YouTube Drama: James Charles Strikes Back

Prem Posted by Prem at May 21, 2019 14:19:38 May 21, 2019 14:19:38

I thought I had the whole James Charles and Tati Westbrook situation figured out last Monday, but since then, some recent developments have changed the direction of the story. If you’re not caught up, you can read my article from last week about Tati’s now deleted video “Bye Sister".

A few other videos have surfaced since then. One of her main accusations against Charles came from her birthday party in Seattle, where Charles allegedly hit on a “straight” waiter at the restaurant, and then continued to pursue him against his will. The waiter in question, Sam, posted his own video (now deleted) with screenshots of their conversations (Sam actually slid into James’s DMs, not the other way around) and affirmed that their relationship and interaction was fully consensual (and also that James was a terrible kisser, oof). Side note: he’s cute but he has the personality of a brick.

This stewed for a week until Tati posted an emotional video on Friday called “Why I Did It.” In it, she claims that she didn’t know that her video would become so viral, and that while she stands by everything in her video, she calls on her fans and supporters to refrain from sending hate to James. 

 

The weekend continued to be Team Tati, until James Charles posted a video called “No More Lies” on Saturday, a 41 minute refutation and self-exoneration, challenging everything Tati, and many others, accused him of, including accusations of sexual harassment. After James posted his video, Tati responded in a Tweet, claiming that it was “littered with so many lies and half truths.” 

 

 

James’s video is super detailed, there’s a lot of juicy gossip packed into the 41 minutes. James covers everything from how Sam pretended to be gay in order to record a FaceTime with him, to how Jeffree Star dragged James’s innocent brother into the conflict. The video is worth a watch, especially if you watched Tati’s, but in case you don’t have time, the good people at Buzzfeed broke it down for us with screenshots

So, what does this all mean? Obviously there are two sides to every story, even if one seems more convincing at first. When I first wrote about their YouTube feud, I praised Tati for her gossip strategy and presentation. James has now shown us that he can run with the best of them. His video was carefully planned and rehearsed (not a bad thing in this case) because it showed his research and his effort to present an accurate timeline and description of the events. Throughout the video, James backs up all his claims with receipts including dates, screenshots of text conversations, Twitter posts, and clips from Tati’s video. It’s like reading a well-supported essay rather than a stream of consciousness blog post. 

Quick aside: Screenshots are NOT conclusive evidence, because you can fake them with Photoshop or online screenshot tools. Unrelated, but here’s an actual conversation between me and Ryan Reynolds:

ryan-embed-21may19.jpg

It’s possible that James made this all up. But as he points out in his video, why would he do that when the other side could just challenge him? He also reveals some pretty cringey flirting and private details, including that he’s a virgin. Why would you share that if you were lying? 

Tati’s “Why I Did It” video was confusing from a strategy point of view. People were already on Tati’s side after “Bye Sister”, and she had gained over 1.5 million subscribers as a result. Nevertheless, she felt the need to explain herself (for legitimate guilt or to cover her ass), attributing the reason behind her decision to James Charles and his refusal to listen or engage in conversation. In “No More Lies”, James shares screenshots showing that he tried to reach out to her, first before his sponsorship post, and several times after. Tati already doesn’t look good, but now that her side of the story is being called into question, so will her emotion and authenticity, qualities I praised her for just a week ago. Is this Laura Lee round two?

For those who were undecided about whose side to take, this revelation, if true, paints Tati’s original video in a whole new light. Maria already suspected this last week. Instead of calling out a predatory influencer with a big ego who needed help but refused to hear it, it now seems to some like Tati purposefully aired her dirty laundry as a reaction to her friend working with her competitor. LET’S REMEMBER PEOPLE, THIS ALL STARTED WITH HAIR VITAMINS!

It’s now a case of he said she said, he screenshotted she screenshotted. James is demonstrating that he can match Tati blow for blow. How he structured the video, his “future James Charles” edits to comment on updated information, and the careful use of evidence, were all hallmarks of someone who is learning very quickly how to control a gossip story. Since then, James’s subscriber count has been steadily increasing. 

James also shows some surprising insight into the whole conflict. For one, he talks about the queer experience and immaturity (20:50), of the harms of “bandwagon hate and cancel culture” (36:37), and takes criticism honestly and gracefully (39:14). 

While celebs have publicists and PR teams who handle this sh-t, YouTubers are often forced to deal with it by themselves. Furthermore, there’s an added level of credibility with celebrity gossip, because there are established outlets for gossip (like this site). In the YouTube world, social media is often the only outlet available, meaning that wild theories and speculation can spread like wildfire. 

The drama and pettiness of James Charles vs. Tati Westbrook reminds me of gossip you’d hear in high school. It feels like James could be dishing to me in the school bathroom. The video eventually escalates from there to potentially serious allegations. When you give people the intimacy and rapidity of social media and combine it with the scope and the scale of the internet, you’re bound to create these enormous bouts of pettiness.  

Right now, it seems like the case is closed. Tati issued a statement yesterday affirming that she and James want to put the matter to rest. Jeffree Star uploaded the most ridiculous video I’ve ever seen, basically walking back everything he said in the past two weeks. It’s a little convenient that we’re closing this case just as the people who opened it have been called out, but oh well. Seemingly, James Charles has had the last word. This doesn’t mean we can ignore his past transgressions, but it does shed light on to the games that these mini celebs have to play, and how in social media fame circles, one tiny mistake can end a career. 

Although no gossip is ever too frivolous or petty to me, we should recognize that this drama came out of the privileged, mainly white world of YouTube personalities. While I’ve enjoyed following along with this conflict, it also points to the incredible power that these people wield, and the level of irresponsibility which they can wield it with. There isn’t really a “winner” here. Instead, we’ve simply just seen an ugly glimpse of what happens when people are afforded enormous popularity, wealth, and status without much accountability. I don’t know if I want to see more, but also Jake Paul called Cody Ko a bully and I’m intrigued. 
 

Photos:
Theo Wargo/ Emma McIntyre/ Getty Images 

Tags: Drama
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