Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to the hellscape of existence that is life in 2019, particularly as it pertains to existing on the internet. Today we’re going to talk about online drama, “cancel culture,” and the people who get caught in the crossfire.Let me catch you up to speed.
So for those of you who don’t know, Pro Jared is a Youtuber known for doing video game reviews, particularly reviews of RPGs like Final Fantasy or action adventure games like Legend of Zelda. One of my favorite genres of Youtube video are long-form reviews, particularly about video games, so I’ve seen Jared around before but honestly I never binge watched his videos or anything, just occassionally watched some of his Final Fantasy reviews. I didn’t know too much about him, honestly, just that he was one of those guys on Youtube who rants about games, but at least he’s not one of the Angry Video Game Nerd knockoffs who make a show of being enraged by games in an effort to be… erm, funny, I guess you could call it.
But I digress.
Earlier this year, in May of 2019, there was a sudden waterfall of allegations against Jared. The first thing that happened was that his wife, a professional cosplayer named Heidi, announced via Twitter that she was leaving him. She apparently didn’t bother to tell him, just announced it on Twitter and blocked him. So right away, we have some idea of what kind of person she is, but let’s not get into that just yet. After that, there was a sudden barrage of people coming forward to say that Jared had had inappropriate sexual conversations with them, some of these people being underage at the time of the conversations (and we’ll come back to that, too). Even more damning were screenshots from several people of the sexual conversations they’d had with Jared, and people who’d subscribed to a private Snapchat account run by Jared, in which he was sharing nude pictures.
Now, I could pretend that I became interested in this situation out of concerned curiosity for all parties involved, but I’ll be honest with you: I’m a bit of a pervert and I was just curious about what Jared’s dick looked like. For the record, it’s fine. It isn’t my place to comment on it, but it’s a nice dick, and that’s all I’ll say about that. At any rate, while I was poking around Twitter and Reddit I also saw the screenshots of conversations he’d had, and to be hones they looked pretty damning. I don’t know much about Jared and I knew absolutely nothing about his wife Heidi before this (being a gay nerd who lives in a bubble I don’t have much need to follow hot cosplay girls on Twitter), so it was difficult to piece together a narrative of exactly what happened.
As far as I can tell, it seems that Jared and Heidi had a tumultuous relationship and that at some point they talked about opening their relationship or becoming polyamorous. It’s unclear who’s telling the truth about what, but what did happen is that Jared received a lot of messages from horny fans who wanted to get sexual with him, and he created a second Tumblr account specifically for this, with caveats posted that it was only intended for people ages 18 and up. At some point, his Tumblr account was hacked and everything he had was lost or deleted. It’s during this time before his Tumblr was hacked that two underage people, both named Charlie, allege that there were sexual messages sent between themselves and Jared.
So, shit hit the fan pretty hard, pretty fast.
The company Jared worked for, Normal Boots, issued a statement saying that he was no longer affiliated with them. People at the time all assumed he was fired but we know now that he chose to step down in order to prevent other members of Normal Boots getting caught in the line of fire.
And the fire was bad. I only saw glimpses of what was going on, but it was utter chaos. The moderators of Pro Jared’s official Subreddit removed him as a moderator and then turned the entire thing into one big dumpster fire attacking Jared, making jokes memes about him, and generally mocking, jeering, and behaving like animals.
Now, it’s a little understandable, in a way, isn’t it? If you hear credible rumors that someone is a sexual predator of some kind, you might take joy in cancelling them, in derailing their careers, in standing up for people they victimized.
The thing is, there was almost no response whatsoever from Jared. He issued a response on Twitter basically refuting all of the allegations made against him and gave a very measured plea for people to reserve their judgement until they’d heard all sides. And then he went radio silent for months.
A few weeks ago, he came back to YouTube with a 45-minute video detailing his experience over the past few months and specifically refuting the claims made against him.
And I have to say, he makes a pretty good case for himself.
Now the thing about the video is that it’s clear he’s choosing his words very carefully. I’m guessing he probably ran the script for the video by his lawyer before filming, and it’s clear that he put a lot of consideration into what he has to say. Because of that, the video does come across feeling a little TOO manufactured, and he doesn’t seem like a guy trying to really talk to you, but like a guy reading a prepared statement. However, he IS a guy reading a prepared statement, and understandably so, so I can’t exactly fault him for that.
He addresses a few points.
Firstly, that he did have sexual conversations with fans, and he did send them dick pics and receive pictures from them, and that he made it known from the outset that he was only willing to do this with other consenting adults. He very rightly says that what any two consenting adults choose to do is between them and it isn’t anyone else’s place to judge them. He acknowledges though that there may have been a power dynamic at play he hadn’t seen coming: he’s a famous Youtuber and an internet celebrity, so even with the best of intentions, he automatically holds some power over people he’s being sexual with, even if they are consenting adults. He admits that there is a power dynamic there he hadn’t considered and apologizes to anyone who felt they were manipulated by that dynamic into doing something they might not otherwise be comfortable with.
Then he addresses the serious allegations, which are the claims from the two Charlies that he knowingly solicited nudes from them and sent nudes to them after he learned they were underage. He first tackles the argument from the Charlie who lives in the UK, referred to as Chai so as not to get too confusing. Chai says that he sexted with Jared sometime in May of 2016, before Jared’s Tumblr was hacked, but he provides no screenshots and no other corroborating evidence apart from his word that it happened. Jared points out that without any evidence, it’s just Chai’s word against his, but then he does point to something very interesting.
Chai wrote an article for a website discussing his experience with suffering a head injury near the end of 2015, which resulted in Chai being hospitalized for months, during which time he was sleeping for the majority of the day, and after which he developed issues with psychosis, delusions, hallucinations, and short term as well as long term memory loss. Chai claimed the exchange with Jared happened during May of 2016, during which time, by Chai’s own admission, he was spending his days and nights in the hospital, and when he wasn’t hospitalized he was suffering from delusions and memory loss. Chai’s motives also become murkier when you consider the fact that he has his own Tumblr blog in which he writes erotica about Youtubers, specifically gaming Youtubers like Jared and the Game Grumps, and appears to have vivid sexual fantasies about them (no shame on him for having sexual fantasies, just that in context it seems convenient, right?)
The second accuser is named Charlie, and because Jared went out of his way to refer to them with non-gendered pronouns I’ll assume they’re non-binary and do the same. Charlie actually included screenshots of their conversation with Jared, however Jared very quickly knocks down Charlie’s entire argument by showing the full unedited version of the screenshots which clearly show that at the beginning of the conversation, Jared asked point blank if Charlie was 18 or older, and Charlie not only agreed, but also made a point of saying “Oh yeah of course, I wouldn’t be asking for nudes if I wasn’t, that’s messed up.” Jared points out that after Charlie started getting questioned about his experience, he immediately began to backpedal his accusation by saying “I never said he knew I was underage, just that he was coercing me” or something like that, and openly begins contradicting himself as soon as his narrative is questioned.
Jared also points out that both of the accusers put up links to their Paypal, Amazon Wishlists, and in Charlie’s case, art commission page, on their Twitter as soon as they started to garner attention. They’ve also both deleted the tweets in which they accused Jared of coercing them while they were underage. Jared asks, why would they bother to do this if they were lying?
I have to admit, Jared’s defense of himself makes a lot of sense. He very rightfully points out that since his Tumblr was hacked by someone looking to do the most damage possible to him, and they had access to his chat logs and all of his personal information, why didn’t the hacker leak any of the conversations with underage people? Probably because it didn’t happen in the first place.
Again, Jared’s defense, it feels a little forced in places. Clearly the man is under a ton of stress and he can only be expected to be so calm, but as I was listening to the way he spoke, I thought to myself “If I were in his position, and I were accused of something that I knew I’d done, and I were going to lie to try and defend myself, is this the way I would sound?” Well, yeah, I think it is. We’ve all had the experience of lying that we didn’t do something when we know very well that we did it, and that was the way he sounded to me. I felt an inherent gut feeling of suspicion toward what he was saying.
Here’s the thing: I never WANTED the accusations to be true. I don’t think any good person DOES want these things to be true (a lot of people DID want them to be true but we’ll circle back around to that). But I have to listen to my instinct and ask, “Do I think he’s telling the truth?” Well… it’s hard to know. I will say that I felt a little reassured by the fact that his video has a huge like-to-dislike ratio skewed toward likes, and that the majority of comments on his Twitter and YouTube channel are supportive. I know that this is just relying on POSITIVE mob mentality rather than NEGATIVE mob mentality, but there is a sense that, well, if his argument were so flimsy then someone else would have pointed it out by now, right?
I’m sorry if I’m sounding a little confused right now, but the truth is that I am. I don’t WANT to believe Jared did the thing he’s accused of doing. But if he did, then he did it, and no amount of wanting it not to have happened is going to change that. But the evidence certainly does seem to favor his version of the story.
We’ve all heard the saying that there are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. I want to believe that the truth is that Jared was a guy in a failing marriage who wanted out, and who longed for companionship and sexual fulfillment, so he started a Tumblr blog for the purpose of being sexual with other like-minded adults and ended up jerking off to nudes from fans in order to feel some kind of fulfillment. I don’t think that’s some kind of impeachable offense. There’s a lot of sex-negativity from the crowd that’s been shaming him, saying it was untoward of him to run a sex blog while his wife was sitting to the side being ignored.
And so of course we come to Heidi. I never liked the way Heidi presented what she had to say, from the beginning. There are a lot of people in the world, and especially on the internet, who love to get up on stage and play the victim, weeping and clutching their chest and saying things like “I’m not mad at Jared, I wish the best for him, I just want him to get the help he so desperately needs,” and “I am a victim of abuse and I stand with all other victims,” and generally making a show out of how hurt and damaged they are and how BRAVE it is for them to FINALLY come forward and make the HARD decision to come public about this because they just couldn’t sit in SILENCE any more, OH THE MELODRAMA OF IT ALL.
I don’t claim to know the truth of the relationship between the two of them, but according to Jared, he became unhappy with their relationship and tried every alternative to breaking up, including therapy, before finally asking her for a separation. She said that she wouldn’t allow that, and basically threatened to ruin his career if he broke up with her. And it looks like that’s exactly what she ended up doing. I don’t know the woman personally, but it says something about her character if her method of breaking up with her husband is to cut contact from him without his knowledge, release a public statement impugning him and accusing him of cheating on her (when it seems clear to me in context that they opened their relationship because it was failing for both of them), and blocked him on Twitter before he could respond to her.
After all that, at the end of the day, what are we left with?
Well, Jared is picking up the wreckage of his life and his career, because someone decided to cancel him. No one gave Jared a chance to defend himself, no one waited until they’d heard his side of the story, people formed a mob and went out of their way to belittle, humiliate and bully him in a public forum.
I saw the shit they were posting on Twitter. It wasn’t a group of concerned individuals worried about the impact a predator abusing his position of power had on an underage fan. It was a jeering, sneering crowd of villagers gathered in a town square, throwing apples and shit on the accused. Everything I saw were jokes about how Jared had a little dick, jokes about how he’s got an ugly face, jokes about how creepy he is, jokes about how ridiculous it is that a guy as ugly as him could get a girl as hot as Heidi, memes with Jared’s face or his dick pasted into them. It had nothing to do with morality or victims or abuse, it was all about gathering around and having a good laugh at someone else because these people felt it was morally justifiable to do so. After all, he sexted with underage fans, so he’s fair game now, right? His human dignity doesn’t matter anymore, he forfeited that when he agreed to share nudes with underage fans, nevermind the fact that we don’t know that’s what happened yet, we’ve seen enough, and we’ve found him guilty, now it’s time for the public execution.
Cancel culture is a toxic plague on our current discourse. It infects every aspect of the way we interact with one another online. Once the mob has decided someone’s guilt, they do not get a chance to defend themselves, there is no fair trial in the court of public opinion, that person is immediately seized upon and devoured by a crowd of onlooker thirsty for blood.
Mark my words, this is going to result in someone, not Jared, but someone someday, being wrongly accused, and that person taking their own life because of the harassment and the humiliation. Someone on Twitter is going to come forward and accuse someone famous of grooming or harassing or raping or otherwise sexually abusing them, without any credible evidence, just to try and get attention from it, and the person who is accused is going to become so overwhelmed by the cruelty of being a public spectacle that they’re going to kill themselves before we all learn that the accusation was false.
Aren’t we supposed to believe accusers? Aren’t we supposed to create an atmosphere where people feel safe to come forward and open up about their experiences when they’ve been harmed? After all, it was because people chose to step up and tell the truth about their experiences that Bill Cosby, Kevin Costner, and others were found out, right?
Well, the truth there isn’t a right answer to this. The truth is we all just have to use our own personal discretion. We live in a culture and in a moment in time where everyone’s thinking has become completely black-and-white: someone is either wholly innocent of any wrongoing or they’re pure evil and they’re scum who must be washed clean from the face of the Earth.
The truth is more complicated. There have been innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire of the Me Too movement. Aziz Ansari was accused of raping a woman, even though by her own account he asked for her consent several times, and she agreed, but later regretted it. That isn’t rape, it’s called having an awkward date and feeling ashamed of yourself the next day, and it happens to everyone. Chris Hardwick was accused of being physically and sexually abusive and before he even had a chance to defend himself, he was fired by AMC and by the Nerdist, until a few days later when every woman he’s ever dated all stepped up to say no, absolutely not, this person is lying and Chris is not like that. Johnny Depp was accused of accusing Amber Heard and he said absolutely nothing to defend himself, and a year later we discovered that in fact she was the one abusing him all along.
This is what happens when we allow ourselves to lose any sense of objective rationale and just start believing people are pure good or pure evil. I’m sorry, but we can’t simply believe EVERY accusation made by EVERY person, EVEN if that means that we create an environment where real victims don’t feel comfortable coming forward, because the implications of that are too grievous: if everyone who makes an accusation is presumed to be telling the truth, then invariably SOMEONE is going to take advantage of that situation and tell a lie or distort the truth to make themselves seem like a victim.
But why would someone lie about this kind of stuff?
I don’t know. Why do people do anything? I don’t have that answer. I’m only human, I tend to side with accusers too when I first hear an accusation. I think that what a lot of good people do is that they hear an accusation, and they think to themselves “I don’t want to believe this is true, but I’m going to assume it is until I see a good reason not to believe it.” That’s the natural way humans respond to conflict: we believe whichever side we heard first. But the truth is foggy. The accuser may be telling the truth, but a distorted version of the truth based on their perception. The person accused might be telling the truth in their defense of themselves, but a distorted version of the truth they have to believe in order to protect themselves.
The fact of the matter is, when people found out Jared MIGHT have done something awful, they lost all human empathy for him and allowed themselves to morally justify humiliating and harassing him, making fun of his dick, making fun of his face; the most base kind of insults, the kind of thing you’d imagine a gang of school children doing.
A big part of this is that people WANT someone to be angry at, they WANT to cancel someone, they WANT there to be some hot new drama and some new common enemy to hate. James Charles, Pro Jared, whoever it happens to be. And it always passes quickly and people are always thirsty for someone new. This is a dangerous and toxic cycle of negativity where we vilify people in order to justify cruelty toward them because we can feel morally justified in doing so. But people all deserve human empathy, human compassion, and human dignity and respect. Even people who might have done something awful. There’s a reason we have an entire court system built around the precept that people are innocent until proven guilty. We have to give people the assumption of innocence until the person making a claim against them has presented good evidence to the contrary.
It’s not that I’m never on the side of victims. Many times the victims are telling the truth. I absolutely believe Christine Blasey Ford was telling the truth about Brett Kavanaugh, if for no other reason that his response – snarling and crying over his high school calendar when he’s goddamn judge who should know that isn’t any kind of evidence for his own innocence – was the way a guilty person would have responded.
I wish Jared had been open from the beginning, I wish he had been more human and open with people about what he was going through, but WHO CAN BLAME HIM for keeping to himself, refusing to engage, and creating a very carefully curated response that he issued months later? If Jared had come forward and tried to be open and vulnerable with anyone, he’d have been further humiliated.
At the end of the day, I can’t say that I truly believe Jared is innocent. I don’t think Jared seems to be a bad guy, and I think that he seems like someone in a shitty marriage trying to get his rocks off with fans, regardless of how unhealthy that is. If, however, he really did have inappropriate conversations and sext with people he knew was underage, then he should come forward about it and be honest and accept the consequences, even if it means ruining his career.
Jared ends his video with some powerful words. “Nobody likes cancel culture… until they get an opportunity to cancel someone.”
I hope he didn’t do what he’s been accused of. But at the end of the day, it isn’t my decision to make. If he truly did something illegal, something morally reprehensible, then his accuser should take him to court and prove it. If they don’t, then we can’t assume they’re correct, because we simply don’t have the evidence. I can’t sit here and say that I wholeheartedly side with Jared, because there’s a part of me that would feel terrible if I somehow sided with an abuser. But I also can’t impugn him based on the incredibly flimsy online testimony of the people who came forward to accuse him, especially since their story doesn’t hold up under any kind of scrutiny.
Calling out abusers is fine. But accusing people and assuming their guilt without giving them a chance to defend themselves creates an environment where any one person’s moral shortcomings at any point in their life can cause them to be cancelled. And if you’re the one who becomes successful and ends up being cancelled, you might suddenly wonder why mob of onlookers can’t treat you with any understanding or compassion, and remember how it felt to become just as bloodthirsty as they were.
I’m not saying that the minor moral infractions of every day people like displaying abusive behavior in a relationship or cheating on someone, lying to a loved one, things like that that we all regret doing, are on the same level as grooming underage kids or raping someone, but the level of moral indignation from places like Twitter and Facebook are exactly the same. We treat every moral infraction with the same gravity. And our thirst to be outraged is only going to keep eating us up inside, and eating up the lives and careers of innocent people caught in the crossfire.
It looks like Jared has mostly come out okay, after all this. His subscriber count is steadily on the rise again, and the majority of comments he’s receiving are supportive. If someone has a good defense of themselves, it looks like they do ultimately come out alright in the end. But Jared isn’t unscathed. He was publicly humiliated, had his personal conversations jeered at for the world to see, was the subject of cruelty and malice by strangers, all because someone made an accusation. If he is truly innocent, then every last person online who engaged in the bullying against him should be deeply ashamed.
Jared ends his video by asking people to consider carefully how they respond the next time someone is called out or accused of predatory behavior. I agree, but I have something else to add to that.
Predatory behavior is not an unforgivable sin. We live in a messed up world, and people get hurt, and they hurt others and themselves to cope with it. Abuse is cyclical. I was abused as a young child and throughout my life, and I turned that abuse inward by hating myself, and also outward by being emotionally abusive toward boyfriends, friends, and people in my life. We cope in our own ways. Maybe Jared WAS taking advantage of his fans, without meaning to. Maybe he WAS, even in a situation where he knew the fan in question was a consenting adult, exercising his power over them to coerce them sexually, and maybe that made him feel powerful. Maybe that’s what was happening.
So what next? Is he unforgivably evil for doing a bad thing? NO. He’s a human being, like anyone. Even hardened prisoners can reform themselves. We’ve reached a point in our own communal moral outrage that if someone does anything abusive for any amount of time, they’re permanently cancelled and forever labeled a predator or a villain. That’s now human behavior works. We’re complex, fucked up, emotional creatures. We do good things and bad things, we all have the capacity to harm others within us. This is one of the most basic lessons about humanity we’re all supposed to have learned by now. If Jared DID exercise his power over fans in a predatory way, without realizing that’s what he was doing, we can acknowledge that’s wrong and still have compassion for him and try to understand why he did it. Remember I’m talking about a scenario in which he only spoke to consenting adults, if there really were underage fans involved then it becomes more complicated but I would personally still feel sorry for him and want him to get help if that WERE the case.
At the end of the day we have to use better judgement, we have to treat people with dignity, and we have to remember not to let our compassion die and turn into a jeering mob the moment someone tells us it’s okay to do so. We have to treat people, and ourselves, better, because this toxicity is eating us from the inside out as a culture. We’ve become so addicted to the feeling of righteous indignation and uniting against a common enemy that we’re willing to case anyone as the enemy on the flimsiest of pretenses because we enjoy the feeling of hating someone together. This kind of communal hate-bonding is killing our souls, and the discourse online has become so toxic that no one can survive it. We have to stop looking for reasons to hate people and start finding it within ourselves to look at things objectively and treat people with decency.