This article originally appeared on video games magazine site NowLoading.co. The site is no longer online, but I’ve uploaded a few articles from my time as a staff writer there (2016-2017) here as portfolio samples. On this topic, PewDiePie’s flirtation with far-right memes certainly hasn’t stopped since then and there’s more to be said about it, but the following article has not been updated.
So the Walt Disney Company has severed ties with YouTube’s biggest star PewDiePie after he posted a series of videos featuring antisemitic comments. YouTube itself hasn’t quite let him off the hook for it either, cancelling the second season of Scare PewDiePie.
PewDiePie, real name Felix Kjellberg, is YouTube’s biggest success story, and these losses are likely to cut into his revenue deeply. There’s no doubt that the jokes were in poor taste and one can hardly expect Disney to appear to endorse phrases like ‘Death to all Jews’. or ‘Hitler did absolutely nothing wrong’.
But does PewDiePie himself deserve accusations of racism?
The Nazis Certainly Seem To Think So
No one seems more enthusiastic about calling PewDiePie a Nazi than the Neo-Nazis themselves. Nazi website The Daily Stormer appears to absolutely loooove him. They gleefully seize upon the antisemitic statements and Hitler references in the videos, declaring him one of their own.
Now, even a casual perusal of The Daily Stormer reveals that its members have only a tenuous grip on reality at the best of times, so perhaps we should be hesitant to take them at their word when they swear that PewDiePie is an actual, literal Nazi.
PewDiePie’s Defense In His Own Words
PewDiePie hasn’t seriously tackled the accusations of racism in his video series, preferring instead to respond mockingly. His videos are produced for entertainment and it’s very difficult to ever catch a moment of seriousness in them.
But Kjellberg wrote a blog post with the intention of clearing up this whole racism issue, giving us an opportunity to hear his side of the story, without any ‘jokes’ sprinkled throughout the words:
‘I think it’s important to say something and I want to make one thing clear: I am in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes.
I make videos for my audience. I think of the content that I create as entertainment, and not a place for any serious political commentary. I know my audience understand that and that is why they come to my channel. Though this was not my intention, I understand that these jokes were ultimately offensive.
As laughable as it is to believe that I might actually endorse these people, to anyone unsure on my standpoint regarding hate-based groups: No, I don’t support these people in any way.’
This post came after fans brought to his attention the fact that his attempts at offensive humor had garnered him a following among white supremacists. Some of the phrasing can seem disingenuous, however. PewDiePie claims in his videos that he loves offensive humor, so it’s weird to say that a joke was not intended to be offensive.
PewDiePie is quick to mock and push edgy jokes when the media point out racism, but it’s clear that he doesn’t want anything to do with the actual Nazis applauding his actions.
The Verdict – PewDiePie May Not Be A Racist, But Sure Has Made Racist Jokes
Exhibit A, PewDiePie’s edgy jokes are pretty crappy. Case in point, he hires people in fiverr to say antisemitic things, apparently because he doesn’t believe they’ll actually do it…BUT, since it happened more than once, and because it’s popular content for his videos, the ‘I couldn’t believe they’d actually do it’ isn’t much of a defense. Even when the antisemitic messages were ready, he could have decided not to cause offense by not uploading them.
The humor seems to be that antisemitism itself is inherently funny, and it’s amusing in and of itself to make people say or write antisemitic messages. Whatever one thinks of PewDiePie’s regular comedic stylings, this stuff is weak and there’s no reason it should make the final cut when there are plenty of other things to joke about.
I think it’s reasonable that PewDiePie has made a statement of opposition to ‘hate-based groups’, though I think that it would have been stronger if he had called out his white supremacist fans explicitly.
The thing is, PewDiePie himself doesn’t really have to espouse any kind of race-based ideology to for his actions to cause racist harm. According to the Daily Stormer:
‘Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, since the effect is the same; it normalizes Nazism, and marginalizes our enemies.’
Both Disney and the Nazi extremists themselves are aware of the potential harm of these offensive jokes, regardless of what PewDiePie himself believes. The normalization of Nazism and marginalization of its enemies has historically had very serious consequences, the extermination of millions of Jews and other so-called ‘undesirables’ among them. All the more reason not to contribute to pushing Nazi ideas out into the mainstream, even in the most ironic way.
A way of viewing people as either racists or not is also somewhat limiting when it comes to incidents like this. No one except the goose-stepping true believers like to be called racists, and PewDiePie’s prickly, defensive initial reaction is par for the course for these accusations.
But it’s important to acknowledge that one doesn’t have to be a card carrying Klansman or Neo-Nazi to commit a racist action, and that the harm caused by these racist actions isn’t necessarily excused by the intent. Run someone down with a car, even if you didn’t mean to, and you’re still going to court.
I can’t condemn PewDiePie as an outright racist, but as a celebrity with over 55 million subscribers, many of them very young, he needs to display more self awareness about the impact his actions can have, and own up to having made racist jokes.
Ultimately, Disney and YouTube have engaged in the only backlash the edgy joker will take seriously, and that’s one that has financial consequences for him. If PewDiePie won’t pay attention to critics pointing out his racism, or Nazi fans encouraging it, then he might listen when money talks.
What do you think? Has PewDiePie done enough to acknowledge the issue with his anti-semitic jokes? Should he do more?