A few days ago a little known animal rights activist, vegan and vlogger by the name of Eisel Mazard started a fundraising campaign on the international crowdfunding website Indiegogo. It has since reached its nominated target of $6,500; but the money raised by this staunch animal rights campaigner isn’t going to the preservation of an endangered species’ habitat, or even to a local animal shelter. Instead, it will fund a defamation lawsuit against fellow vegan Youtuber and notorious braggart Harley Johnstone AKA ‘Durian Rider’.
Like something out of a school playground dispute, Mazard and Johnstone have been engaged in a slanging match on social media over the last couple of weeks that has seen Johnstone call Mazard a “piece of shit” and Mazard, in a hilarious ‘come at me bro’ moment, challenge Durian Rider to go toe-to-toe in the boxing ring.
It all sounds rather harmless – except it isn’t.
Johnstone has levelled some pretty serious allegations against Mazard, including claims that Mazard is luring young girls to his apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for solicited sexual encounters and for enagaging in sexually predatory behavior at the ‘Raw Till 4 ‘ Thai Fruit Festival. Johnstone has accused Mazard of being a paedophile with a dubious criminal record; he has also threatened to send goons around to Mazard’s apartment and kidnap him. Mazard’s response has been varied – initially he laughed off the allegations, he then disclosed his clean criminal record to his viewership to try and exculpate himself, this was followed by an apology to Johnstone’s girlfriend and fellow YouTube ‘Freelee The Banana girl’ for perceived attacks on her. None of this put the issue to bed, however, and eventually he created the fundraiser in an attempt to hold Johnstone accountable for his ‘libellous’ allegations.
Little is clear in this most obscure of disputes. The basis of Johnstone’s gripe with Mazard, the veracity of the allegations of sexual predation, whether Mazard has actually enlisted the help of Australian lawyers to fight Johnstone – it is all rather opaque to the outsider looking in. One thing is for certain, however, and that is that the $6,500 raised by Mazard is not going towards the only thing that Mazard and Johnstone have in common – veganism.
It’s a sad state of affairs that instead of constructive discourse about veganism and animal rights, we are instead witness to a mudslinging match between two grown men. Even more disheartening is that this isn’t a standalone incident. The ugly fight between Mazard and Johnstone just happens to be the most recent example of an all too common occurrence of bickering and ad hominem attacks between digital vegans.
Just how ingrained is this culture of personal attacks among vegan vloggers? We can turn to one of Mazard’s online associates to find out. The Vegan Cheetah (TVC), a YouTuber who has appeared on Mazard’s channel numerous times, is an outspoken critic of a number of vegan vloggers. He doesn’t pull his punches, either. The most viewed videos on his channel invariably involve personal attacks on other vegan bloggers:
One vegan YouTuber who has earned the derision of TVC is Sorsha Morava, who TVC describes as a “dick riding clone…whose content…does not help our cause at all”.
Go and click on Morava’s channel, and what are the most viewed videos on her channel about, I wonder? Let’s see:
What about the channel of Vegan Gainz, who has also been described by TVC as a “dickrider”? Well, they may not be targeting other vegans, but you guessed it, personal attacks:
This is only a snapshot of the vegan community on social media – a community plagued by petty infighting and personal attacks. A community that appears at face value to be in a constant state of turmoil, distracted by superficial disputes – a community not discussing ways to progress veganism because its members are too busy spending their time defending their pride and image, and attacking those of others.
The problem is – while these animal rights advocates are distracted, so are their audiences. Instead of listening to topics and discussions that might actually progress the movement, viewers are instead captivated by a perverse digital version of Days Of Our Lives, where the main actors are each vying for the title of supreme vegan leader, the messiah of the plant-eating punters, forever engaged in a running battle to occupy the top rung – hell bent on knocking off their rivals on the way. And it works, they get the views because scandal sells. Even Mazard, whose videos are usually considered and edifying (my particular favourite being his rundown of the problem with intersectional political veganism) has enjoyed a growing viewership since his battle with Johnstone started.
At the end of the day, these personal disputes are what’s making the noise in the vegan community at the moment. Vegans, by and large, aren’t turning to YouTube to be challenged philosophically, or to find new ways to be more effective animal rights activists; they are tuning in to get their daily dose of scandal. And it’s not just vegans – surely not everyone tuning into the Johnstone and Mazard soap opera are vegan, just as the 500,000 plus people who tuned in to watch Freelee swing it out with Tana Mongeau surely weren’t vegan. A whole bunch were probably just normal people, looking in at the vegan movement, not with respect, not being challenged morally and ethically – but to have a good giggle at this dramatic group of grown children pulling each other down.
Such petty personal disputes probably wouldn’t exist if vegans decided against broadcasting their faces and identities and chose not to mix personal branding and moral philosophy (whether we can call it that is a matter for another time); but this isn’t the case. Whether we like it or not, social media, particularly YouTube, allows broadcasters to associate a face with the views put forth – whether that be for good or bad.
We can sit and laugh at the pettiness of it all, but these disputes are symptomatic of a culture of digital veganism that emphasises the individual and not the cause. Until vegan vloggers decide that the cause is more important than their personal pride and brand, then veganism, and animals will continue to play second fiddle.