For those of you who don’t know who Shane Dawson is, let me give you a little bit of background before I talk about his new book, It Gets Worse. Shane Dawson is a successful YouTuber – actually, he was one of the first people to turn YouTube from a fun hobby into a successful and lucrative job. Which is pretty bloody awesome when you think about it.
My brother and I used to watch his skits all the time back in 2010. They were shot on a dodgy-quality camera, and were riddled with crass sex jokes, toilet humour and gratuitous violence – and like most young teenagers, we loved it. Having not watched Shane’s videos for years, I stumbled back to his channel last year by chance, and discovered he’d changed a lot. Shane now makes videos on a bunch of topics – some serious, most silly: he makes and eats weird food, he talks about conspiracy theories and urban legends, and he tests out beauty hacks. He’s managed to stay relevant all these years because he has been able to change with YouTube and grow with his audience. And I think that’s pretty commendable.
If you are familiar with Shane, you’ll know that his sense of humour is very polarising. He is crass, cheerfully sardonic, and makes fun of everything and everyone. There are a lot of people out there (probably even some of you reading this) who wouldn’t make it a minute into a Shane video without being personally offended by something he said. But for those who love him, his particular brand of humour sparkles. And one of the reasons I love Shane is because, of all the things he makes fun of, he makes fun of himself the most. I’ve always loved self-depreciating jokes, and Shane’s are definitely the creme de la creme.
Shane came from pretty rough beginnings – he grew up in a poor family, raised by his overworked single mother – and worked insanely hard to get to where he is today. Despite the first impression you might get of Shane from watching one of his videos, of a man in his late twenties saying and doing stupid things in front of a camera in order to maintain a cushy Hollywood lifestyle, it’s quickly obvious that he actually still works incredibly hard, and he has a lot of love for his work and for his fans. I find his work ethic so inspiring. Shane makes and uploads six YouTube videos a week (on Sundays he has someone else post a video to his channel so he can have a rest), and probably has heaps of projects going on in the background that we don’t know about. Like, for example, the fact that he wrote a book.
Which brings me to It Gets Worse.
It Gets Worse is Shane’s second collection of anecdotal essays on his life (I haven’t read the first, I Hate Myselfie – not yet, anyway). While it’s no “literary masterpiece”, nor is it trying to be. Also, I don’t like many books that have received acclaim from high-brow literary critics anyway. I mostly like books that are easy to read, interesting, entertaining and leave me with a sense of satisfaction when I finish them. And It Gets Worse ticks all those boxes for me. Shane says on his YouTube channel that he wrote the whole thing himself, and you can tell he’s proud of it. Rightly so, too! I’ve never written a book, let alone a good one. And he’s written two, while at the same time working full-time on his YouTube/filmmaking career. Yet another reason I find Shane inspiring.
I was curious to know if Shane’s unique brand of black, self-depreciating humour translated well to text, and it does. This is the first book I’ve read in probably years that has made me laugh out loud at multiple points while reading it. It’s fair to say that there’s a lot of twisted hyperbole in the stories Shane tells. I doubt any of the things he talks about happened in exactly the way he’s told them, but I’ve got no problem with that because his use of hyperbole is extremely effective. The book captures his personality just as well as his YouTube channel, to the point where I could practically hear him saying every sentence I read.
What I loved most about this book is that it’s not just funny. It also manages to be incredibly real. Through his outrageous anecdotes, Shane confronts his readers with some very serious issues: sexuality, obesity, bulimia and mortality. In one story, he reveals how he repressed his bisexuality from a very young age, his personal struggles reflective of a society that still normalizes heterosexuality and demonizes all other sexual orientations. Shane also talks about how as a kid he was unhealthily overweight, and then successfully lost all that weight, only to develop an unhealthy habit of gorging on his favourite fast foods only to throw them up immediately. The chapter about when he saw his grandmother’s ghost is an interesting consideration of death, mortality, and how we begin to move on from losing a loved one. I admire that Shane is so willing to talk about a range of uncomfortable topics which society at large prefers to shy away from.
Of course, I don’t know Shane and I never will – but both his YouTube channel and his book makes me feel like I do. The phenomenon of celebrity is weird like that, especially now that social media makes it possible for celebrities and their fans to have much closer and more interactive relationships than ever before. We can feel like we’re friends with these people because we know so much about them, but that feeling of friendship is false because of course, they don’t know a single thing about us. It’s a great and dangerous thing all at once.
That said, in a sense the relationship is reciprocal: Internet stars like Shane create content on YouTube for us that we can enjoy for free, videos that cheer us up and make us laugh and comfort us no matter where we are in the world. And in return, we can support stars like Shane by liking their videos, leaving our comments and by buying their books and merchandise. Shane will never be my best friend. He’ll probably never read this post and know how much I liked his book. But he’s someone I kinda grew up watching, and now in my twenties I think he is someone who is deserving of my support, however much or little that may mean.
So thanks Shane, for working so hard and for writing your book (which I loved), and for inspiring me to work harder myself at the things I like doing, not for recognition or financial reward, but just because I’m passionate about them.