Never tweet your heroes

Surge in online celebrities being canceled or retiring, fans conflicted
Never tweet your heroes

Sophomore Cora Pearson woke up one morning to a notification on her phone that online content creator Matthew Patrick, also known as “MatPat,” had released a new video. Shocked, her jaw dropped when she realized that the video was announcing his imminent retirement from making videos on YouTube. Patrick was the host of five educational YouTube channels, with the oldest and most-subscribed to of the five —”The Game Theorists” — having more than 19 million subscribers.

“I used to watch his videos almost every day with my old best friend,” Pearson said. “I’ve been a fan of his since [horror game] ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ came out, and I was also a big fan of his second channel, GTLive. After watching his ‘Goodbye Internet’ video, I immediately rushed over to my sister’s room and asked her if she saw it. I was sad and surprised because it felt like it came out of nowhere to me.”

The current age generation of students, also known as “Gen Z,” has grown up alongside the development of the internet. Much like how Generation Y, or “Millenials,” had movie stars or boy bands, and the preceding Generation X had rock and pop artists, a major part of Gen Z’s idolatry has been devoted to the online celebrities they grew up following on social media.

“I started to watch Stampylonghead, a YouTuber who plays [the video game] ‘Minecraft,’ when I was about five,” seventh-grader Rilee Nevins said. “I always found the storyline of his world, the builds and the minigames he would play to be so cool. I found out about the news of his retirement from a friend of mine who also watches him, and I was really sad because I basically grew up watching him.”

Recently, the careers of many of the creators who have become famous among Gen Z have been coming to an end in ways that, according to Nevins, leave many fans unfulfilled. In recent months, numerous creators have announced that they will be stepping back from their content or retiring from content creation altogether.

“Though I was never an avid watcher of [YouTube content creator] Tom Scott, I did love to watch his content whenever it was recommended,” senior Spencer Wilson said. “His scientific way of speaking and way of just doing whatever he wanted was very influential on me. Earlier this year, he retired, and it honestly kind of hurt. He was one of the original people who pioneered the style of content and to see him leave was a little jarring.”

Many creators who haven’t announced retirement have fallen prey to a different phenomenon on the internet. Due to the permanent nature of online content, information from individuals’ pasts can be easily uncovered and shared at rapid rates; when this information is something that the majority group deems socially unacceptable, it can have career-ending consequences. The mass focus of large groups of social media users on denouncing and shaming famous celebrities and icons in this way is known as “cancel culture,” with the central individual or celebrity being the one who is getting canceled.

“Cancel culture ultimately comes back down to those things that we hold dear and true,” Social Media teacher Heather da Silva said. “[It exists] because there’s something very seductive about destruction. We love that kind of stuff as a society because it feeds that need we have to go ‘thank god it’s not us.’ We like watching people miserable because it makes us feel better about ourselves.”

Cancel culture has been an increasing occurrence and is not anything new, but it has recently increased in frequency, public awareness of it as a concept and in the popularity and scale of those who find themselves targeted.

“I saw some posts earlier this year about people trying to cancel Taylor Swift for supposedly not acknowledging the announcer who handed her an award she won,” Pearson said. “I think that sometimes it can be a bit of an overreaction, especially when what the creator does is mild or completely accidental.”

Despite instances of cancel culture often relying on falsified evidence, the instances in which the proof of the canceled individual’s wrongdoing is undeniable have roused moral debate. Many, like junior Zephyr Radd, say that cancel culture might not entirely be a negative tendency to get rid of.

“De-platforming people who perpetuate harmful prejudice can be helpful sometimes,” Radd said. “[Social media celebrity] Andrew Tate caused a lot of young men to start hating women and having harmful prejudices, so him getting canceled was good to prevent him from promoting sexism. [YouTube creator] Wilbur Soot was canceled for being an abuser to past girlfriends, and if he still had a platform it would be normalizing abusive relationships. Canceling those types of people gives victims more of a voice.”

Contrastingly, Nevins said she believes that situations like Soot’s could have been handled privately while still maintaining support for victims, without having to resort to the aggressive public shame brought on by cancel culture.

“I’m sad about a lot of creators retiring because most of them I’ve watched from a young age,” she said. “I’m also sad about certain ones getting canceled, because I’ve watched some of them for a while and I didn’t even know they would do something like that. But, at the same time, I’m happy because some of those who got canceled genuinely deserve it for what they did.”

DaSilva said she encourages students to not post anything “they don’t want their grandma to look at” and ensure that whatever they post is something they’re comfortable with possibly being uncovered in the future, since that’s often the source of many celebrities’ cancellation.

“A lot of people tried to cancel MatPat before he retired by digging up his older videos,” Radd said. “I don’t think those things outweigh the good parts of him and all the good he’s brought for the platform, though, and it was all a long time ago and people can change. Still, I feel like a lot of creators are feeling pressured to retire before they get canceled unjustly.”

Regardless of whether through retirement or through being canceled, this surge has left room for new rising figures, ushering in changes to various online spaces on the internet and reshaping the status quo of digital entertainment for younger generations.

“I never had a strong connection with many of the creators who left, but I did notice the significance of their departure,” Wilson said. “It is the start of a new era of content. It’s kind of like the ‘Minecraft revolution’ on YouTube [when the game was trending] a few years ago. Lots of the old creators left and paved the way for a bunch of new creators to make newer content. The older creators are leaving again and leaving room for new younger creators to try.”