PewDiePie, A Manufactured Controversy?
Monstrously popular YouTube personality PewDiePie (born Felix Kjellberg) has recently come under fire for tasteless jokes about the Jews that were broadcast on his YouTube videos. The Wall Street Journal has released a video documenting various instances in which PewDiePie has made jokes relating to Nazism, Hitler or Jews, which appear to be more juvenile humor than hateful vitriol. In a recent video (since removed), published Jan. 11, PewDiePie watches as two young Indian men fight over a piece of paper, which is finally unfurled to reveal the text "Death to All Jews." In the video, PewDiePie looks on in horror at the message and promptly apologizes to his audience for displaying it. A follow up video published on Jan. 17 shows PewDiePie calmly acknowledging his crude sense of humor and denying any anti-Semitic or hateful intent on his part.
Crucially missing from most of the media coverage is the fact that PewDiePie sought out people on Fiverr to say a ludicrous and offensive phrase for $5. PewDiePie himself even said, when announcing his plan, that he was searching for the "lowest of the low, the scraping of the bottom." At no point did he make any intention of spreading anti-Semitic hatred known, and it does not appear that people who know him personally or professionally consider him to be anti-semitic, racist or hateful in any way. It appears clear from context, and to anyone familiar with how humor works on the internet, that PewDiePie's intent is not to spread fear or hatred of Jews. He was merely demonstrating the ridiculous things people will do for $5, using a phrase which is widely regarded as the most offensive sentiment expressible in the English language.
The fallout has been swift and significant, as the world's most popular YouTuber has since lost a lucrative deal with Disney, and YouTube has cancelled his "Scare PewDiePie" program and removed him from their preferred ads program. While it's not clear what financial impact these changes will have on the YouTube star (who has generated in excess of $124 million in income since 2010), it appears that the consequences of this ill-advised prank will be substantial. However, the more level-headed among us are left to ask ourselves if the punishment here really fits the so-called crime.
The knee jerk reaction against PewDiePie, while totally predictable given the way that offense has become major currency in mainstream media, is utterly ridiculous given the mild nature of his "anti-Semitic" videos. This is the very definition of manufactured outrage, as given the context it is nearly impossible to think that PewDiePie is taking any serious stance against the Jewish religion, people or culture with this silly little video. The Wall Street Journal's take on this non-event is so smug and self-serving you would think PewDiePie was plotting a fascist coup against the government of Sweden. Again, and this cannot be emphasized enough, PewDiePie himself acknowledges how awful and offensive the phrase is in the very same video! In fact, clips that the Wall Street Journal used in their hit piece come directly from a PewDiePie video mocking media mischaracterizations of him as racist. The Wall Street Journal purposefully took a self-deprecating clip of PewDiePie watching a Hitler video (which, again, in context is clearly meant to dismiss allegations of racism as ridiculous) and included it as evidence of Anti-Semitism against him.
Anti-Semitism is a real thing, and the Jewish people have suffered horrendously from discrimination, genocide and hatred for centuries. It does no one any favors to try and twist this young man's actions and attempt to undermine his career over something so transparently trivial. The Wall Street Journal, by manufacturing this story and trying to fan the flames of outrage against one of the biggest players in the world of new media, is really just exposing their own irrelevance in the modern age. As noted in a recent article in Variety, the fact that the Wall Street Journal is perpetrating these kinds of hit pieces on PewDiePie actually legitimizes him as a media personality and shows the media world that he is a force to be reckoned with. People in the Millenial generation (who likely don't read the Wall Street Journal anyway) are not fooled by the childish antics and accusations of the so-called establishment media. This whole manufactured controversy is just another episode in the suicide of the superpowers of old media, who in their conniving and self-serving way are causing undue financial hardship on one of leading voices of the newer media generation.