Fifty-three million subscribers.
That’s the reach of YouTube star PewDiePie — AKA 27-year-old Felix Kjellberg of Sweden, an online gamer (once? still?) adored by the Gen-Z crowd and fans referring to themselves as his “Bro Army.”
You know who else adores PewDiePie? White supremacists.
This week, the Wall Street Journal reported on PewDiePie’s repeated anti-Semitic jokes and various other heinous offenses in his YouTube videos, including “hiring two dancers in Sri Lanka to hold up a sign saying ‘Death to all Jews,’ segueing into different clips using a picture of Hitler, and doing the Nazi salute while a voice-over says ‘Sieg Heil.’ He also paid a Jesus impersonator to say that ‘Hitler did nothing wrong.'”
The upshot? Disney’s Maker Studios cut all ties with the gamer, and YouTube dumped the second season of his streaming reality show.
Sadly, these moves are way overdue by Disney and YouTube. And we’d really like to know why.
This racist idiot has been high-profile media fodder for years. PewDiePie hid his vile views in the beginning — first presenting himself as a harmless clown, scoring legions of fans (and big compensation) for his over-the-top reactions as he unboxed novelty toys and played new video games sent to him by various companies. That harmless clowning turned to trolling, played off by PewDiePie as all-in-good-fun antics. Except we’ve never thought there was anything fun about rape jokes and slurs like “gay,” “autistic” and “retard.”
Yeah, we’re such snowflakes, right?
PewDiePie’s super-casual use of the N-word has been a massive red flag since the beginning of his incarnation as YouTube celeb seven years ago. And the N-word is just the tip of the massively problematic iceberg. He’s stated he can’t “see people” when they’re “too black” — and he’s gone so far as to say that “black things” scare him. Uh, seriously?
You know what scares us? This guy, and the damage he’s done to a lot of young minds obsessed with his YouTube fame and fortune. This guy and the others like him still on their way up, up, up.
PewDiePie’s fans include millions of children, FYI. Not exactly the online role model most parents hope their kids will latch onto.
The evidence is stark — take a look for yourself. It won’t be hard to find. In one video, PewDiePie went so far as to use an image of black SNL actress Leslie Jones to stand in for Harambe, the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla killed last year. (If the Nazi stuff wasn’t enough to outrage you.)
Yeah, this guy is a real prince. But his ardent fans insist PewDiePie is just messing around.
And PewDiePie’s maintaining that stance too. We’re not really in the mood to give him any more airtime, but here’s part of his response for reference:
“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.”
Yeah, we’re getting really tired of the whole “stop taking words so seriously” wave sweeping the country. How about you?
PewDiePie’s most shocking claim is perhaps that YouTube discriminates against him because he’s white — and that accusation has scored him thousands of white supremacist followers who love to watch someone with a massive platform argue that white dudes just can’t catch a break in our society.
And that message is sadly gaining serious ground.
“There has always been a strong feedback loop between public figures, broadcast media and social media activity,” said Anthony McCosker, who is an expert on social media at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. “I think the current push toward nationalism, tapping into exclusionary and racist sentiment, is driven and emboldened by online activity.”
Twitter has been full of #PewDiePieIsOverParty tweets — some condemning PewDiePie, some from the white supremacist crowd defending him. But that old trope about there being no such thing as bad publicity is legit. PewDiePie’s boycotters will barely make a dent in his amassed fortune (estimated to be over $15 million).
What can be done to prevent other PewDiePies from spreading their hate under coward shade of “lol jk” attitude? In the U.S., it turns out, maybe not enough. Satire, parody and comedy have always been protected under the First Amendment for good reason — but as Wired puts it: “[I]n a time of ‘alternative facts,’ satire becomes increasingly hard to identify.”
What can you do as a parent? Take no shit, and allow no shit into your kids’ brains. Pay attention. Sit down with your children and ask them for tours of their favorite online role models’ sites. Many kids sense that something is off, but often can’t find the words for it. Help them. Keep communication open. Talk with them about hate speech; help them to identify what’s humor and what’s not funny (and never will be). Discuss internet safety. Encourage them to question any online personality who’s reaping benefits and fame from trolling and race-baiting and seriously questionable behavior.
And that unsubscribe button? Teach your kids to get real comfortable with clicking it the first time something in their gut tells them that what they’re seeing might not be all that funny after all.