After getting “canceled” over the summer, YouTube star Shane Dawson is setting the stage for a sympathetic comeback.
He continues to make appearances on his fiancé Ryland Adams’ podcast channel and YouTube.
Dawson appears to be targeting his core viewership with new merchandise and snippets of his family life.
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The day before Thanksgiving, Shane Dawson finally opened up again to the internet. After months of near radio silence after his devastating “cancellation” — a series of public scandals this summer that pushed him into hiding — the disgraced YouTuber wept openly on his fiancé Ryland Adams’ podcast.
But his gut-wrenching video appearance had nothing to do with fan backlash. Rather, Dawson was mourning the loss of his kitten, Mario, who he said died in a freak accident involving the pair’s dogs less than a week after Adams introduced the cat to the internet in the first place.
There’s almost nothing more sympathy-inducing than the loss of a pet, particularly under such unfortunate circumstances. The comment section was full of support (which Dawson noted in a comment was surprising, writing “I wasn’t going to look at the comments on this video but I’m so glad I did”).
At the same time, Dawson used the opportunity to acknowledge his troubled year on the internet, downplay the seriousness of his scandals, and push them to the side.
“Mario came when I needed him most and I needed to feel unconditional love and I needed to remember, like, I don’t know, I don’t want to get too much into the internet s— ’cause it feels so stupid right now to get into that,” Dawson said through tears on the podcast.
This isn’t his first subtle reappearance online since Dawson’s summer of scandal. While he has to post another video on his channel, where he has more than 21 million subscribers, Dawson has been inching back into the spotlight. Despite failing to address his controversies, he’s setting the stage for a sympathetic comeback.
Like his friend Jeffree Star, Dawson has failed to address the major scandals that turned the internet against him in 2020
Dawson entered 2020 on a high note, having made an estimated $3 million from just the first-day launch of the Conspiracy makeup collection with his friend and frequent collaborator Jeffree Star, in addition to the ad revenue garnered from their wildly popular documentary series about its creation.
But over the summer, Dawson “flew too close to the sun”, Insider’s Lindsay Dodgson wrote, becoming embroiled in scandal after scandal and making an abrupt departure from the internet. After writing a post lambasting competing beauty YouTuber James Charles, Dawson was accused of “manipulating” the 2019 beauty guru war between Charles, Star, and Tati Westbrook, who posted an explosive tell-all video aimed at Dawson and Star.
Then, as Dawson attempted to defend himself in a disastrous livestream, internet sleuths dug up numerous receipts of his bad behavior that made huge waves online. There was his decade-old content on YouTube, which included Dawson using the N-word, dressing in blackface, and starring in racist skits.
There was also a disturbing amount of resurfaced footage involving Dawson behaving inappropriately toward children, including kissing a minor on the lips and making “jokes” that justified and mocked pedophilia.
The controversy peaked when a video surfaced showing Dawson pretending to masturbate to a then-preteen Willow Smith. Both Jada Pinkett Smith and Jaden Smith publicly lambasted Dawson, and he disappeared from the internet without ever apologizing or addressing the bulk of the material. He still hasn’t.
Star made a comeback video weeks later, which appeared to satisfy Star’s fanbase — although recently Star’s business has seemed to suffer, and his overall engagement on social media is down. The duo has yet to make any new content together, but Dawson has instead proverbially poked his head back up by appearing with his family.
With new merchandise and video appearances, signs point toward Dawson planning a comeback
All of Dawson’s appearances since this summer have revolved around Adams, who has been able to continue creating content without receiving backlash. Dawson has appeared behind the camera and in front of it on Adams’ YouTube channel, where Adams includes pictures of Dawson in the thumbnail to spark curiosity from Dawson’s clearly forgiving fanbase.
There was an interior makeover reveal that included Adams urging Dawson to see their newly redesigned master bedroom, along with a more recent vlog of Adams trying and failing to eat 10,000 calories in a day that was edited by Dawson and includes segments of him worrying about Adams’ health.
It’s all very nostalgia-inducing, calling back to the era directly before Dawson got canceled when he was praised for his wholesome relationship with Adams. The editing echoes the popular documentary series Dawson made that boosted his online profile to its peak. And while Dawson won’t address his scandals, the amicable Adams and his fan-favorite sister Morgan both have — Morgan said “I don’t even recognize that person” in reference to the old footage (although some of it was very recent).
By reappearing in front of his most devoted audience only — the fans who followed not only Dawson but his family and friends, too — Dawson is reigniting his fandom without overstepping into a more mainstream audience that still wants him to address his controversial content. Dawson has only reappeared on his personal social media channels to congratulate Adams for his podcast launch, revisit the popular Conspiracy collection, and hint at a comeback.
That doesn’t mean Dawson hasn’t stopped selling things to his audience, though. He recently launched a line of slime just in time for the holiday season, and his merch store has been restocked. Clearly, people are still buying Dawson’s products, which implies that when he does make his eventual return, he will be welcomed by at least a fraction of the initial fanbase that made him rich and famous.
Other YouTubers have noticed Dawson’s comeback attempt, which is aimed at his forgiving fanbase
Drama and commentary channels, the YouTubers who critique other YouTubers, have picked up on Dawson’s subtle attempt at a return. Creepshow Art, a YouTube commentary channel with more than 350,000 subscribers, made a video titled “Shane Dawson’s Secret YouTube Return” about the “smart, manipulative” tactics she believes Dawson is using to sneak back onto the platform.
As she pointed out, “canceled” YouTubers like Blaire White — a former friend of Dawson’s who recently made false claims about a transgender athlete — lose subscribers every time they upload. By appearing in bursts on Adams’ channel, Dawson is avoiding mass subscriber loss, but appealing to his sympathetic base that quietly stuck by him.
“He is a very intentional businessman who has made his way in the world incredibly well, to the tune of millions of dollars,” Shannon, the YouTuber behind CreepShow Art, said. “Everything he has done, he has done because he is a smart businessman who knows how to use his audience.”
Shannon, who doesn’t disclose her last name out of privacy concerns, pointed out several comments on Adams’ 10,000 calories vlog that express a desire for Dawson to return to YouTube despite his cancellation.
But, as Shannon pointed out, Dawson is appealing to viewers who don’t care about his fraught online history with racism, his disturbing encounters with children and animals, or his repeated comments excusing and joking about pedophilia.
Rather, he’s banking on nostalgia for the cleaner image he cultivated in the late 2010s, and given the internet’s ability to excuse problematic influencers again and again, Dawson is poised to pull off his comeback.
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