Jimmy Donaldson, more commonly known as “MrBeast,” is a 24-year-old Youtuber that has been uploading content since 2012. His videos involve him giving money to people as they compete in various different challenges. As his channel grows in size — now over 170 million subscribers — the scale of MrBeast’s challenges have grown with it. His challenges began with videos such as “Giving A Random Homeless Man $10,000” and “Counting To 10000 In One Sitting.” With each upload, MrBeast’s channel became more popular. With higher profits and a larger audience, the projects became even more extravagant.
One of Donaldson’s most recent projects was a video titled “1,000 Blind People See For The First Time,” where he funded eye surgery for 1,000 people with curable blindness. In providing these treatments, he pointed to the larger issue that “half of all blindness in the world is people who need a 10-minute surgery.” This video sparked controversy surrounding the topic of expensive medical treatments.
To many, this video simultaneously helped 1,000 people around the world who could not see and raised awareness around the issue. However, to others, this video pointed to the dystopian world that we are living in. A surgeon in the video claimed that half of the 200 million people with blindness in the world could be cured with a 10-minute procedure. Many were left wondering why the issue was so prominent if these cases of blindness could be fixed so easily. Why should people with blindness have to wait for a rich “savior” who happened to learn about curable blindness to get attention and a solution?
The two sides of this argument fought about the issue on Twitter. An initial tweet addressed the dystopian nature of the video: “There is something so demonic about this and I can’t even articulate what it is.” Many agreed with the post, pointing to another viral tweet that shows the prevalence of “heartwarming human interest” stories like this and asks why the focus isn’t on the existence of the issue to begin with. Often when the media covers an issue of philanthropy, it talks about how good the action of giving is and neglects the angle of what can be done to prevent it.
Others felt that they could not see anything wrong with the video and that MrBeast positively impacted the individuals and helped raise awareness of the issue. Many of these people took to defending MrBeast when they misinterpreted the initial tweet stating the YouTube video was “demonic,” receiving it as criticism towards his videos.
Charlie White Jr., a YouTuber known as “penguinz0,” talks about the controversy and took to defending MrBeast on his channel — with a video garnering 4.4 million views. In his video, White mentioned the same argument that the system where people need to be rich to get this treatment is broken, but he believed this is not what people are mad about. He incorrectly assumed that all critics are instead mad at MrBeast for using poor people for views. His only example of the other side’s argument is the tweet calling the situation “demonic,” when the original tweet author explained in later tweets that the criticism was not towards MrBeast, but with the ease that MrBeast helped people. If the situation can so easily be fixed, why have governments neglected to do so?
MrBeast’s videos may intend to help a large number of people at once, but they also have the capacity to cause indirect harm. In a video from the YouTube channel “Second Thought,” it is argued that MrBeast’s videos and other similar feel-good stories can be harmful by making people complacent about important social issues. People can watch MrBeast plant more than 20 million trees and remove 30 million pounds of trash in the ocean and feel like he’s done enough, without understanding that it is one small step in a much larger issue. Planting millions of trees will not offset the carbon emitted and forests burned each year. Removing millions of pounds of trash will not stop the issue of plastic pollution and trash ending up in the ocean to begin with.
Despite all this, MrBeast’s videos do produce a net good. Organizing a movement to plant trees and remove trash is helpful to the planet, no matter how small the effort is in the larger scale of environmental issues. His videos also serve as a window into how dystopian our world is. For issues such as curable blindness to gain high-profile media attention, a millionaire needed to step in and bring awareness. Even if a millionaire starts worldwide environmental cleanup and planting movements, these efforts are still only a drop in the bucket in the larger fight against climate change. It shows how little the average consumer can do.
This window into a broken system allows people to see the larger issue through discussion and organization. Discourse on the larger issues can only begin when it is not immediately written off as unwarranted criticism towards individuals like MrBeast.