I was never a huge fan of PewDiePie‘s content. My concept of him and his work consisted of a wacky, loud, annoying Swedish guy that plays Happy Wheels and Five Nights At Freddy’s on an endless loop. Having said this, I have a vivid memory of watching TV a couple of years ago, flicking through channels, looking for nothing in particular, when I stumbled across Channel 5 news doing a piece about PewDiePie. The way in which they talked about him made it sound as though he was this brand spanking new star that is on the rise (despite being well-known well before). The new anchor literally said the following: “Now we’ve all heard of a movie star…but have you heard of a Youtube star? Probably not. His name is Poo-dye-pee and his job is shouting and playing video games – have you heard anything as ridiculous as that Diane?” asks the anchor, turning to the weather girl, “My sons watch that stuff all the time. Teenagers these days – and the weird, random things they watch!” she says, rolling her eyes condescendingly. Little did they know that PewDiePie had over 30 million subscribers at the time, and would consistently get 3 million views per video within a day of them being uploaded. Now, he has over 53 million subscribers; that’s more than the population of Spain – and rapidly closing in on the population of South Africa. It’s somewhat amusing therefore to watch individuals casually dismiss the significance or notability of PewDiePie or Youtube in general – as though they were nothing more than some fringe, cult, ephemeral fad; an amateurish affair that has no real power or influence over anything specifically when, in reality, more people watch his videos world wide than shows like The Big Bang Theory, The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones.
There’s a tendency therefore, on the part of techno-phobic adults, to disregard “new media” as some pointless, irrelevant, newfangled trend that is somehow less legitimate than “traditional media”, simply because they don’t understand it, or because they aren’t used to it, or because they don’t use it themselves. For example, in the summer of 2015, Jimmy Kimmel on an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! started talking about this “weird” thing he had recently discovered called ‘Let’s Plays’ in which people upload footage of a video game that they’re playing whereby you, the audience, then watch. “How stupid is that? What’s the point of watching someone else play a video game?” he said, shaking his cane to an applauding audience of people who can barely turn their computers at home on. Let’s ignore the fact that more people watch Let’s Plays on Youtube than the viewing figures for every American talk show combined but sure – the Let’s Play audience are the weirdos! Author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams had a wonderful quote describing this phenomena:
“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”
Another key fallacy to note before we get into things is the human propensity to freak out over negative things that occur within a new context, whilst being relatively calm about that same negative event if it occurs within a context we’re all used to. Take the horrific roller coaster accident that occurred in Alton Towers in 2015 when a carriage slammed into a stationary carriage, causing multiple severe leg injuries – some of which required amputation. Attendance figures for the park dropped by over 25% and remained so for over a year after the event. On average, there are 0.27 roller coaster-related deaths per year. My own Mum said immediately after the news hit “Well we won’t be going there then!”. A thought immediately occurred to me; how many fatal car accidents are there? Well, on average, there are nearly 1.3 million car-related deaths per year. But, to be fair, there are far more cars than there are roller coasters (a measly 4284 roller coasters in the world compared to a staggering 1 billion cars world-wide). But when comparing the ratio of roller coaster accidents to roller coasters with the ratio of car accidents to cars, it becomes worryingly apparent that you are 5 times for likely to die when getting into a car than if you were to ride a roller coaster. So where’s the panic? Where’s the dramatic drop in traffic and car sales? K.C Cole’s book The Universe and the Teacup: The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty illustrates this perfectly in the following hypothetical scenario: Imagine a world wherein cigarettes are completely harmless…except every 18750th pack of cigarettes contains a single cigarette that is laced with dynamite that, when lit, will blow your head off? People would freak out. Nobody would go near them. However the same number of people die because of cigarettes in that hypothetical universe as they already do in this one i.e. the one where over a billion people regularly smoke.
How does this relate to PewDiePie and the latest news that he’s some Nazi-sympathising, white supremacist anti-Semite? I’ll explain.
As mentioned before, I didn’t really dig PewDiePie‘s content. I didn’t hold that against him, I just wasn’t a fan of the sort of videos he made. I knew he was a big deal however. Years later, PewDiePie starts getting noticed by mainstream media, does the occasional interview, etc, and lo and behold, I discover that he’s a clever, affable, savvy, intelligent guy. A few months ago, I watch a H3H3 podcast starring PewDiePie and find out that not only did he hate the content with which I had always associated him, but that, in recent years, he’s changed the content of his channel completely and has been making very self-aware, satirical comedy sketches. One video in particular involved him showcasing an absurd website he had recently discovered called Fiverr in which people are willing to do an array of tasks for at least £5; we’re talking anything from someone offering to do maths homework to someone offering to eat a whole block of butter. PewDiePie discovers two topless Indian guys with an ad where they are willing to say anything and show any message in a video for £5. Dubious about this claim, and curious as to how far these guys will go for money, PewDiePie writes the most extreme and ridiculous message he could think of for them to show, as well as a Keemstar goof for them to shout at the same time. After a few days, to PewDiePie‘s comedic shock and horror – he watches a video of these two happy-go-lucky Indian guys go from playfully joking around, to them unfurling a banner with the words ‘Death to All Jews’, at which point they shout “Subscribe to Keemstar!” and start laughing. We see PewDiePie, rolling back on his chair, hand over mouth, utterly astoundaghast. “I cannot believe that those Indian guys did that. What kind of a website is this?” I said to myself, also with hand over mouth, laughing, but stunned. And, of course, THAT WAS THE POINT OF THE VIDEO. The joke was how ridiculous some websites are, how far some people will go just to get some money from those websites, the juxtaposition between the innocent, light-hearted and playful nature of the two Indian guys versus the dark nature of the horrific message they were willing to show, plus another joke implying that Keemstar is antisemitic. At no point does he express agreement with the message, nor does he condone what it preaches. The whole joke is pivoted on the understanding that both he and the audience watching know that antisemitism, Nazism, and Hitler are wrong, and that it’s inappropriate and insane for the two Indian guys to show that message just for a bit of money. Is that clear? Good. (Sorry for explaining the joke but apparently I have to).
Then the news that Disney, whose platform Maker Studios was PewDiePie‘s producing partner and network, had severed all ties with PewDiePie exploded online. The Wall Street Journal then published an article titled: ‘Disney Severs Ties With YouTube Star PewDiePie After Anti-Semitic Posts’. On the webpage is a weirdly serious video with strange music presenting PewDiePie as supportive of Hitler, Nazism, White Supremacy, and Fascism, using various nefariously selected screenshots and clips taken from an array of his videos. Since I like to consider myself a rational human being, I immediately sought out the videos to which they were alluding to see in what context the examples of “antisemitism” were presented. At which point, it became clear that The Wall Street Journal were doing something far worse than simply misunderstanding jokes or satire; they were deliberately, dishonestly, and malevolently finding any references or allusions to Nazis or Hitler within his videos – regardless of context or intent, taking said clips and presenting them as his actual beliefs. Please note that the Wall Street Journal called them “Anti-Semitic Posts” not “Jokes”. The intellectual dishonesty here is astounding.
One of the “examples of antisemitism” that the Wall Street Journal presented involves a scene transition that has the words ‘Drama Scoops Show’ beside a picture of Adolf Hitler. As Youtube Channel the Armoured Skeptic quite rightly says in his video ‘PewDiePie – A Character Assassination’:
“The joke here isn’t that Hitler is awesome; the joke is that Hitler is faux-pas. In fact the joke wouldn’t even work if Felix (PewDiePie) was pro-Hitler”
One of the other “examples of antisemitism” that the Wall Street Journal presented involves a clip where PewDiePie is dressed as a Nazi, and is watching Hitler’s speeches. And guess what video the Wall Street Journal took that clip from? A video where, as a response to all the slanderous claims that he’s a racist and anti-Semite, and to mock the way in which mainstream media takes jokes out of context to make these claims, he dresses up as a living caricature of what they accuse him of being; a Nazi who loves Hitler speeches.
The irony is boggling.
Just think about this. The Wall Street Journal literally took an out-of-context clip from one of PewDiePie‘s videos in order to present PewDiePie as a Nazi. What video did they take that clip from? A video where he mocks the way in which mainstream media – like the Wall Street Journal – takes out-of-context clips from his videos in order to present him as a Nazi.
According to PewDiePie, the Wall Street Journal even used a random screenshot from one of his videos where he’s simply pointing off-screen as “evidence” that he’s doing a “Hitler salute”. This stupidity and dishonesty from such a respected and well established newspaper is unparalleled. It seems that the notion of context is a mystery to them. One can only speculate as to how the Wall Street Journal would react if one were to present the Wall Street Journal video about PewDiePie, that contains those out-of-context clips that reference Nazism, but do so out-of-context and then make the claim that the Wall Street Journal supports Nazism due to showing those clips. You will find, I think, that in their indignation, they’ll suddenly have the capacity for nuance and will understand the concept of duality of meaning. Even J.K. Rowling, despite the wit and intelligence she usually exhibits on Twitter, retweeted an article from The Independent about PewDiePie called ‘When Did Fascism become so cool?’ with the caption: “For those who think Fascism is an edgy accessory…”. She would presumably raise her intellectual game a bit if she discovered The Independent or the Wall Street Journal suddenly making the claim that she is pro-Fascism by taking Lord Voldemort’s lines out-of-context and presenting them at face value in a video whilst strange, spooky music plays in the background (In response to hundreds and thousands of people tweeting her that the press have completely got it wrong, and that if you watched the videos in their entirety, it’s clear that PewDiePie was doing satire, Rowling responded with the rather disappointing and revealing question “What was he satirising?”).
The Wall Street Journal even imply in their video that PewDiePie‘s genuine apology about people getting offended was actually a way to cover up his deeply held anti-Semitic beliefs. I give you permission to blink twice and face-palm yourself.
Their cherry-picking wasn’t limited to video clips either. It’s odd how they specifically targeted PewDiePie. Why didn’t the Wall Street Journal take Nazi clips from South Park, or Family Guy? Those two shows have episodes that are far more risqué than anything PewDiePie has ever done. Or are those shows okay? How about the scene in Django Unchained with the Klu Klux Klan? Is that cool? How about when Charlie Chaplin is dressed like Hitler in The Great Dictator? I take it the Wall Street Journal don’t conclude that Chaplin was actually a Fascist from watching that film – unless they haven’t seen any of these examples and would be equally as shocked and mortified with moral outrage if these other references to Nazism and white supremacy were presented to them of course, but that would make them one of the most ignorant newspapers on the planet…
So here are the possible reasons:
1. The Wall Street Journal are genuinely outraged by PewDiePie‘s content because they don’t understand the obvious satire and irony and have taken the jokes at face value – in which case they don’t have the mental capacity to run a newspaper.
2. The Wall Street Journal are genuinely outraged by PewDiePie‘s content because, although they know that it’s satirical and ironic, they find that it’s still not acceptable… which means they must be unaware that similar – and more risqué – jokes have been made in traditional media for years – in which case they are inexplicably ignorant about the world.
3. The Wall Street Journal are genuinely outraged by PewDiePie‘s content, and although they know it’s satirical and ironic, and they are aware that similar and more risqué jokes and examples have been made in traditional media for years, alas they feel that doing these jokes on a modern platform is somehow different to doing it in traditional media – in which case they’re hypocritical.
3. The Wall Street Journal are feigning moral outrage in order to defame PewDiePie despite the more risqué examples found in traditional media and are doing so to stay relevant and get more traffic on their site – in which case they are opportunistic liars.
So there you have it Wall Street Journal; stupidity, ignorance, hypocrisy, or dishonesty. Take your pick.
How I see it, the Wall Street Journal targeted PewDiePie in part because Youtube – in the eyes of traditional media – is a new media platform, and therefore the news that someone from this new platform doing jokes about Nazis is shocking and somehow unprecedented; just like my roller coaster versus cars example. People get shocked by news about a roller coaster accident because it’s so rare, whereas car accidents? They happen so frequently that it’s somewhat of a banality for many. The bad and new is somehow worse than the bad and familiar. “What?!?”, some outraged person will say upon hearing about this ‘scandal’, “Someone on this Youtube thing is doing jokes about Nazis and dressed up as one?? Disgraceful…anyway, back to The Great Dictator – the way Chaplin lampoons the idiocy of Nazism is superb! What a classic film that we’re all comfortable and familiar with!”. There’s also this idea, as mentioned by PewDiePie in his response video, that he’s somewhat the face of Youtube, and by taking him down a peg or two, newspapers like the Wall Street Journal feel more secure in their relevancy as a medium.
There’s also another key thing to note. To a certain extent, Youtube fan-bases are fickle; their attitudes towards a channel to which they’re subscribed can change on a dime. It could be due to the introduction of a new segment, a new member, or news about a shady past about the Youtuber coming to light. This became apparent over a week ago when a popular ‘story-time’ Youtuber by the name of Tana Mongeau got into some pretty hot water. Firstly, she told satirical comedy/exposé Youtuber iDubbbz via Twitter to kill himself for using ‘the n-word’. She also, in a live-stream said the following sentiment: “If iDubbbz broke both of his legs and lost all his subscribers, I would genuinely be happy; he’s a terrible person”. iDubbbz responded by making an episode of his popular exposé series Content Cop about Tana Mongeau where is came to light that, not only is her criticism of iDubbbz’s use of the ‘the n-word’ misplaced (since he never uses it in a derogatory sense, and only uses it satirically or if he’s talking about the word itself), but that several old videos of hers came to light showing her angrily, and derogatorily using ‘the n-word’ directed at the black person holding the camera. Her “defence” was context; that she had always thought ‘the n-word’ meant ‘homie’ or ‘friend’; despite the fact that, if one were to replace her use of ‘the n-word’ in those old videos with either the word ‘homie’ or ‘friend’, it wouldn’t make any sense. iDubbbz also demonstrated, without a doubt, that her entire Youtube channel is centred around highly embellished and exaggerated accounts of her life, and little more. As a result of iDubbbz‘s superb video about Tana Mongeau, she lost thousands of subscribers, her videos have received thousands more dislikes, and some Tana Mongeau fans have come out of the woodwork saying that they no longer subscribe to her due to iDubbbz‘s video. Let’s not forget what happened with The Fine Bros a year ago when they alienated fans by attempting to own the very concept of a reaction video – thereby losing over a million subscribers as a result. This hasn’t happened to PewDiePie. He hasn’t lost any subscribers, the like to dislike ratio on his videos is overwhelmingly positive, and the comments are ubiquitously in support of him. Why? Because there’s no validity to any of the criticisms PewDiePie has recently received, and if there were, it would be expected that a large potion of his fans would jump ship. On the contrary, they have extended their stay. This speaks volumes.
Outrage culture needs to stop. If you have a legitimate claim regarding something, then taking clips, photos, and quotes in an out-of-context fashion shouldn’t be required. Claims such as these actually delegitimizes and trivialises ACTUAL examples of Nazism and antisemitism that keep popping up in this worrying time. It doesn’t help the issue; it obfuscates it. Freaking out over Nazi satire and presenting it as sincere gives needless ammunition to those that feel that “political correctness has gone mad”; a feeling which ultimately lead to the rise of the Alt-Right and Trump. Choose your battles. As Ricky Gervais said, stop confusing the subject of a joke with the target of a joke. In my view, when it comes to offensive language or images, if you are quoting someone, giving an example of it, talking about the subject matter/image, or are using the terms or appearance of said offensive thing in an ironic/satirical way, then you can’t claim that “it’s offensive because they genuinely believe in those offensive things”. You could be offended regardless, in which case you’re saying that, regardless of context, there are words, ideas, and images that aren’t allowed to be mentioned, referred to, or discussed. Then comes the question, why these words, ideas, and images and not others? And who decides what is off the cards? Etc.
In conclusion, I’d like to inform the Wall Street Journal that Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List isn’t actually a lieutenant for the SS, nor is Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds, nor are David Mitchell and Robert Webb in the “Are we the baddies?” Nazi sketch from That Mitchell and Webb Look. I understand that they’re all wearing Nazi outfits in all of these examples and that the following concept may confuse you, but they’re all feigning an appearance as a dramatic or comedic commentary about the Nazis. It isn’t a sincere expression in support of the Nazis. Sorry to burst your sensationalist bubble.
Update: The Wall Street Journal have since offered PewDiePie “a chance and a platform to defend himself”; the very people who made the slanderous article about him in the first place. Also, it needs to be noted, PewDiePie’s platform towers above the Wall Street Journal’s. In short, what platform Wall Street Journal? Also a slew of articles have been made in response to PewDiePie’s response; some of them defending him, some outright comparing PewDiePie’s critique of the media to that of Trump’s delusional claim that media are liars in their entirety. Amusingly the white nationalist website The Daily Stormer that was used by the Wall Street Journal as an example of PewDiePie’s links to antisemitism and white nationalism – due to the fact that PewDiePie had been put on the website’s banner – has since replaced PewDiePie’s image with that of the three journalists who wrote the article about PewDiePie. So if PewDiePie is the poster-child of white supremacy because some white nationalist website uses an image of PewDiePie on their banner, but now the three journalists have replaced PewDiePie on that banner for that white nationalist website, I wonder if the Wall Street Journal will have the intellectual integrity to use their own argument against them? Spoiler alert: they won’t.
For more clarity on this story, I fully recommend checking out the following videos; some of which I mentioned in the essay, some are more eloquent and witty deconstructions of the whole “controversy”. I won’t include the link to the Wall Street Journal video but it’s easy to find (and please watch these videos in their entirety please):
The PewDiePie video that caused it all (Reupload): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MQitQiKQgI
The PewDiePie video about the media taking his videos out of context/Nazi outfit video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGX2mJ6IbS0
PewDiePie’s response video to the Wall Street Journal’s accusations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwk1DogcPmU
H3H3 Production’s hilarious critique of the Wall Street Journal’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLNSiFrS3n4
Armoured Skeptic’s illuminating critique of the Wall Street Journal’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Z752X2bBgM