It's been 48 hours since PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg) was removed from Maker Studios by Disney and received what could best be described as disciplinary action from YouTube after several media outlets went after him for weeks for a video he made with anti-Semitic language. Today, we finally got a video response from him that wasn't done in character or for laughs, it was a genuine response in his own words. Before we say anything else, here's the video, watch it before continuing so you have some context.
Since Felix himself said in the video that he's become less tolerant of the media in general and how they spin stories to attack him, we're going to take a different approach to our coverage. Everywhere else you're going to read this story, it's going to repeat the facts you already know a dozen times over, ultimately saying nothing about what's happening beyond making a couple snide remarks next to quotes from the video. So instead of stating the obvious, let's take a look at what's being said.
PewDiePie spends a good portion of time focused on The Wall Street Journal and its coverage of him, along with a jab at Variety for how they initially covered his success. Addressing how they attack people and misrepresent stories to sell headlines and further their careers and publications by making catchier headlines. Is he wrong about what the media does to people? Absolutely not! In fact, he's hitting the nail on the head when it comes to sensationalizing news. A problem that every journalist deals with on a daily basis and has become a cancer of our industry. If I tell you about an amazing charity that someone like Seananners or Markiplier donated to, you're not so interested. But if I tell you one of them is having a Twitter feud with another YouTuber, you'll click in droves to check it out. That's the kind of society we've become, and that's the kind of click bait consumer the media caters to. When he says the media takes what he says and does and twists it for extra sensationalism, he isn't wrong. He's going through the same ordeal that a person like George Clooney or Emma Watson has to deal with daily.
But does that put what he did in his video in a better light? No. Like any message you or I send, you can only control the intent, you can't control how it's received. This post (which I can't wait to read the comments section on) will be interpreted by some as middle-of-the-road commentary, others will assume I'm bashing him, the rest will assume I'm supporting him. There's no way for me as a writer to sit down and tell you how to think about a post beyond what I write. And that's the problem PewDiePie now has to live with (and in some cases, still has to comprehend) regardless of how things turn out or what he thinks of the media in general. He made a choice to do a very specific action, and no matter what his intentions were, it was received in a lot of different ways, many of them negative. He can give the Wall Street Journal and The Sun all the grief he wants from now on, it doesn't change the action or how people received it.
There are a thousand different messages he could have chosen to have those two guys write on a sign to prove how stupid the website is in his video. But he went with a message he knew had history and specific connotations attached to it. I don't believe Felix is a racist, nor do believe he has ill-intent toward other people. But I also don't believe he's stupid. He knew what he was doing and he knew that phrase would get a lot of clicks for his videos. Filling Twitter up with kids and young adults texting along the lines of "OMG, check out what Pewds did today! #Brofist" Just like how the media know reporting it (myself included) will get them a lot of clicks.
One of the last things Felix touched on was that his own jokes, and how he took them too far, made him a target. Not just by the WSJ, but by Neo-Nazi groups who apparently praised him for his actions and getting that kind of message out on his channel. Felix did address it on his Tumblr saying he did not support that kind of hateful attitude, but the damage had already been done. While he acknowledged that he went too far and he would be mindful of it moving forward, his focus went to the insanity of the feedback he received across the globe. He wraps everything up as best he can in the final two minutes, along with a final dig at WSJ and a tearful "thank you" to supporters. But ultimately, there's just one thing missing from this video that I don't believe people understand or accept.
Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." We live in an age where your Gamertag, your @name, your online persona complete with dyed hair and special t-shirts and hats with your logo on them, are what people believe you are like in real life. As much as PewDiePie and every YouTuber coming to his aid would like to say "that's not the real me," at some point, they have to accept that many people believe their online persona is who they are. The biggest lesson that Felix and the YouTuber community in general have to learn moving forward is that the rules have changed. Yes, they are celebrities, and with that status comes more baggage than they could have ever imagined. Every action now has a potential for great consequence, every statement could possibly be your affirmation or your downfall. This is the new world of self-made online fame, and the rulebook is still being written.
If Felix really wants to focus on real issues moving forward, the choice is simple. He has a voice, a platform, and an audience. He can go back to the videos he was doing before, or he can use them to bring about social change. What he does from this point forward is in no one else's hands but his. Only time will show us who he really is and how this will change him.