The YouTube star known as "PewDiePie" has recently come under fire for featuring allegedly anti-Semitic content in his videos.
PewDiePie, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, lost various partnerships as a result of a Wall Street Journal article that reported on the anti-Semitic jokes in some of his videos. Kjellberg has pushed back, saying that the Journal piece took the jokes out of context.
Here are seven things you need to know about PewDiePie:
1. Kjellberg became famous for posting YouTube videos of him playing video games. Being an avid gamer since an early age, Kjellberg started uploading videos featuring himself providing humorous, sarcastic commentary as he played various video games. When he realized that his videos were starting to rake in subscribers, he dropped out of college and worked at a hot dog stand until he became famous.
2. The major reason for Kjellberg's stardom is the connection he has with his audience. Watching someone play a video game might sound boring, but Kjellberg's commentary comes across as authentic and entertaining. Here's how Rolling Stone describes Kjellberg's videos:
Watching a PewDiePie video is a little like sitting through a primal screaming therapy session. Kjellberg unleashes a torrent of high-pitched epithets and denunciations, celebrates with a "Pewds hard techno rage" and delivers absurd eulogies to downed opponents. His repertoire has also grown to include both live-action and animated comedy shorts. In his own version of the Harlem Shake, three PewDiePies dance on screen, one of them in pink women's underwear; in another video, PewDiePie dons a virtual reality headset and stands in an attic cursing at the walls. "I don't want to be squish, please, please, I'll do anything," he squeals. "I'll lick your bal…no I won't, that's gay."
Kjellberg also makes his following feel like a family, constantly referring to them as "Bros," and features his "Brofist" as a form of a signature handshake between Bros. He talks to his legion of Bros through Omegle, and on Fridays his show features Bros telling him what they think he should do. Kjellberg even goes through comments from his "haters," and then mocks them.
PewDiePie's formula has obviously worked, since his videos have tens of billions of views, and his channel has 53 million subscribers.
3. Kjellberg's following is very Beatles-esque. Per Rolling Stone:
When he emerges on stage fifteen minutes later, he's greeted by shouts of "I love you!" "Ok, I totally get that," he says, smiling down at the crowd. "I love you guys too! I feel like I'm running for president." Then, in his trademark South Park-inflection, he shouts, "The Bros are going to take over the world!"
There are screams, hugs and innumerable Brofists. Two 13-year-old girls wearing identical PewDiePie T-shirts stumble offstage and fall to the floor, openly sobbing in front of the biography section. A six-year-old boy with a Brofist symbol razored into his tiny head is helped offstage by his mother. One father, who's been waiting with his daughter and her friends since 5 a.m., tells me the only thing he's seen rival the hysteria is old footage of The Beatles. "And you know what?" he says. "I told my daughter that earlier and she just looked at me said, 'Who's that?'"
4. The Journal article resulted in Kjellberg losing his contract with Disney and advertisements for his show on Google. YouTube also nixed his "Scare PewDiePie" show. In WSJ's report, they noted that "PewDiePie has posted nine videos that include anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi imagery." The Journal highlighted the following examples:
- Paying two Indian men to hold "Death to All Jews" signs as they dance and chuckle.
- Featuring clips of Adolf Hitler speeches.
- A faux Nazi revival ritual.
- Doing a Nazi salute with a "Sieg Heil" voiceover.
- Featuring Hitler segue-ways in an episode where he wore a "Make America Great Again" hat.
- Featuring a Jesus Christ impersonator stating, "Hitler did absolutely nothing wrong" and then saying, "Isn't it ironic that Jews found another way to f*** Jesus over?" when the impersonator's account was suspended on a site based in Israel.
His videos have received praise from neo-Nazi websites like the Daily Stormer. Three of Kjellberg's videos have been taken down by his account.
5. Kjellberg apologized for the jokes in his videos, but claimed that the media was being unfair to him. Kjellberg took down the video featuring the "Death to All Jews" signs; explaining in a video addressing the controversy that he was mocking a freelance website called Fiverr–the aforementioned Israel-based site–where people are paid $5 to do anything. Kjellberg pushed the envelope to see if the two Indians guys would hold those signs and laugh and dance while doing so--and they did.
"I am sorry for the words that I used, as I know they offended people, and I admit that the joke itself went too far," Kjellberg said. "I do strongly believe that you can joke about anything, but I also believe that there’s the right way and not the best way to joke about things."
It seems that the same thing occurred with the Jesus Christ impersonator.
Kjellberg went on to criticize the Journal's report:
Mr. Kjellberg accused The Journal of taking some of his videos out of context, referencing one brief scene that showed his outstretched arm and hand with a voice-over saying “Sieg Heil.” Mr. Kjellberg says he was just raising his hand and pointing, which he said was mischaracterized as a Nazi salute. In another instance, he watches a Hitler video, which he said was an attempt to mock a YouTube policy.
“It was an attack by the media to discredit me, to decrease my influence, and my economic worth,” Mr. Kjellberg said.
“We stand by the reporting,” said Colleen Schwartz, a spokeswoman for Dow Jones & Co., which owns The Journal.
Additionally, Kjellberg said that one of the Journal's examples involved a video in which he highlighted how the media takes things out of context, and another in which he called for swastikas and other Nazi imagery to not be used in his games. He denounced the neo-Nazi websites that like his work.
He also went after the Journal's ethics on Twitter:
WSJ journalists knocking on my home address offering me "a chance and platform to defend myself". Im not joking, this happened.— pewdiepie (@pewdiepie) February 17, 2017
WSJ shouldve tried to get a response from me directly to begin with. Not going to brands I work with first. Proves to me their maliciousness— pewdiepie (@pewdiepie) February 17, 2017
Kjellberg claimed that he was the victim of a media hit job and defiantly told the Journal that he's "still making videos."
"Nice try, Wall Street Journal. Try again motherf****rs," Kjellberg said as he proceeded to kiss his middle finger and aim it at the camera.
6. Kjellberg has staunch defenders echoing his explanation. In an op-ed at Business Insider, Dave Smith wrote that the controversy surrounding Kjellberg "is a massive overreaction," citing a tweet from Josh Barro that reads, "See, that's why you never trust a Jew."
Smith explained that while the tweet in and of itself would seem offensive, it was referencing a moment in President Donald Trump's insane press conference in which he began ranting about how he was being unfairly portrayed as an anti-Semite after a reporter from a Jewish news outlet asked him about the increase in anti-Semitic attacks. Context is key for a tweet like that, and the same holds true for Kjellberg's videos, Smith argues:
Having watched those videos, it is clear to me that the Wall Street Journal (and other news outlets by way of aggregation) reported on those videos in the same way someone could have reported on Josh Barro's tweet above. The report focused on the content of the issue in question without considering the important context surrounding it — context that makes you realize it's just a joke, not a real attack on a group of people.
I’m not here to argue the merit of Pewdiepie's videos or jokes — whether or not they should have been made in the first place, or whether or not Kjellberg was trying to make some kind of point. None of that matters.
Here’s what does matter: If you do watch those videos in their entirety — not just the clips containing the offensive material — it is clear that he is joking.
Gersh Kuntzman had a similar theme in his New York Daily News op-ed defending Kjellberg, pointing out the other absurd things the Indian guys holding the anti-Semitic signs did through the website, including singing "Happy Birthday as jungle boy in the Jungle funny guys."
"The silly millionaire Swede is saying that our current system of rich people hiring very poor people to do whatever the rich people want is untenable," writes Kuntzman. "If you can literally exploit a poor Indian guy into saying the worst sentence in human history, you can basically get him and others like him to do anything."
Nick Pappas of The Liberty Standard and RedState unleashed the following tweet storm about the Kjellberg incident:
Here's the main reason this PewDiePie episode upsets me - the press is already suffering record low favorability... 1/— Nick Pappas (@NickAPappas) February 17, 2017
And a few reporters at WSJ, & the many outlets that followed, decided to smear a beloved entertainer. 2/— Nick Pappas (@NickAPappas) February 17, 2017
PewDiePie (regardless of your own views on him) has accumulated BILLIONS of views on his videos. 3/— Nick Pappas (@NickAPappas) February 17, 2017
Few humans have entertained more people than he has. He has a gigantic audience with young people. And now...4/— Nick Pappas (@NickAPappas) February 17, 2017
a huge slice of a generation saw one of their heroes get smeared by pathetic, false, and disgusting "journalism." 5/— Nick Pappas (@NickAPappas) February 17, 2017
A lot of people aren't grasping the generational damage a single event like this can do to "the media's" reputation. 6/— Nick Pappas (@NickAPappas) February 17, 2017
If we are going to have a functioning society, we need to be able to agree on basic truths and realities. As flawed as it...7/— Nick Pappas (@NickAPappas) February 17, 2017
is, the media is our best channel to conveying those. When no one trusts the media (increasingly reality), that has severe...8/— Nick Pappas (@NickAPappas) February 17, 2017
consequences. Our institutions won't function well. This is a problem almost entirely created by journalists and the...9/— Nick Pappas (@NickAPappas) February 17, 2017
Pappas also took a shot at the Journal:
WSJ --> W SJ --> SJW.— Nick Pappas (@NickAPappas) February 17, 2017
It all makes sense now.
However, critics such as the Anti-Defamation League argue: "Just putting it out there brings it more and more into the mainstream."
7. Kjellberg's jokes that have come under scrutiny are reflective of today's "shock culture." Fruzsina Eordogh pointed out in Forbes that "shock culture" has become more mainstream because of the anything-goes content on sites like 4chan and Reddit:
This is why Kjellberg, a product of the Internet, thought he could get away with doing a comedy bit where he compares people who participate in the YouTube Heroes Initiative to Nazis in red MAGA hats. This is why, when Kjellberg paid $5 on Fiverr for two men in India to dance with a banner "Death to all Jews, subscribe to Keemstar," his audience, and the YouTube community, laughed at the joke, not just because of the ridiculousness of Fiverr, but because Keemstar as the butt of the joke is a mass-hated and often mocked YouTuber. To these people, and to Kjellberg’s audience, hating on Jewish people never factored into it -- everyone in that community agreed long ago that kind of language in sincerity was wrong. Paying people to do ridiculous things on Fiverr is also a popular prank, on places like 4chan, no less.
Pandering to this audience, Kjellberg thought he could safely make a video about how the media is always taking his jokes out of context and portraying him as an actual Nazi watching a Hitler speech in a military uniform. A reasonable assumption that proved to be ridiculous, when the Wall Street Journal actually used that same exact footage to call Kjellberg’s videos “anti-Semitic posts.”
The problem, as Eordough noted, is that while Kjellberg himself may not hold anti-Semitic views, there are others that do, and agree with the literal nature of Kjellberg's jokes rather than the sarcastic undertones of them.
Follow Aaron Bandler on Twitter @bandlersbanter.