When a controversial weigh-in becomes more lucrative than a collaboration video, the conflict goes viral.

By Juno Kelly.

Gens Z and Y are renowned for their immersion in the virtual realm; a jurisdiction famed for the likes of social activism, trolling, cancel culture, and a selfie-inflicted narcissism that most boomers would likely claim was never before seen.

What zoomers are not as renowned for, however, is drama. Perhaps this is because, unlike wokeness, selfies, and 15 second clips of slim waists cavorting around to WAP, drama is not a newfangled phenomenon. The media spectacles that celebrities (willingly or unwillingly) immerse themselves in have been a cultural staple since Hollywood marketers cleverly concocted the household name rhetoric. Any episode of the ‘Real Housewives’ depicting 50-somethings flinging drinks at one another will likely remind any boomer that drama is far from exclusive to the digital generation. 

YouTube and TikTok celebrities, however, bring the theatrics to new heights, immersing the entire YouTube and TikTok “communities” into their varying conflicts. Fellow stars weigh in with aplomb and fans make scandals go viral, yet very little attention is garnered from those unencumbered by the new wave of social media.

In defense of these new age “celebrities,” the stakes are high. Alongside the fact that these stars are rumored to be paid per post by TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram, they make the vast majority of their income through sponsorships, an industry with an estimated colossal $2 billion (The Kardashians probably account for about half of that). The prevalence of internet trolls adds ample fuel to the fire, as does the promise of publicity for stars who weigh in, and the very real fear of  being “cancelled” by association. The public denouncement of a content creator by brands also leaves sponsorship opportunities open to others, adding a competitive motive to engage. 

Until recently, this discord was largely exclusive to YouTube and Instagram celebrities, as TikTok’s dance routines, makeup tutorials, and glammed-up lip-syncing videos didn’t leave much room for cancellation, while James Charles promoting gummy bears that were a competitor to Internet “ally” Tati Westbrook apparently did. 

That is, until the app’s reigning sisters opened up their home to the cameras. Charlie and Dixie D’Amelio, who have a combined following of 142.5 million, filmed a video at their home in which a chef cooked them, their parents, and youtuber James Charles, (who is not immune to his own scandal) a meal containing snails, much to the sisters’ disgust. The internet was divided with some claiming their behavior was merely spoiled and childish, while others believed it to be an unforgivable lack of awareness of their privilege. A smaller (more logical camp) recognized the happening as a likely political stunt, initiated to give the otherwise boring video some chance of going viral. Although Charles came to the sisters’ defense, YouTuber and model, Trisha Paytas, who is never more than a stone’s throw away from internet hosted conflict, spoke out against the girls, leading to yet another well-documented feud between her and Charles.

Deeper issues in the YouTube sodality have also unfolded, which I am reluctant to dismiss as ‘dramas’ but have led to their own side-taking, (sometimes justified) ‘cancellations,’ and public apologies. Early days YouTuber Logan Paul faced backlash when he filmed a dead body in Japan’s so called ‘Suicide Forrest’ and uploaded it to his now 20-million-follower-strong account. The latest iteration of the Black Lives Matter movement also led to old problematic and racist tweets and videos re-arising, and the ostracizing of a myriad of stars, the most notable of which is Shane Dawson. Others got off more lightly, with an apology and a promise to do better. 

The political cancellation and addressing of the perpetuation of problematic, oppressive ideology, is an issue that goes deeper than the ‘drama’ addressed in this piece. What is important to note, however, is that there’s a pattern of internet personalities lending one another exposure and engaging in short lived ‘friendships’ until a scandal arises, when the need to avoid being slated with the same abuse becomes paramount. At that point, a controversial weigh-in becomes more lucrative than a collaboration video, and the conflict goes viral.