When I first heard about the Shane Dawson conspiracy theories on YouTube, I was full of wonder and anticipation. I watched so many of his videos as a kid; from his vlogs to challenge videos, I always knew if I clicked on a Dawson video I would be entertained. Now Dawson has moved on to doing in-depth redemption videos with conspiracy theories and controversial characters such as Jake Paul, Jeffree Star, and Tana Mongeau. I love a good conspiracy theory and could not wait to dive in to his new series. However, when I actually found the time to watch the (almost two-hour long videos), I was less than impressed.
While the editing of the videos is professional grade (the American Horror Story-esque theme song draws the viewer in and promises suspense was more than impressive) the content was not. Though these videos do serve their purpose as entertainment, they are just that — entertainment, with no factual basis or supporting evidence. In every video, Dawson quotes ‘some people’ anonymously instead of citing his sources as a journalist or documentary-maker would. His matter-of-fact tone is undermined by his inability to stay on subject, lest he give the viewer any time to find the holes in his theories.
His main theories about the Woolsey Fires, which jump between military lasers being aimed at homes and electric companies purposefully shorting out specific microwaves to cause the fires, were nothing more than unsubstantiated clickbait. People may forget that clickbait is the only way these YouTube stars stay relevant, and as such, are able to continue recieving sponsorship and payment to do their videos. In more ways than one, these theories are disrespectful to the victims and survivors, and over-emphasize that the survivors did not lose everything as others did, feeding into an already present survivor’s guilt. The clips he uses to try to substantiate his claims are from secondary sources such as History.com, CNN, KCAL9, etc, mashed together bits of arguments to form the most dramatic one, rather than using primary sources or interviews with professionals. Though he prefaces his videos with a disclaimer that these are not meant to minimize the pain of the victims, it does not change the fact that it does.
Dawson spent much of the video cutting back to the ‘conspiracy’ behind iPhones, focusing mainly on the theory that they take in information constantly — essentially Data Mining, which has already been established. He cited Live photos as one example, stating that it must always be recording to be able to do that. But Apple has explained on their websites that once your camera is on it is taking in information, and that the 1.5 seconds before you take a photo and after will be saved into that photo file. Dawson then touches on how some phones pick up letting someone on the other line hear you before you accept your phone call, but nowhere does Dawson cite that Apple has already addressed this issue and set out to fix the bug. The examples that are shown in the video all failed to produce his intended result.
Not everybody feels the videos are a let-down. Fourth-year Emily Olague said, “The hype behind Shane’s [Dawson] series is so real.” Having watched the YouTuber for about 10 years, Olague states that she loves the series and its attention to detail, especially in the editing. Though all these claims were in disarray and seemed to be intentionally catching the audience off guard, the editing smoothed these cracks. Olague states, “His techniques in editing bring out documentary qualities we see when it comes to cable [and] Netflix. He makes sure to hit the ethos and pathos for viewers to think about it.”
While I completely agree that these leading editing techniques intentionally play on the ethos of the viewer, I see deep flaws in his logic as he catastrophizes each scenario, such as that of Hollister, where he goes on and on trying to ‘uncover’ some new scandal, but has been out in the open for years. As with many of his theories, there seems to be nothing original about his ideas, such as when he goes into deep detail about subliminal messages in TV. This is a theory that has been around for ages with countless experts, revealing these to be truth. He simply pieces together ideas from others such as Jordan Peele about Deep Fakes or the many Disney conspiracies surrounding Walt’s possibly frozen state. I do have to admit that the connection he tries to make between Walt being frozen and Disney’s Frozen gave me a laugh. Dawson made edits where a cryogenic scientist talks about the warming and unfreezing of a person while cutting between Anna being unfrozen in the movie.
As far as the Deep Fake conspiracy — it is not one at all, but a fact that media has begun to address as it rises with new technology. However, I think the way he brings this epidemic to the light of his viewers, with real testimony of those who have been ‘deep faked,’ is compelling and certainly helps to further a discussion long in the works. The term deep fake refers to the technology that allows a person to put another’s face onto anyone. It is highlighted that this multi-million dollar technology has been turned into a free app and used to cause mayhem already, such as pasting celebrity faces onto adult film stars in a realistic way. He may not be journalistic in his research, but he is able to use his platform to highlight that there are no current laws regulating this practice from escalating to nuclear war, as he cites in the mockumentary.
This does not, however, make up for his redundant coverage of subliminal messages in commercials and TV shows, to which we have been privy for decades. News Flash: we are being manipulated constantly, but we don’t seem to care enough as a society to stop it because we love the capitalist economy that does nothing but make us miserable. Throwing buzzwords such as creepy uncles, evil spirits, and suicide is not going to change that or make your argument more unique.
Overall, this mockumentary series is one that I will probably continue to watch for a good laugh and the occasional debate with myself about our society, but I will not confuse it with journalistic inquiry or fact, and I urge all of you to follow suit. Dawson has built a career on drawing viewers in with controversial topics, such as his in-depth interviews with controversial people (as mentioned before), which sparks the interest of the everyday person. This mockumentary series is no different. His goal is to get subscribers, views, and likes; this series does just that as it buzzes around the Whittier community.