This piece presupposes that you are caught up to speed on the current coverage of Pewdiepie’s anti-Semitic videos. If you are not, here is the briefest, bluntest of rundowns:
- Pewdiepie releases a series of videos featuring anti-Semitism, including – but not limited to – hiring people to stand in the street with a sign reading “DEATH TO ALL JEWS.”
- The Wall Street Journal catalogues these videos
- Disney and YouTube terminate/limit their professional relationships with him
- Pewdiepie – and many other YouTubers/commenters – defend his videos.
This is what I’m working with here.
Sometimes, I say the word “fuck” in a joke. Sometimes, I talk about sex in a joke. Sometimes, that makes people uncomfortable. They are offended by this sort of talk. I don’t like making people uncomfortable, so I try not to say such things around them. But there are people that are not like me – who don’t give a (wait for it) fuck. And that’s fine. That is a genre of juvenile shock comedy that relies on taboo words and topics to shock people into laughter, which is a perfectly reasonable – and effective – style of comedy.
But let’s make something clear:
These ‘taboos’ are based on arbitrary social norms. Lots of folks grow up in environments where a word like “fuck” is taboo. Why is it a taboo? I genuinely could not tell you. There are so many other words that mean the same thing as “fuck” – or provide the same emphasis – and yet are not considered curse words. Some people say the word “fuck,” and others do not. It does not reflect the quality of your character. Lots of jokes about the word “fuck” play on this very dichotomy.
Sex is a taboo. Lots of people don’t talk about sex. Lots of people grew up in environments where they didn’t discuss sex. Why is it a taboo? This I could not tell you. Clearly, knowing and learning about sex doesn’t make you a worse or better person. Your knowledge and openness towards expressions of sexual topics and desires does not dictate the quality of your character. Lots of sex jokes play on this very dichotomy.
Anti-Semitism is a taboo. But it is not a taboo because anti-Semitism is based in an arbitrary social norm. Anti-Semitism is a rigid concept. We know what anti-Semitism is – what it looks like, what it means, who it threatens. This is the case with all bigotry. Though our understandings of the way bigotry manifests may change and grow, the core concept remains unchanged.
Some people are anti-Semites, and others are not. This reflects the quality of your character. And making an anti-Semetic joke – even if the goal is irony – means you have engaged in anti-Semitism.
Which reflects on the quality of your character.
This is because anti-Semitism is bad. Giving a platform for anti-Semitism is bad. And we know why it’s bad. Anti-Semetism is bad because:
“Context matters. Use your fucking brain, guys.” That’s a quote from h3h3’s Ethan Klein, spoken in support of Pewdiepie. In his eyes, Pewdiepie’s anti-Semitism doesn’t matter, since it was ‘just a joke.’
Yeah, dogg – context does matter. You’re exactly right. Context is The Holocaust – the largest genocide of the 20th century, predicated on anti-Semitism. Context is why white people can’t use the n-word – because the n-word was systemically used to subjugate and humiliate an entire race of people. Context is history. Context is not intent; context is not intent because the factual weight of history will always, always, always supersede the subjectivity of intent.
A common counter-argument states that ‘we give words their power.’ And yes, this is exactly right. We do give words their power. We give words like “fuck” the power to make us cringe, but because, for some, it is too harsh a word – not a historically-predicated threat. Words like the n-word, or words like “death to all jews” have already been given their power. Their power exists in the form of violent threat – literal, figurative, and implied.
This is why, when these videos went out onto the internet, literal Nazis – congregating on websites like the Daily Stormer – celebrated the usage of anti-Semitic language – because those words hold the same power for these people, too. A white nationalist who calls a black man the n-word does so because he knows what power that word holds. When a white nationalist sees a sign that says “death to all jews,” his eyes light up – because those words hold a power for him, too.
They hold power, because he is the one who bestowed it.
I suppose, if you really wanted to make a stretch, you could call my political outlooks “reactionary.” Technically, you would be right – I am reacting. I react to things like science, and history, and diverse points of view from a diverse pool of people. My beliefs are a reaction to reality.
But that’s not what a “reactionary” is – in the popular vernacular.
Perhaps the most common comment you will see on Pewdiepie’s most recent videos – more common, even, than racial/homophobic slurs – goes something like this:
“I don’t even really like your content, but you’ve gotten my subscription – this time the SJWs went too far!”
This is your average reactionary. Someone whose views and life decisions are based in reactive opposition to the beliefs of another. Often – and this is the great irony of reactionary politics – they aren’t truly a reaction. A reaction implies change – some sort of push in one direction or another. But that’s not what these people want. They want things to remain exactly the same. They want their lives to remain exactly the same. They want a YouTube celebrity to remain exactly the same – and they want him to be rewarded for his stagnation.
I wonder, sometimes, who are the SJWs, in this instance? Are they the execs over at Disney, and YouTube Red, who chose to distance themselves from popular, openly anti-Semitic videos? Are they the press, doing their jobs by reporting on one of gaming’s most lucrative celebrities? It’s sometimes hard to tell.
“IT’S THE FAULT OF THE PRESS”
It seems that the most ire is directed towards the press, even though the folks who actually made the decision to affect Pewdiepie’s career were the corporate executives. But if you were to ask me, I would tell you that I don’t think the press is entirely blameless in this situation. Not because they were wrong to characterize Pewdiepie’s videos as anti-Semitic (because, my God, were they ever anti-Semitic), but because their journalistic failures have lent credence to his claims that he is unfairly targeted by the press.
Let me tell you something: video games have fundamentally changed the course of YouTube. Its past, present, and legacy will be defined by gaming – its most lucrative subculture.
Let me tell you something else: the games press – for years now – have failed to capitalize on YouTube – one of the most important content platforms of the 21st century. They have failed to utilize it as both a tool for content output, and as a resource for cultural reportage. This failure has killed – quite literally: ended – several game journalist outlets. They have ignored YouTube beyond the narrow scope of novelty. Pewdiepie is one such novelty – and for good reason. My God, the man makes – what is it now? – 15 million dollars a year?
But for whatever reason – be it time, resources, or marketable interest – the games press has ignored the broader YouTube gaming community. This is not because there is a lack of unique, worthwhile stories to be told – trust me, as someone who has spent a decade+ embedded in various YouTube communities, I can definitively tell you that there are plenty of interesting things going on in that scene – but outside of a few wide-eyed, gawking pieces, YouTube gaming and its culture go ignored.
Were YouTube treated with the attention it deserved, then the Wall Street Journal’s pieces would not lend credence to the idea that Pewdiepie is being targeted. If there were pieces regularly highlighting the best and brightest of YouTube – not just their videos, but their stories, culture, and character – Pewdiepie would not be able to rightly make the argument that he’s the press’s whipping boy.
Not only that, but – with more comprehensive coverage – maybe we would have a better understanding of why the comments and popular celebrities on that website are so resoundingly in love with bigotry. We would understand that Pewdiepie is not the problem – he is simply a large part of it. We would be able to look at YouTube and its culture and realize that, maybe, we should be seriously engaging with the fact that one of the current fad-faces of YouTube is iDubbz – a man whose slogan is, literally, “n*ggerf*ggot.”
So yes, the press are targeting Pewdiepie. Not because of some secret vendetta, however, but because of a sheer narrow-mindedness when it comes to covering that scene.
None of this changes what Pewdiepie has done, however. And let me say this as well: anti-Semitism is much, much, much, much, much worse than the clumsy cultural neglect of the games press. He still belongs to a culture that trades in the currency of bigotry and threatening comedy. Occasionally, he partakes in it himself – he, perhaps, should be best remembered for building his empire on rape jokes.
YouTube is terrible, and it is awful, and hopefully, one day, it will be… not this. Better, more inclusive content is finally starting to find a foothold on the mountain of shit. And just as it’s important for someone like me to criticize the existing garbage culture of YouTube, it’s also important that I build more noble people up.
And so I leave you with a list of Gaming YouTubers who make quality, inclusive content. I hope you find someone that you like. And I hope you help make YouTube a nicer place for all.