A YouTube movie reviewer said Raya was Avatar “redux”. Then all hell broke loose.
Popular YouTube movie critic Lindsay Ellis says goodbye to it all after publish an essay by Patreon – the finale of a saga that began to unravel his career last March. What started out as a relatively innocuous, albeit lazy, review of Raya and the last dragon in a tweet, led to a horde of people alleging that Ellis’ sentiment – that Raya was a “redux” of Avatar: The Last Airbender – was a contemptuous and disrespectful generalization of Asian culture and cinema. But over the past nine months, the situation has evolved beyond an upheaval on Twitter and has demarcated two sides of people who both deeply felt complex arguments on the matter. No one feels as strong as Ellis, who declares in the opening of his essay, “my life ended nine months ago”.
While Ellis acknowledges that some will find her feelings melodramatic, she fails to see the remaining value of her privilege as a successful media star. Considering the online hatred directed at him, it is no longer worth it. In fact, she arms that sentiment against those who might point her success as proof that she will be okay. “It’s almost funny, how many people will insist that I haven’t ‘lost anything’ (you know, because the number of followers is the only measure of success and there is no culture of cancellation. not), ”she wrote. “A YouTube channel relying on algorithmic inertia isn’t a success – it’s just an engine running on fumes.” And although she refuses to contextualize her situation in a year that has seen massive deaths from both the pandemic and natural disasters, she feels very strongly that this end of the road for herself is a death of sorts. Ellis in turn leaves social media and YouTube behind to end the drama, but the arguments over the situation regarding both culture cancellation and racism have taken their own lives.
Ellis’ letter will certainly upset his critics even more. He has a tone of self-pity that is hard to get past. She goes so far as to compare her fate with that of trans women. Ellis is no stranger to saying too much though – in April, after his tweet first sparked what some are calling a crowd, and what others justify as fair rebuttals to Ellis’ comments, Ellis posted a video over an hour long on canceling the crop. I’m sure it’s hard to know the right moves when thousands of people yell at you on the internet, and it’s fair that Ellis finds it traumatic, but she seemed to feed the beast a bit by centering her own experience when people were upset that it diminished the experience of an entire culture. The video was a twist that moved away from what many thought Ellis should have done at the time, which was to try to learn from the mistake, apologize and move on. She did strive to be canceled, however, for better or for worse – and oddly enough, that doesn’t even reflect her original comments, but rather the evils of the internet.
For many, Ellis’ offhand remarks on Raya, and the inability to think more critically to avoid lumping two Asian animations together in a way that seemed reductive, was an anti-Asian act in a series of years in which we are witnessing a increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans. To others, Ellis’ tweet was just that: a poorly worded tweet comparing two genuinely similar films, and something people didn’t need to read that much. For both sides though, it’s obvious that the noisy few get more traction than the quiet masses. As cultural writer Michael Hobbes underline, “Social media, especially Twitter, has no way of uplifting shrugs and prowlers. It is the town criers who are seen. The 1% of Lindsay’s audience that was offended included thousands. Suddenly she was trendy. The same reason some see the response to Ellis as culture cancellation at its worst was for others proof that they should be able to express their anger freely. For some, if Ellis has that many fans, what’s the matter with a minority of them disputing something she said; for others, it is about why the opinions of so few should dictate anything having to do with Ellis’ career or life.
Whether you find Ellis’ tweet genuinely racist against Asians, or just a poorly chosen opinion that didn’t reflect a larger issue, it’s obvious that Twitter has a dark power that we don’t all really know how to do. to manipulate. The fact that one day you can participate in someone’s cancellation speech and the next day you can be the center of the cancellation is a reality on the site that is both electrifying and terrifying. The title of Ellis’ missive, “Walking Away From Omelas”, indicates his position on the subject. It is a reference to Those who stray from Omelas, Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1974 short story, in which the utopia is based on the fact that everyone allows the torture of a child. The story details the lives of people who discover what happiness depends on and decide to leave the fictional town of Omelas. Ellis is stepping away from YouTube and social media in general, having seen its potential for harm. But for others, Ellis is the one who caused the hurt to begin with. It looks like a chicken and egg situation. Did Ellis spark that cultural spinoff with his comments, or was Twitter’s crowd machine already poised to take him down at the first sign of a problematic comment? The jury is out – and this is perhaps the biggest takeaway here, that with any kind of scandal on Twitter, everyone is judge and jury, and everyone says what they want.