You may or may not have heard of Youtube’s biggest star, Pewdiepie, getting axed by his network, Maker, or rather Disney, who bought Maker in 2014. The whole thing was triggered by a (paywalled) Wall Street Journal article, detailing how Pewdiepie had allegedly posted 9 videos containing anti-Semitic material, accompanied by a video in which they edited the offending passages together while playing sinister music in the background and spelling out their allegation in a text overlay. Anyone who had seen the original videos noticed pretty quickly that the WSJ had cherry-picked their way through many of the 9 videos, completely removing context. The most ironic example being probably the snippet of Pewds watching a Hitler speech in a Nazi-like uniform, which was taken from a video that Felix made criticising how the media took his jokes out of context – in this case, he was mockingly portraying the way media outlets see him, as a Nazi watching Hitler speeches on his computer. So the WSJ went right ahead, removed the context and voila – he wears a Nazi uniform and watches Hitler speeches!
But, fabrications aside, there are valid points to be made. Both sides are really missing opportunities here.
The WSJ and other outlets could be actually dismantling Felix’s jokes/attempts at humour, instead of fabricating anti-Semitism by cherry-picking bits and pieces without context. It’s like attacking Donald Trump for his hairstyle, rather than his policies. Or Hillary for her Star Trek pant suits, rather than her policies. There is enough “problematic” (god, I HATE that word) material of his that doesn’t even need to be edited in any way to make it appear controversial. Because, most of the time, Pewds’ humour isn’t exactly fine, cerebral satire, it’s shock humour, it riffs off using taboo imagery. Direction and aim are mostly hazy. His response videos to the media are mostly defensive, passive-aggressive and don’t come up with the most solid arguments. The WSJ and other outlets could write well thought-out articles about why they think it is unacceptable to joke about certain topics. They could make a case for what kind of race-, religion-, whatever-based humour is acceptable (many people have pointed to South Park), and when a line is crossed, in their opinion. Instead, they go for the headline and the cheap kill.
And Pewds on the other side could stretch his argument beyond “I’m not a racist, the mainstream media just hates me”, which is the main route he chose in his response video. He could try and make a case for free speech and the vital role humour plays there. He says he thinks people are free to make any joke they want, but he could certainly do with serving up some good arguments to support his point, if he actually wants to convince the other side and not just cater to his fans. But, to be honest, just like many of his jokes lack direction and finesse, so do most the videos in which he attempts to argue a certain point. He doesn’t really do well with building arguments and being consistent in his claims.
People like iDubbbz on the other hand do this a lot better. Coincidentally, iDubbbz latest Content Cop takes on Black Lives Matter supporter and story time youtuber Tana Mongeau, and the use of the word nigger. Or the N-Word, if you prefer. And iDubbbz manages to make a case for his side, pointing out flaws in Tana’s logic and inconsistencies in her past behaviour. Agree with him or not, he actually makes the effort or arguing his point. And sure, there are parts of his audience who might not understand his inflationary use of slurs and simply parrot him, without getting the point, but – how far is a creator responsible for what the audience does with their words? Is it their responsibility if people are too thick to understand their humour?
Which is the issue the WSJ and other outlets have taken with Felix’ crude use of Nazi imagery: The Daily Stormer seems to have decided that Pewdiepie is their guy in the mainstream media, holding high the legacy of Hitler, since, as they have decided, it doesn’t matter whether he actually believes these things, he’s giving anti-Semitism a stage and that’s good enough for them. Finding this out prompted Felix to publish a statement on his tumblr that he does not in fact support such groups, but too late – 2 days later, Disney backed out of their joint venture with him, and Youtube, caught in zugzwang, removed him from Google preferred, a premium tier of AdSense, and cancelled the release of the nearly completed second season of his Youtube Red show Scare Pewdiepie.
The WSJ triggered a PR chain reaction, nothing else. Because, what do you know: iDubbbz is actually signed to Maker. And he advocates the comical use of the word Nigger and has a channel chock-a-block with him mocking all races under the sun. And SJW. But he’s got 3 Million subs, not 53 – so Pewdiepie is made an example of, thrown under the bus to save Disney’s face. It’s a completely understandable business decision – but it’s presentation as morally motivated one is plain hypocrisy. Hitler is an ancient, ancient joke on Pewdiepie’s channel. Old Adolf has been cropping up for years, not just since August 2016. Although I have to admit that Pewdiepie only recently branched out into being a massive Edgelord, recycling old 4chan jokes such as paying people to say fucked up shit. That’s not to say Pewdiepie is doing a better job at being honest than the media – he is likewise scrambling to cover up his asshole and pointing fingers.
The accusatory articles backfired colossally – the audience and other YouTubers have stepped up on Felix’ behalf. Ethan of h3h3 even played his Jew card in defence of Felix. Amazingly, the WSJ and others really shot themselves in the foot, because, according to the old rule of ‘My enemies’ enemy is my friend’, alt-right groups now support Pewdiepie even more, as he’s suddenly turned into a poster boy for fighting against the liberal MSM – the abominable MainStreamMedia. The support other YouTubers and audience are offering is all well and good – but, in my opinion, most people are missing the point. A few articles outright called Pewdiepie an Anti-Semite or racist (WIRED later changed their headline to remove the „racist“ bit :P), but many just parroted the WSJ, saying that he uses anti-Semitism as comedy material, leading to him being adopted by right-wing groups – not denouncing Felix personally as a racist. So the defence “He’s got Jewish friends” doesn’t suffice. I think the whole thing hinges on how far comedy is allowed to go and the subjectivity of humour. The what, the why and the why-not.
As it goes, both Pewdiepie and the media could really do better. The two parties could debate like adults, there’s certainly enough actual material to go round for solid arguments on both sides, but instead they’re flinging shit at each other on the playground.