When I was in middle school, Shane Dawson was the coolest person on the internet. The early 2010s were the formative years of YouTube, before AdSense forced kid-friendly content and creators like Onision and Pewdiepie still reigned in edgelord glory.
In those days, Shane Dawson was the perfect mix of vulgar and heartfelt. His content was predictable yet delightful: he started each video addressing the audience as himself, raising a certain question or problem and then proceeded to address this concern in a series of skits. His characters came alive with poorly affixed wigs and ridiculous accents. Much of his content has admittedly not aged well, but every video invariably closed with a good moral lesson.
Dawson has since apologized for several of his more controversial videos and removed them from his channel. In keeping with evolving tastes and standards, Dawson has since transformed his brand from offensive humor to more palatable discussions of widely known conspiracy theories, successfully growing and maintaining a robust fanbase throughout this transition. His channel currently boasts a massive sixteen million subscribers.
His most recent projects have involved documentary-style investigations of other well-known YouTube personalities. His most popular short films thus far have included a multi-part exposé on Tanacon, a failed and highly controversial convention organized by Tana Mongeau, and “The Secret World of Jeffree Star”, an in-depth docuseries exploring the music career and cosmetics industry success of the provocative influencer.
Leading up to the release of his newest docuseries, Dawson posted hints of what was to come. The internet exploded with speculations after he released a creepy black and white image of a brain as a teaser. When he finally announced that the subject would be widely-hated YouTuber Jake Paul, many viewers were alarmed.
Shane Dawson is no stranger to internet drama, and it seems as though the material covered by the docuseries is just as relevant as the controversy surrounding it. The video starts out incredibly self-aware, with Dawson addressing viewer concerns, cutting to the many tweets and comments of subscribers swearing mutiny contingent on his continuation of the project.
Everyone loves a little controversy surrounding their work, and Shane Dawson knows this better than anyone. From the beginning of the first part, I was immediately taken in. Dawson appears characteristically tentative to take on the project; his neurotic personality and consistent initial apprehension are staples of his brand. The eerie sound effects deliberately overlayed atop emotional music and the fast-paced editing adds up to a real “whirlwind” of information. Even the sponsorship message at the beginning of the video before any real content is edited to appear delightfully ominous.
The organization of the first part of the docuseries marks a decided improvement from “Secret World of Jeffree Star.” Whereas “Jeffree Star” felt like one long video stream cut into parts, this series seems to have much more structure. This video was an explanation and background. The history of his group Team 10, Logan Paul’s suicide forest scandal and even Jake Paul’s ex-girlfriends are all covered extensively in an interview with iNabber. Their conversation is charming yet serious, and just as fascinating as any true crime show on TV.
Dawson’s melodramatic flair does go too far at times. His conflation of the term “sociopath” with the concept of people who do evil things seems like an outdated reliance on the “spookiness” of mental illness rather than a more measured investigation into Jake Paul’s character. Despite featuring some dramatically compelling techniques, such as a seamless cut from a distressed Norman Bates to modern-day Jake Paul as Dawson describes the warning signs of the mental illness, the underlying messaging remains concerning. Viewer reactions have largely agreed. Negative feedback following the release of the second installment of his series lead Dawson to publicly announce he is re-editing the next few videos in order to present a more balanced perspective.
Shane Dawson presents himself as an audience member, “one of us” instead of a more clinically detached investigator. He jokes that he gets nervous, and mentions how he gets chills. In many ways, he seems just as excited and fascinated to find out information as we, the viewers, are.
Dawson has loved playing with contrasts his entire career. He likes to find the dark side of popular personalities, the humor in dark situations. The cuts and subtly placed nervous chuckles perfectly represent Dawson’s brand, refurbished for 2018 but still consistent enough to provide a specific sort of nostalgia for those of us who revered him in our middle school days. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next from Shane Dawson, problematic as he may sometimes be — and perhaps in part to relive that innocent eighth-grade reality of not knowing any better.