A YouTuber just helped treat 1,000 people with blindness and low vision. Why are people so upset about it?
MrBeast, a 24-year-old whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, is the highest-earning creator on the platform with a record-breaking 131 million subscribers. His fame was a slow build at first. He started posting at age 13 and says he carefully studied other creators and his own stats to create the most watchable content possible. His repertoire now includes dramatic displays of charitable giving, with videos like “Planting 20,000,000 Trees, My Biggest Project Ever!” and “I Cleaned the World’s Dirtiest Beach #TeamSeas.”
But his latest video has divided fans. In a Jan. 28 video called “1,000 Blind People See for the First Time,” surgeon Jeff Levenson explained to MrBeast that “half of all the blindness in the world” can be treated with a 10-minute surgery. MrBeast announced that he would be helping 1,000 people undergo that operation. The video shows how many of those patients reacted to being able to see more clearly — with delighted screams and tears. A counter on the screen assigns each patient a number out of 1,000.
One woman expressed her shock that MrBeast would pay for her surgery, and he presented her with an additional suitcase filled with $10,000. She screamed and fell to the ground. He made sure a man’s son was the first thing he saw after the operation. The YouTuber surprised another man, who said he’d missed driving after his vision became blurry, with a new Tesla.
“Appreciate all you do to help others. You are setting a great example for the community Jimmy,” one person commented. “Healing the blind now? You can easily say he's gonna be the best content creator for the coming years. Mad respect!” another wrote.
On Twitter, there were a number of negative responses accusing MrBeast of “using” disabled people and people with low incomes to generate views and likening his video to “charity porn.”
“There is something so demonic about this and I can’t even articulate what it is,” one user wrote.
“Mr Beast has been making exploitative content for awhile now. … He uses vulnerable and desperate people for content,” another tweeted. “Doesn't make him a good person for making that happen.”
Are his good deeds still good if they make him a lot of money? This act of stunt philanthropy was engineered for public consumption, and its 76 million views directly translate to ad revenue for MrBeast’s team. He also spent a lot of money on producing, filming, and editing this video.
MrBeast said in a tweet that it’s his goal to give away all his money before he dies. He implied that he didn’t understand the backlash to his video.
“I don’t understand why curable blindness is a thing. Why don’t governments step in and help? Even if you’re thinking purely from a financial standpoint it’s hard to see how they don’t roi on taxes from people being able to work again,” he wrote in another tweet.
There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of MrBeast to varying degrees. The New York Times reported that he has berated his employees. He made anti-gay jokes on Twitter as recently as 2017, and he’s a young and powerful business owner who idolizes Elon Musk. And, of course, there’s the question of his intentions when creating stunt philanthropy content.
Another huge problem: MrBeast's video seems to regard disability as something that needs to be solved. He doesn't say in the video or in any of his subsequent public statements whether he consulted with the video's subjects about how they felt to have their disability treated as a problem. That's something that's been argued over in the days since the video was uploaded.
“If Mr Beast TRULY wanted to do something good and TRULY cares about disabled people, he wouldn’t monetize their suffering and make them tap dance on video just so he can slap it up on YouTube,” healthcare advocate Kendall Brown tweeted.
Steve Saylor, who is blind, tweeted that MrBeast just seems to be “putting his money where his mouth is.”
“I see what I call ‘inspiration porn’ videos all the time. Where it's designed to highlight ‘the struggle’ of disabled people to tug at the heart strings. Mr. Beast isn't doing that,” he wrote.
That MrBeast is turning charity work into content is also frustrating people on Twitter.
Twitch commentator Hasan Piker streamed his reaction to MrBeast’s video, which he said filled him with “rage.” He added that people shouldn’t be mad at the YouTuber; they should be mad at the system that created such a drastic need.
“We shut off access to a 10-minute procedure because we paywalled it and decided that some people just can’t get it,” he said. “It’s so insanely frustrating that it’s up to one YouTube guy to decide to make content about it.”
I think that the outrage needs to be directed to the circumstances that allowed MrBeast to create stunt philanthropy content in the first place. Do we as a society see disabilities as problems that need to be solved? Is it ethical to use the people who receive charity in content that is consumed as entertainment? Why is a YouTuber starting conversations about the lack of accessible healthcare more effectively than billionaires or politicians? Should videos like this not exist, or should they not have to exist?
I don’t know, but I hate it here.