The Student Movement

Arts & Entertainment

Currently: MrBeast

Solana Campbell

Photo by Kayla-Hope Bruno

This week, a rather surprisingly controversial piece hit the internet: a MrBeast YouTube video. In the video, titled “1,000 Blind People See for the First Time”, MrBeast, a YouTuber popular for these kinds of challenges and giveaways, pays for a life-changing surgery for 1000 blind people. The surgery is a simple, 20-minute laser process that removes their clouded lens and replaces it with an artificial one. People who were unable to work or drive because of the progressing blurriness of their surroundings were finally able to see again, and clearly.

The short, less than 10-minute video features people from all corners of the world and includes randomly placed “donations” from MrBeast to the people he’s helping. For example, he gives one guy $10k, pays $50k toward another guy’s tuition, and donates a Tesla to someone who never thought they would be able to drive.
At first glance, the YouTube video seems to be a fantastic idea: MrBeast is changing these people’s lives by offering them a life-changing surgery completely free-of-charge! What could people on the Internet have a problem with now? Well, in the first few minutes of the video, the doctor performing the surgeries offhandedly mentions that “half of all the blindness in the world is people who need a 10-minute surgery.” That’s right, half. It makes you wonder about our current healthcare system and how many blind people could get a quick and easy treatment, if only they had the resources to do so.

The video’s release has since been discussed over and over by Twitter, with opinions ranging from “I think its safe to say that MrBeast is probably the best content creator on the platform right now. Good on him for doing all that he does.” to “There is something so demonic about this and I can’t even articulate what it is'' (click for tweet). Of course, what is likely the most controversial piece of the puzzle is that A) so few know that this surgery exists and B) the surgery is not available to the mass public due to a lack of universal healthcare. In fact, his video has started a widespread discussion about the broken state of the current US healthcare system.

There’s a portion of the video that causes a lot of unease to me and I wasn’t really sure why. In the very beginning, MrBeast tells a woman (on camera) that she is going to receive the surgery free-of-charge and that he will be giving her $10k in cash. He opens a briefcase of $100 dollar bills in front of her and she immediately screams. In the next few minutes, we see footage of the woman crying, rolling around on the floors, and expressing her joy. It was strange and made me feel a little uncomfortable. This tweet helped put my thoughts into words: “The only way these people were able to see was through the monetization of their experience. Absent the viewer, without the spectacle, they wouldn’t be afforded the procedures. Resources and the technology exists, they just wouldn’t receive it without the entertainment. Hellworld.” Without the spectacle. Because that is exactly what this YouTube video is: a spectacle. A chance for these people to be seen receiving this care. A chance for us to watch them cry and praise MrBeast for his good deeds. It feels a little…dystopian.

In fact, one could argue that MrBeast’s video illustrates something called poverty porn, which is, “any type of media—written, photographed or filmed, that exploits or fetishizes poverty to garner sympathy or support for a cause. These types of media are circulated to promote an emotional response in the viewers and are often laced with financial gains through donations for the ‘cause’. Poverty porn perpetuates a certain narrative and stereotype of what poverty should look like.” Poverty porn is often conducted by objectifying a subject and exploiting their pain. Too often, media makers neglect to focus on those providing the care, such as the way MrBeast does not mention the identity of the doctor performing the surgeries or the program he asks viewers to donate to, See Intl, even once. Diana George, who has written lots on the topic of poverty porn, is quoted in this article: “poverty porn leads to charity, not activism: donors, not advocates. Poverty porn fails to produce both a deeper understanding of the issue of poverty and the necessary structural changes that must occur to effectively address it. Instead, poverty porn says that material resources are the problem and the solution, where poverty can be addressed through a simple phone call or monthly donation.”

It’s like the Bible verse (Matthew 6:2-4): “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Even Jesus knew that publicizing our efforts to help others can cause more harm than good.

Whether you think that MrBeast’s video is amazing or problematic, these questions still have to be asked. Is he doing these good deeds for profit or out of the kindness of his heart? Is it okay to support a video like this, or do these productions cause more harm than good? I’m sure the people whose blindness was cured would rather have a surgery today thanks to MrBeast’s donation than wait years for systemic healthcare system change to offer them the chance, but is it really ethical that they have to be recorded and broadcasted in order to receive care? I’ll let you decide.



The Student Movement is the official student newspaper of Andrews University. Opinions expressed in the Student Movement are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors, Andrews University or the Seventh-day Adventist church.