INTERVIEW: Glenda Brown
Blogger Glenda Brown checks in to discuss Lindsay Ellis and the casual racism plaguing Breadtube
YouTuber Lindsay Ellis recently faced criticism after a series of defensive tweets in reaction to accusations of racism. She responded by a lengthy video in which she complained excessively about “cancel culture” and facing public scrutiny. Glenda Brown wrote an essay in response to Ellis’ video that discusses some of the trends she’s seen in so-called Breadtubers reacting to criticism. She agreed to stop by for a follow-up interview on the topic:
(DJH) One of the ways Ellis tried to minimize the potential harm of her behavior was to emphasize that racism is the result of widespread legal, economic, and political systems, specifically saying that “everyone” is culpable in upholding systemic racism; what is your response to this being deployed as a defense of racist behavior on the individual level?
(GLENDA BROWN) I think what's so telling about that is that what she said is technically true but it doesn't seem that she let those words sink in, if that makes sense. It is true that every single person living in a racist society subconsciously absorbs those values. It is baked in every aspect in our lives and it does take work to unlearn those values. That's my problem with how Ellis responded to this situation. Part of the unlearning process, in my view, is taking yourself out of the situation, paying more mind to how harmful those values were to marginalized people for centuries not just on an institutional level but also a personal one, and focusing on how you can center their feelings and attempt to do right by them. By only acknowledging that you unintentionally absorbed racist values and that it informs your actions without doing much about it afterwards, you earn the credit of seeming like a good, nonracist person without doing any of the work. You're having your cake and eating it too.
Another common attempt at minimization by many online celebrities is to down play the role “online” plays in our culture; do you think it’s disingenuous for someone like Ellis, who makes a substantial amount of money off her online content, to describe herself as a “C-lister” to minimize her potential cultural impact?
There's an optimistic part of me that wants to believe that Ellis really doesn't think she's as famous and as influential as she is. I'm not a mind reader or anything but I always got the vibe that she humbles herself from her time on Channel Awesome and her status as a Youtuber/internet celebrity. I think there is some truth to that, as she might just not know how people see her. However, for someone with over a million subscribers, a bestselling book, thousands of patrons giving her money every month, you have to acknowledge that people care about what you think. Even if that pool is relatively small and ineffective compared to someone like J.K Rowling, it's still full of people who are loyal to your point of view and will defend it. She's been an Internet celebrity for over a decade, and to downplay the influence that holds over and over again has to be at least somewhat intentional. When you know how that type of fame operates for that long, it'd be impossible to not know how it affects other people's actions online. I think it's another way to avoid being accountable for her actions.
How do you think a lot of the people who describe themselves as on the “left” who fear monger about cancel culture feel about so many reactionary figures like Matt Gaetz or Brett Kavanaugh sharing a lot of their rhetoric around this topic?
These people, no matter where they are politically, can't handle criticism they deem to be too harsh. Their reputation depends on it. They want to be perceived as perhaps a flawed person but only in a way that's relatable. They can never be seen as too flawed to be irredeemable to the people they're catering to. When fame and money comes with that, there is more to lose and they'll do anything to protect it. Especially when the reputation of being someone on the left is someone who is morally righteous, having a speck on that could make them lose everything. This honestly makes me lose faith in their allyship with marginalized groups. That is, if they even want to be allies and not just seen as morally superior to the average white American.
You described Ellis’ video as “intentionally exhausting,” and there is certainly a pattern of incredibly long response videos from content creators in similar situations; can you talk a little bit more about how some of these responses can be “intentionally exhausting?”
I meant to convey that it was intentionally exhausting from an emotional level. Everything that's in Ellis's video was intentionally put there. The staged drinking game, her apparent exhaustion at listing her "list of sins", the emotional rawness when recounting personal traumas- it was all meant to be there. Otherwise, she would have edited it out. I have no doubt that her feelings were genuine but it's questionable that she put them in a video about problematic tweets. I can't help but think that she wanted people to not just know but feel how exhausting it was for her to be "cancelled" for sympathy, and her fans certainly took note of that from what I saw. A lot of the response I saw was that she was "forced" into recounting her trauma in order to acknowledge her problematic history. With that said, the Mask Off video being the length of a feature film was also intentionally exhausting. Its length implies depth, as if to say "See, she had a lot to say about this. She totally acknowledged the problem you guys." In practice, there's a lot of sidestepping and a lack of focus on the actual issue, and honestly it's not fair to the people who had legit grievances with her.
One part of your essay that was particularly illuminating was how you cited that Ellis and similar creators can help keep feelings of loneliness at bay in difficult times; what role do you think that plays in how fans of these creators become attached to them to the point of being unwilling to hear good faith criticism?
I included my experience in being a fan of Ellis and how her videos influenced me because I wanted to show that I knew what it's like to have an emotional investment in a content creator. I didn't want to portray myself as someone who just looks down on fans for being loyal to Ellis because that simply isn't my perspective.I knew it was like to get defensive over some comment criticizing someone you admire, especially when that person influences how you think (for better or worse). They're not just criticizing someone whose content you enjoy. To these fans, they're criticizing someone who kept them company, someone who validates their feelings on a certain media property, someone they opened their minds to. To go even further, when it comes to criticism aimed at an Internet celebrity they attached their egos onto, that criticism isn't aimed at just that celeb. It's aimed at the fans themselves.
Thank you so much for your time! For those that might want to read more of your work, where is the best place they can find you?
Thank you so much for your consideration! You can find my blog Glen's Lens on Wordpress at www.glenslens.wordpress.com or on Medium at glenslens.medium.com. You can also follow my Twitter @technicalafro.