The (Un)cancellation of David Dobrik

The (Un)cancellation of David Dobrik
Screenshot: David Dobrik, Fair Use

A month ago, YouTube darling David Dobrik went on a YouTube hiatus following allegations that a former member of his vlogging group sexually assaulted a woman during the filming of a now-deleted video. Around the same time, news came out that a close friend of Dobrik’s was gravely injured in a stunt performed for a David Dobrik YouTube video. The accusations were dire. But you wouldn’t know that from watching his new comeback vlog.

Uploaded in mid June, the new video largely focuses on Dobrik’s posse enjoying a Hawaiian vacation. Despite nearly causing his friend to lose an eye, Dobrik films a friend lying down as he gets pushed by a golf cart. Later, when a friend starts heavily vomiting during a car ride, the cameras keep rolling after repeated requests to pull over.

There is no mention of any of the previous controversies. At most, we get someone vaguely stating that they were worried for David and then a moment where it seems like he’s forgotten how to talk to the camera. It’s almost like none of it happened, or doesn’t matter, not when there are literal pants to pull and antics to be had.

That’s wild because, if you think about the aforementioned controversies for a single second, then the entire tone of his vlog changes. That fantasy at the heart of Dobrik’s channel — that this is a group of wacky friends hangin’ out — is harder to swallow now.

The friend that Dobrik sent to the hospital turned the accident into a multi-part documentary where, surprise, he forgives Dobrik in the end. Friendships are obviously a private matter, yet it’s hard to ignore when the entire schtick is, “look at all my wild friends.” That’s the vlog. It is predicated on friends being friends.

Are the friends actually friends, though? I can’t watch this without wondering if any of these people truly like each other, or if they’re in it for the money. Without wondering if any of these people feel so chained to the clout that they’re willing to overlook not only being put in danger for the videos but also the harm Dobrik has caused others in the name of YouTube. That disconnect only deepens when you look at the numbers. 5.1 million have watched the return vlog, and many (though not all) comments cheer him on. Even with 33k downvotes on the video, many seem relieved.

Screenshot: David Dobrik, Fair Use Screenshot: David Dobrik, Fair Use

If Dobrik is eager to move on, his fans seem more than happy to oblige, judging by the comments on his return video. The advertisers probably aren’t far behind. And really, who can be surprised? A YouTuber can horrify the world by filming a dead body for views and then use that as the dramatic plot to his multi-million pay-per-view event. Even when it suffers blows, fame gets to walk away with the money.

Celebrity shielding people from consequences is hardly new, but in the case of internet influencers, it reveals a system that makes true cancelation impossible. Controversy, more often than not, drives engagement — and with algorithms prone to surfacing hot content, bad actions nearly always translate to views, or at least a brief dance with trending.

But it’s not just that all PR is good PR — that, too, anyone can tell you. It’s that the numbers themselves act as a shield. Dobrik’s Jackass-like antics and tendency to clickbait with sex appeal not only precede these blow-ups, but form the basis of his channel. The perennial Dobrik image: him, running around with a live flamethrower (or fire of any sort), laughing. Dobrik, filming himself repeatedly shooting his own friends with things like BB guns. Dobrik, hanging out with hot girls who may or may not get kissed. Dobrik, finding yet another way to take a dare or a risky idea just a little further. Sliding around in a moving truck with an ice floor becomes screaming in a pool inside a moving truck becomes having dinner in a moving truck.

Screenshot: David Dobrik, Fair Use Screenshot: David Dobrik, Fair Use

The disregard for personal safety and the impetus to shock viewers for entertainment is largely what makes Dobrik compelling to watch in the first place. Holding him to account is impossible: It would dismantle the channel. But, more than that, what strikes me isn’t the internet’s willingness to overlook something kinda shitty. That’s what parasocial relationships will do to ya, they sell you something without you even realising it.

It’s that Dobrik’s channel has always skirted the line, and nobody gave a shit until now. Advertisers don’t give a shit about whether or not Dobrik has, in the past, violated people’s consent for the sake of a thumbnail. They see the big number, and by virtue of that alone, Dobrik was able to become the most mainstream YouTuber of them all. The guy who films his friends projectile vomiting after drinking way too much is the same guy who gets to co-host the 2019 Teen Choice Awards.

Dobrik has never hidden who he is, and the world was happy to overlook it. And while he’s certainly lost some deals and even his own company over all of this, the comeback numbers suggest that Dobrik will continue to be untouchable in the long term. I’ll be watching too, and even if I wasn’t, the man is inescapable now that he can hang out with folks like the Kardashians. But even if the numbers remain high, they can no longer hide the underlying bleakness of the channel and its friend group.

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