Felix Kjellberg revels in a brand of edgy “humor,” having built a YouTube empire boasting over 53 million subscribers. His channel and online persona, “PewDiePie,” is constructed as irreverent, inane, and childish. His rise to fame consisted of screaming rape jokes and overacting to jump scares, something that proved popular. However, it seems that his connections are starting to get tired of having their name associated with him. Following a recent video in which Felix reacted to two Indian men holding a sign saying “Death to All Jews,” and a further investigation into his Nazi-laden content on the part of the Wall Street Journal, Disney and YouTube have decided to distance themselves. A representative from Maker Studios, the division of Disney contracted to work with Mr. Kjellberg, released said:
Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case. The resulting videos are inappropriate.
YouTube followed shortly after, cancelling the planned second season of Scare PewDiePie, wherein contestants would work to scare PewDiePie in various real life scenarios. As Polygon points out, this follows YouTube’s Terms of Service, wherein content makers are strictly forbidden from creating or using content portraying “Controversial or sensitive subjects and events, including subjects related to war, political conflicts, natural disasters and tragedies, even if graphic imagery is not shown.” Coupled with this cancellation, PewDiePie will no longer appear on Google Preferred advertising, stymieing the channel’s already limited ability to monetize content via ads.
Patricia Hernandez of Kotaku has an excellent write-up regarding the issue of so called “shock humor” that pervades YouTube’s most popular channels. PewDiePie is far from the only one capitalizing on it, and doing does more harm than their flippant creators seem to think. As Hernandez points out, Felix Kjellberg’s own cartoonish inconsistencies leave fans unable to tell if he’s serious or not, something that is crucial for the supposed “humor” he capitalizes on. In the example given, fans had no clue if Felix was serious about deleting his channel at 50 million subscribers and started downloading his videos en-masse.
The inability to tell truth from satire shatters the argument of intent, and places these creators in an untenable position. If a content creator goes around saying the n-word, but gives no clarification or overt signpost against its everyday use, then they become co-opted by the malicious groups that actually do employ the behavior regularly. In this instance, the Daily Stormer, a Nazi website and online community, uses PewDiePie to attract new members, thanks to his frequent anti-Semitism. If YouTube wants to demonstrate commitment to this kind of gatekeeping–something I am wholeheartedly for–then it needs to act thoroughly. This could be a momentous first step towards businesses using their weight in the era of the YouTube stars.