Casey Neistat’s documentary, ‘Under the Influence,’ may have just delivered the final nail in the David Dobrik cancellation coffin.
Documenting David and the Vlog Squad’s life since 2019, the film explores the YouTube collective’s experience of viral stardom. What started as a project that followed the group’s rise to fame soon became about David and the Vlog Squad’s fall from grace.
Thinking back to 2019, David was YouTube’s golden boy. With financial backing from the likes of SeatGeek and HelloFresh, David was renowned for filming fast-paced, elaborate videos. From giving away cars to recording members of the Vlog Squad doing dangerous stunts, David’s content really had it all.
As a group of 20-somethings (and one 40-something) living the dream, his vlogs quickly became the perfect form of escapism from the real world.
In an interview with Rolling Stone about ‘Under the Influence’, Casey explained that he was initially interested in the new wave of “YouTube stardom” and what it meant to be a social media influencer in 2019. “There was something entirely unique about the videos he was making,” Casey says. “They were portraits, little windows of life in early adulthood with no limit to resources and no responsibility.”
But two career-defining events in 2021 changed the course of the documentary.
It all started in March 2021, when Kat Tenbarge’s Insider article broke, alleging that David was complicit in Dom Zeglaitis’ sexual assault of a college student. Amid mounting pressure from mainstream media and the Frenemies podcast, David was dropped by sponsors, stepped down from ‘Dispo and even posted two apology videos.
The following month, it was revealed that Vlog Squad member Jeff Wittek “almost died” in an excavator stunt gone wrong. The documentary shows footage of the accident, which left Jeff with a shattered skull and eye socket, broken bones, brain damage and compromised vision in one eye.
Dealing with the aftermath of these events, ‘Under the Influence’ became about keeping influencers accountable. Showing the boundaries pushed in David’s quest for viral fame, the documentary stresses the troubling power dynamics of influencerdom.
In Casey’s first interview with the vlogger, he asked David whether he sees the members of the Vlog Squad as friends or colleagues. Instead of answering one or the other, David said, “When the camera comes on, they know what they’re supposed to do,” insinuating that the Vlog Squad exists somewhere between work and play.
This “do it for the Vlog” mentality has positioned sensationalism and clickbait at the heart of David’s content. Long before the scandals broke in 2021, Casey recorded David explaining that a vlog is “not funny, unless someone gets hurt.”
With these ill-defined boundaries and relationships, the unbalanced power dynamic among the collective becomes most apparent. For example, one scene showed David recording members of the Vlog Squad partying in a private jet. They proceeded to pressure Corinna Kopf to remove her shirt, even though she was visibly uncomfortable with the idea.
Speaking to TechCrunch, Casey explained that Jeff’s accident and Kat’s article changed his professional relationship with David tremendously. “[It was] a dramatic shift in how the movie was captured,” he said.
Casey went on to say that he and David have not spoken since the final interview for the documentary, which took place after Kat’s article was published. When David was asked whether her piece was “Fair,” he responded with “No. This article was written because this place wanted clicks.”
While the documentary leaves the question of David’s redemption up to the viewer, it’s safe to say that Casey has provided insight into a David not many of us have seen before.