If you have an internet-connected device, access to YouTube, and have been living out from under a rock for the past 5 years, then you have probably heard of Pewdiepie, the YouTube titan who has made millions of dollars off doing simple let’s plays of indie games and then uploading them to the video sharing site. His channel has been the #1 most subscribed channel on YouTube since August of 2013, and since then, he has been no stranger to controversy. In August of 2014, he claimed he was permanently disabling comments on his YouTube channel, and subsequently re-enabled them just over a month later. In late 2016, he said he would delete his YouTube channel once he reached 50 million subscribers, however, at the time of this writing; he had 53 million subscribers with his channel fully intact. It’s common knowledge that he’s a moron eager to get attention from his fan base of pre-teens; but up until very recently he was a harmless moron. Not so much a malignant tumor, more of a mosquito that just won’t die or fly away no matter how many times you swat it or try to crush it with your hand. That is, up until this January when he made a video of himself using the website Fiverr. Fiverr is a site where you can pay freelance content creators $5 to do things for you live on air, usually to be used as promotion for a business or social media venture. Among the many freelancers on the site were two Sri Lankan men who you can pay to fight over a sign, before eventually revealing the text of the sign. Usually, a service like this would be used to create a comedic intro or title video for a YouTube channel; however that is not quite what Pewdiepie had in mind. He had the 2 men from Sri Lanka create a video where they fought over a sign, with the text of the sign being “Death to All Jews”. He also recorded his reaction to the video he paid for, where he feigns shock with his hands over his mouth and apologizes shortly thereafter. As a result of the video, he has lost his sponsorship contract with Maker Studios, Disney’s online entertainment marketing company, as well as having the second season of his “Scare Pewdiepie” Youtube Red series cancelled.
The reason I felt this was newsworthy isn’t because it was simply racist, insensitive, or offensive. This would be nothing out of the ordinary if it was a basement-dwelling internet troll or a tech-savvy Klansmen, or some other person on societies’ fringe. But Pewdiepie is absolutely none of these things. His channel has massive mainstream appeal, being a staple of many a Millennial’s pre-teen or early teenage years. Indeed, his main demographic is males in the 11 to 13 age bracket. Hardly the type you’d expect to don white sheets or to leave racist comments under news articles. And that’s exactly the problem. Pewdiepie is a high profile figure within the YouTube community, and for him to espouse this hateful speech, whether or not he was just “joking” or “making a point about society”, puts anti-Semitism and hate speech in the mainstream for millions of impressionable fans. Indeed, Andrew Anglin, columnist for the Daily Stormer, an online Neo-Nazi publication, wrote a blog post congratulating Pewdiepie for “making the masses comfortable with our ideas” and even went so far as to change the site’s motto to “The #1 Pewdiepie Fansite”. If Neo Nazis are congratulating you for your “joke”, it’s probably a good idea to sit down and think about the implications of it. And, while Pewdiepie, whose real name is Felix, did eventually apologize, he also felt the need to slam the Wall Street Journal for “taking the time to spread insanity”, and decrying the fact that “People are celebrating the fact that my show got canceled, which is something that literally hundreds of people worked on. Is that fair, is that worth celebrating, over some jokes that you disagree with?” It’s abundantly clear he hasn’t really learned anything from the incident, otherwise he would understand that jokes about genocide aren’t simply jokes that some people may “disagree with”. The fact that he’s more concerned about his show getting cancelled then the callous, insensitive “joke” he made in front of his audience of pre-teen fans shows not only a grave lack of remorse for what he did, but also ignorance about the implications of making jokes about genocide to an audience who are, according to the reactions of his fans, too blinded by brand loyalty to comprehend the horrors of systematic extermination of an entire ethnic group.
Pewdiepie’s “joke” not only scares me because he is a mainstream figure, but because all he has to offer to his fans as a discouragement from Anti-Semitism and other forms of racism is a lazy, half-assed “apology”, if it could even be called that. In the comments for the apology video, entitled “My Response”, his fans are even defending his joke. Youtube user OpRedDawn said “Never of heard of this guy (sic), but subscribed now. Thanks wsj!”. What’s more is that the comment has a whopping 134,932 likes. Almost 135,000 people felt that by making a joke about Ethnic Cleansing, he is somehow just “defending free speech” or “trolling the media”. Nobody thinks about the long lasting consequences someone as influential as Pewdiepie can have on society. This entire debacle reminds me of a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” When Dr. King originally made this comment, it was referencing the mistreatment of African Americans and the rationalization of it. But defending a joke about one of the worst genocides in history because it supposedly “promotes free speech” is, if nothing else, most definitely conscientious stupidity, whether you’re Pewdiepie himself or just a fan.
Written by: Andy Kelly