“Sensationalism equals more views. And that perpetuating cycle, invariably, ends in disaster.”
As a person in their 30s, YouTube began to take flight right as I said goodbye to my adolescent years. I still embraced its start, enjoyed my time watching occasional videos, and I still do. I know a few of the new creators, which is to say, I know their names. David Dobrik is one of those names I know. In 2019 Dobrik, and his merry band of “Vlog Squad” friends, were taking the YouTube world by storm. A full-time vlogger amassing over 10 million followers on over all his social media platforms. He was the star kid, and everyone loved him. In a world full of PewDiePies and Paul Brothers, why not be a Dobrik? A successful—unproblematic—YouTuber that top-tier companies would want to put their brands behind, right?
Director Casey Neistat, a visionary among other YouTube vloggers, set out to make Under the Influence to initially document Dobrik’s skyrocketing rise to fame back in 2019. During the duration of Neistat’s filmmaking, it turned into something completely different. Fast forward to March 2021, Insider had broken a story that would find Dobrik and his friends responsible for supplying alcohol to underage girls and sexually assaulting them. The sexual assault came at the hands of Dobrik’s fellow Vlog Squad member, Dom Zeglaitis a.k.a. “Durte Dom,” but David didn’t shy away from vlogging, and monetizing the incident. Zeglaitis, to this day, still maintains that the sex was consensual. In addition to those allegations, in April 2021, footage of Jeff Wittek (another member of the Vlog Squad) surfaced of him being seriously injured in Dobrik’s vlog.
In the past, Neistat didn’t hide the fact that he was friendly with Dobrik on videos every now and again. That close relationship made me hesitate at the fact that maybe Neistat wouldn’t be able to examine Dobrik’s indiscretions through unbiased eyes. So knowing that, I thought, is he the right person to make the documentary after all that’s transpired? But after watching this, I believe Neistat may have been taken in by Dobrik’s sweet, on-camera persona, just like the rest of us. By watching what’s unfolding, through Neistat’s camera lens, it makes it all the more profound. Even before all the allegations, Neistat slowly peels back the layers of who Dobrik is, and finds out the man behind the curtain is not who we expected. Neistat realizes in the middle of it all, that this young kid’s need for more views, and his “do anything mentality” to get them, is far from kosher.
Under the Influence doesn’t shy away from showing the dark side of YouTube. I can’t say that I would’ve ever imagine myself shielding my eyes at disgust during a YouTube documentary, but maybe I’m naïve. From Dobrik getting one of his friends to take off her shirt on a jet as she eats whipped cream off a hairy guy’s stomach, or his other friend nearly losing an eye, it’s all too much to watch at times. And yet, when those in the media proclaimed Dobrik as the “good boy,” the proof was right there. We actually didn’t need to look hard for the toxicity. Neistat removes the rose-colored glasses for Dobrik’s avid viewers, and frankly, any viewers of content like this. Now if they choose to put them back on, it’s completely their decision.
We find the star at the end, having really suffered no consequences. He’s bounced back, still finding success and opportunities everywhere he looks. Neistat asks Dobrik if he thinks the Insider piece was unfair, to which he responds, “yes.” Were any of his apologies genuine? Does he believe he bares any responsibility? The success of a YouTube star is a slippery slope. “They know what they signed up for,” Dobrik says with a sly grin when asked about his Vlog Squad buddies and if it goes too far. The more crazy stuff that happens on screen, the more people who’ll watch it—in droves. The more people who’ll watch it, the more money it brings in. The more money it brings in, the more companies who’ll want to be associated with it. Will Under the Influence bring more fallout for Dobrik? Maybe. But if this documentary has taught me anything, it’s that this new wave of YouTube creators, like Dobrik, will make another video with lots of shock value, and everything will be back to the way it was.
Under the Influence
Directed by: Casey Neistat
Written by: Mark Monroe