and social media. This topic was more seriously broached a few weeks before the blowout with Tati because of another issue at Coachella. Charles invited a man named Gage to the festival after the man reportedly said he was perhaps bicurious but was still unsure of his sexuality. After the Coachella weekend, Gage made public comments about feeling uncomfortable around the vlogger. James then tried to turn his millions of followers against Gage, even calling him a "con artist" in one reply, before deleting it and releasing a public statement.
But this incident was only the beginning. In the following weeks, many people came forward to expose Charles for allegedly trying to take advantage of straight or questioning men; overall, many critiqued his general feeling of entitlement to sex and affection. In Tati's video, she talks about multiple instances in which she would be at dinner with Charles and her friends or even his parents, and James would start to explicitly talk about sexual things he wanted to do to certain men––their straight waiter, for instance. One of the most notable anecdotes is when Tati told James that this kind of talk was inappropriate because the man in question was straight, and he replied: "I don't care, I'm a celebrity."
The apology video Charles consequently posted seemed uncharacteristically sloppy and unplanned. Usually, his content appears well-edited and thought-out, but this appeared to be an impulsive response, which ended up getting a lot of heat. Some people thought he was under the influence of Xanax or simply doing a poor job of acting emotionally affected.
But the unclear criteria of Cancel Culture raise questions about who deserves forgiveness and who is considered to be "over." There are a few other major YouTubers who come to mind when discussing the redemption cycle of "canceling." There's Shane Dawson, who has repeatedly used racial stereotyping and even blackface in his videos. There's Tana Mongeau, whose failed convention, Tanacon, led to her own scandal cycle, which she seems to have come back from after starring in Shane Dawson's documentary series. There's Jeffree Starr, who was also considered problematic after videos of him saying the N-word surfaced, who's mostly landed back in the good graces of the YouTube community (Starr was also a subject of Shane's documentary-style series).
Is there room for forgiveness in the case of James Charles?
In some cases, the benefit of the doubt can be justified. Perhaps the person can win you back if they show they're sorry, and they appear to have learned from their mistakes. (I'm sure anyone could look back on old Facebook statuses or tweets and find something that's not an accurate representation of who they are now, so it's important to keep in mind context when exploring someone's past). Does it seem like a repeated pattern of behavior? Or was it a one-off bad joke that could be apologized for? There are endless reasons to cancel someone in this day and age. While each case ought to be examined on an individual basis—because circumstances can change and people should be given room to change and improve––some issues are less forgivable.
When an influencer's behavior is ongoing, the problem becomes impossible to ignore. Looking in depth at James' situation, it makes sense why people are boycotting him. James' history of scandals and his repeated pattern of trying to seduce questioning men into thinking they're gay is not okay. James has endured many scandals throughout his vlogging career, but it seems like his repeated patterns of predatory behavior, disrespect for friendships, and sense of entitlement may finally cancel him for good.
Sara is a music and culture writer.
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