by Kristina Vakhman
YouTube star Felix Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie, found himself in the middle of a “scandal” last week when the Wall Street Journal branded him as anti-Semitic.
The Journal’s report featured a compilation of nine of Kjellberg’s videos where he incorporated either Nazi imagery or anti-Semitic humor.
Since then, other news outlets joined in the biggest YouTuber’s condemnation, linking him to a fascist and accusing him of normalizing the alt-right’s controversial views.
The debacle forced Disney’s subsidiary, Maker Studios, to drop their partnership with Kjellberg. Moreover, YouTube cancelled the second season of his YouTube Red show, “Scare PewDiePie,” as well as removed the PewDiePie channel from their Google Preferred advertising program.
Contrary to headlines, Kjellberg has not “fallen” from his dominant YouTube throne. In fact, his 53 million subscriber count has only grown.
Additionally, fellow YouTubers and his fanbase have been quick to point out that the Journal’s video deliberately takes scenes from Kjellberg’s work out of context. It is also edited to make the material seem far darker than what Kjellberg intended in the initial content.
In one video, since deleted from his channel, Kjellberg poked fun at the absurdity of Fiverr.com, where freelancers do practically anything for five dollars. To see how far the vendors would go, Kjellberg put in ridiculous requests, including asking two men to unfurl a banner reading “Death to all Jews” as they danced and laughed in the middle of a jungle.
While others denied Kjellberg’s ludicrous demands and threatened to report him for violating the site’s guidelines, the two men followed through with what he had requested.
In another video, Kjellberg compared the Nazi Party to the YouTube Heroes program, which gives users abilities that can be easily abused, like mass-flagging videos. Kjellberg is seen watching one of Adolf Hitler’s speeches.
The Journal’s depiction of these scenarios completely cuts out the original context. No other sides of the situation are shown, hence perpetuating the narrative that Kjellberg is anti-Semitic. Knowing the full substance of the complete videos sheds new light and dismantles the Journal’s argument.
Instead of examples of anti-Semitism, these instances were Kjellberg’s attempts at shock humor that — even he admits in his apology video — were of bad taste and poorly executed.
Of course, this does not excuse Kjellberg from making such crude jokes.
Maker Studios was right to sever times with him, considering the welcoming, inclusive image that Disney has spent years developing and maintaining. Losing his place on YouTube’s Google Preferred, which deemed his content “family-friendly,” is also understandable; it’s a shock that his channel was listed there in the first place, judging by his material.
However, the media labeling Kjellberg as a fascist or an anti-Semite, and purposely taking his videos out of context to fit that narrative, is not fair; it’s defamation.
Additionally, it undermines the credibility of the press.
With President Donald Trump claiming that any negative media is “fake news,” a situation where a slanderous piece of work can actually be deemed “fake” solidifies the argument. This is evident by the public’s reaction to the Journal’s attack on Kjellberg; while the Journal has long been considered a reputable news source, this one-sided report has caused many to turn away from them and from those that added fire to their flame.
The journalists who conceived the piece received so much hate that they privatized their Twitter accounts; the compilation related to the article has a massive dislike-to-like ratio.
More importantly, marking Kjellberg as the face of the alt-right movement — which he has unequivocally disavowed in numerous statements — is dangerous. It does exactly what the Journal and others accused him of doing: trivializing genuine racism and hatred.
He is a YouTube personality whose jokes went too far; aiming the dart at his forehead when there is an ample amount of actual neo-Nazis and racists scouring the Internet is a mistake.
Instead of pouncing on “edgy” comedy, the media should be focusing on real menaces.