Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg is the biggest YouTuber in the world. Better known as PewDiePie, he currently holds just over 71 million subscribers on YouTube. His story is an amazing one. After dropping out of college, and while working in a hot dog stand, PewDiePie began to focus his work on his YouTube channel, passing 1 million subscribers in July 2012. In total he has received over 19 billion views. This is a man who very literally started from the bottom and through sheer entertainment value and charisma, has grown to be a house-hold name world-wide. From humble beginnings of recording himself playing video games in his bedroom to now running his own satirical news show on his channel, it is not for the content that he gets the views; people watch to see him. One man has been given this platform, but this has not come without its own controversies.
In January of 2017, criticism began to follow him, however, and through various poor decisions he was widely criticised for having gone too far in his humour. This began a stream of criticism which has not stopped since. The Wall Street Journal reported on the incident, while also adding that since August 2016, PewDiePie has included anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi imagery in nine separate videos, despite evidence on this being scarce and unsubstantiated. On 13 February, the Disney-owned Maker Studios multi-channel network cut its ties with PewDiePie because of the controversy and the additional videos containing allegedly anti-Semitic jokes. Maker stated that “although [he had] created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate.” Google also took action, dropping him from the Google Preferred advertising programme, as well as cancelling the Scare PewDiePie YouTube Red series. Many other journalists joined in criticising Kjellberg including the Guardian, the Independent and Polygon, often taking some of his content out of context in order to heighten the issues that were surrounding him, including accusing him of using his content to normalise Neo-Nazism.
Various YouTubers stood by Kjellberg during the controversy, criticising the media for misquoting, misrepresenting and lying. Ethan Klein, a Jewish sketch comedian, accused the Wall Street Journal of intentionally taking the Swedish gamer’s videos out of context and manufacturing an outraged response against a creator who had merely made bad jokes, quoted as saying, “[PewDiePie] is not a real racist. He’s a comedian. Maybe he pushed the boundary a little too far, but guys, that’s it. Let’s not call him an anti-Semite.” The controversy was far from over however, as later in the year, he used a horrendous racial slur while playing a live-stream. He immediately apologised saying, “I’m not going to make any excuses to why [the slur] did [slip out] because there are no excuses for it. I’m disappointed in myself because it seems like I’ve learned nothing from all these past controversies, [using the slur] was not okay. I’m really sorry if I offended, hurt or disappointed anyone with all of this. Being in the position that I am, I should know better.”.
Kjellberg’s actions have been far from correct, and of course should, and have, been criticised. It is, however, worth looking at various factors which should be taken into account. YouTube is a new form of media. It is a highly accessible and highly varied form of entertainment, created by individuals or groups, who create unique and often very personal content which can be viewed from almost anywhere in the world. Certain portions of main-stream media, television, radio and large-scale print journalism has had its own controversies, from Hillsborough reporting to phone-hacking to serious invasions of privacy with respect to certain tabloid media. It must also be noted that many aspects of the media hold certain political, social or societal views. It is inarguable that most large-scale television companies in the United States fall on one side of their two-party system. For example, Fox News, the largest TV news channel in the US has 2.34million viewers in Prime Time television, and a study in the United States by the American Economic Review has said that if Fox News didn’t exist then the Republican Vote in 2008 could have been reduced by up to 7%.
It could be argued that certain aspects of the media would be more than happy to see a new form of media, YouTube, lose credibility through scandals, and while it cannot be argued that these cases of controversy, such as Kjellberg’s, should not be criticised, the extent to which the media has alienated a certain section of what he has done should be. His crude and inappropriate jokes have been dragged to the fore and he has been globally named as a Racist, Anti-Semetic Neo-Nazi, but certain other aspects of what he has done have not been reported. He has helped to raise over $600,000 for Charity:Water, $630,000 for Save the Children and $200,000 for RED, the HIV/AIDS charity in Africa.
Certain portions of the media’s obsession with one man is unhealthy, especially given certain other scandals which were not given the same long-lasting attention. When Logan Paul filmed a dead body in a forest in Japan, it was given a certain level of attention, but his consistent disrespectful and racist comments and actions while on holiday in Japan, or his video showing animal cruelty, where he tasered a dead rat, were not highlighted to the same extent. In fact, Paul has only grown larger from the controversy, with a YouTube funded sequel to his film once the criticism slowed. Perhaps it is the fact that Paul almost doubled down after the controversy saying, “I’m still a human, I can be wrong. I didn’t do it for the views. I get views… I regret to say I handled that power incorrectly”. Various other YouTubers have had various scandals drawn out into the public, but not to the same extent. The level of personal attack that Kjellberg experienced is one which has not been seen since and for one man to come through that without serious deterioration in his mental health is rather fortunate, if not commendable.
It is important to once again stress here that the actions of Kjellberg are deplorable, but he is far from unique. The obsession with one man is unhealthy, and while it must be stressed that he holds a strong influence over his viewers, his largest demographics are 18-24 and 25-30, while nearly 50% of Logan Paul’s audience are under 24. Kjellberg is one man, with a family and a life, and beyond that, he is a person too. He has made mistakes, and he has paid the consequences; no one else would be held accountable in the way he has. Perhaps the reason that Pewdiepie, and YouTube in general, is still so popular is for this very reason. He is just one man, his content is personal and approachable. There is no veil for him to hide behind. He has been criticised, and rightly so, but has shown genuine empathy and remorse for his actions, which is a lot more than can be said for others who were in his position. In a world of imperfections, he is no different.
On a personal note
On a more personal note, last Tuesday, the 20th of November, I, on behalf of Netsoc, helped to organise a Nerd themed quiz along with the Sci-Fi Society and WARPS. This quiz was in aid of Jigsaw, and I feel that it would not be right for me not to include a short piece on it.
Jigsaw Cork provides non-judgemental and confidential mental health support service for young people aged 12 – 25 living, working or studying in Cork. They provide guidance and support for young people who are going through a difficult or distressing time. They also provide advice and guidance for anyone who is concerned about a young person in their life. Mental health is something which is extremely prevalent in the modern day, especially this close to exams.
In total, €380 was raised, all of which will go directly to the charity. This was based off of an attendance of just over 60 people. That is over €6 per person. An absolutely fantastic event for everyone and a huge thank you to all those who helped, attended, donated and a big congratulations to the winners.