This isn’t just about Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg. This is about how certain publications have manufactured outrage over what should rightfully be classified as an irresponsible internet joke.
This is about why people don’t trust the media.
By now, you’ve surely heard about PewDiePie’s recent video showing how he paid two men $5 to make a video showing them dancing and holding a sign stating “Death to All Jews.” That is the summary of events as reported by publications following in the footsteps of the Wall Street Journal, the publication that originally broke — or some might say, manufactured — the story. Immediate reactions to that summary almost always manifest as discomfort and disgust.
That’s why Disney’s Maker Studios has severed ties with the creator and YouTube canceled his show, “Scare PewDiePie 2.” Given the way the press has portrayed Felix throughout this debacle, these decisions make sound business sense.
Polygon.com, for instance, writes, “Kjellberg is a young guy with a huge audience who loves laughing at his own messages about killing Jews, and he’s very upset the media isn’t willing to laugh along with him.” This sort of shallow discourse, however, completely misses the point. It’s easier to paint Felix as a racist and anti-Semite for a few more outrage-fueled clicks than it is to thoughtfully research and articulate the video’s context and intent.
Comparisons between Felix and Donald Trump are also common in these prime examples of yellow journalism. The Outline writes, “Taking a cue from Donald Trump, [Felix] thinks the media caused the loss of those deals and that he did nothing wrong.” But these comparisons between Felix and Trump are, at best, oversimplified.
Neither needs to work very hard to convince people that the media isn’t worthy of our trust, which points to a larger systematic issue with the media apparatus itself. Infotainment, 24-hour news cycles and the constant race to secure more clicks and thus advertising revenue have lead us to question the integrity of our press. Skepticism has become the norm, and no single outlet is trusted as a completely reliable source — not even news behemoths like the Wall Street Journal.
Mainstream media is under attack from all sides. Trump and Felix aren’t the only ones railing against it. Trump just happened to pick up on a growing sense of disillusionment that started way before his campaign, and he has been able to manipulate that disillusionment to his advantage.
I won’t downplay the horrific nature of the content in that Fiverr video. We should all be outraged that two people, splitting a $5 paycheck, would create a video calling for genocide.
And that’s the joke.
Much of the coverage surrounding the fallout from this particular video has confused trolling with hate speech — a dangerous conflation. There is, and must be, a distinction between racist rhetoric and cultural commentary. Felix’s particular brand of trolling falls into the latter category.
Or from another point of view, this joke is actually a work of performance art in which the machinery of the internet is exposed and critiqued.
Either way, the inexcusably sloppy way the story has been reported has done no favors to media organizations like the Wall Street Journal and others looking to rebuild trust in their readership, especially when it comes to younger demographics.
YouTuber Magazine is a digital periodical. Subscribe here to have the next full issue delivered for free.