Hey there, internet people! I’m back at you with my thoughts on Shane Dawson’s essay collection, I Hate Myselfie. To be honest, I’m about as hesitant to review this book as I was to read it. Growing up, I was a huge fan of Shane Dawson. As a lonely high school girl who basically learned to cuss by watching his videos (sorry about that, Mom and Dad), I have a soft spot in my heart for the YouTube sensation. This is exactly why I hesitated to read the book. As a writer myself, and as someone who has a literature degree, I have a low tolerance for bad writing and for books that are likely published more for the promised sales than for their quality. This phenomenon often leads to ghost written work, and Dawson has openly assured fans that this book is his own written work. I appreciate that level of authenticity and transparency, but it also made me a little nervous. Being funny on YouTube doesn’t necessarily translate to being a good writer of personal essays, and I didn’t want my fond memories marred by a sub-par book experience. And yet, I couldn’t stay away. So, let us begin.
First things first: in recent years, Dawson has come under fire for his offensive humor, which has historically included black face, acting “ghetto,” and several other subscriptions to stereotypes. He has said plenty about these things, and I have to say that listening to his Podcast, I’ve heard a real effort and growth towards being more inclusive and understanding of where he may have erred in the past. I’m not here to get into an argument about humor or what is and isn’t problematic, because I’m over here speaking from my own place of privilege as a white, middle class, heterosexual, cis-gendered person, and I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth. Still, I have to make a nod to the fact that this is part of the discussion, and will likely remain such.
As a teen, I found Shane’s offensive humor delightful; it allowed me to live in a space where, for a few minutes a day, not only did it not matter that I was I “not cool,” but I was also allowed to stop being the perfect straight A student. I could laugh at things that a good girl like me had no business laughing at, and that was a great release for me. However, as an older person who has spent a lot more time thinking about these sorts of issues, I have to admit that I found myself asking a question I’ve been asking a lot lately: “Is this problematic?” Quite possibly, some of it is. Dawson’s humor has always pushed and outright dismantled the boundaries, however, so I have to shake my head at the outraged people on Goodreads who seem to have expected anything different. Now, this is an issue that I (and many people more qualified than me) could discuss forever, but I’m going to carefully set it down for now in order to get into some of my other thoughts about the book.
From this book, I expected something that was different, more personal and more authentic, than the admitted persona that Shane puts on on his YouTube channel. While there were certainly glimpses into a deeper, more self-reflective person, the consistent effort to make the types of jokes that would appear in any Shane Dawson video seemed to me to rob the book of the chance to be something else. In addition, it seems to be that this brand of humor, which relies heavily on visuals and tone, translates poorly to the page in some aspects. True, I have most likely slightly outgrown his target audience, and that should be noted, but I think there’s something else at work here, something that keeps the book from being all that it could have been. Don’t get me wrong– there were places where I laughed out loud and even a few places where I cried (something that surprised me), but I just felt that there was another level of the “real” Shane that the introduction promises that was missing. I don’t mean to judge the author as a person, or claim in-authenticity. It’s just that, to me, the person in the book didn’t seem all that different from the person in the videos, in spite of a claim to the contrary. It should, of course, be noted that this is the first significant piece of this type of writing that Shane has attempted, and that someone already so in the public eye is entitled to keeping his private life private (not that, with many of the shocking things he so casually reveals, this seems to be a concern–I know more now than I ever wanted to about some pretty weird shit). That being said, a collection of personal essays makes a certain promise to the reader, and this one sometimes fell flat for me, falling back on the same “Selfie” persona that Shane disparages in the introduction to the book. Were shocking things revealed? Yes. But there wasn’t much emotional depth to the revelations–a lot of weird sex and body stuff, but very rarely a reach beyond that. A couple of the essays did hit that note, and that shows a lot of potential that I would be remiss to ignore. However, the book as a whole fell flat for me.
I enjoyed this book. I can’t say I recommend it to anyone who isn’t familiar with and/or nostalgic for Dawson’s videos, simply because there is a decent amount of depth that seems to be lacking, and some of the writing is less polished than one might hope for (I’m sure it was an editorial choice meant to reflect modern usage of language, but I genuinely could not ever read “ya” as serious). If you’re a Dawson fan, you’re probably reading it already (and please, please don’t hit me). If not, well, the choice is yours.