PewDiePie vs The WSJ?…yeah.
Surely if you’ve been on the internet for the past couple days, you would have seen the Wall Street Journal piece of YouTube Megastar PewDiePie titled “Disney Severs Ties With YouTube star PewDiePie After Anti-Semitic Posts.”
The main “post” or more accurately YouTube video, in question dealt with PewDiePie giving people from Fiverr $5 to hold up a sign that says “Death To All Jews.” That is if you were to believe the (lack of) context The WSJ provided to frame the article. The actual setup dealt with PewDiePie attempting to show the power of money to get people to say/do anything. The joke also ended with PewDiePie saying, “Subscribe to Keemstar.” The quick result of the WSJ piece was being dropped by Disney and Maker Studio (collection of YouTuber channels bought by Disney). Our thoughts will be at the end of this post but first we will look at both sides of the situation.
The Wall Street Journal has been around for a long time, far longer than the internet, let alone YouTube and the rise of PewDiePie, so it is safe to assume it isn’t their first foray into journalism. Add the fact that there is growing political tension reverberating across the world, especially centered around the US with Trump’s election win and between Brexit involving Europe and the UK. It really just felt like some low-hanging fruit to craft such a piece that would assuredly get massive amounts of hits. Clicks do pay the bills, after all.
Felix Kjellberg has amassed a gigantic following on YouTube to the the tune of over 52 million followers. That, according to metric site Social Blade, makes him the most subbed YouTuber in YouTube history. His “Let’s play” videos featuring overly dramatic voice and mannerisms and insanely hard work for over the past six years has vaulted him into the limelight. He has rapidly amassed his YouTube army through his let’s plays and, more recently, his comedic skits. Having said that, there’s no doubt that PewDiePie knew this joke would provide some serious social commentary, and it definitely delivered in doing so. I just don’t believe that he thought that it would explode to this magnitude.
It’s safe to say that all social commentary evolves alongside the current political climate. I feel that had the video come out long before the election, it would have produced a fraction of the uproar in which it has caused. The growing fear of our rights being taken away from us 100% played into the overall impact in which the article had, as well as being the main reason The WSJ wrote the article in the first place.
Was the joke offensive? Yeah, most would believe so. But it’s easy to see that most jokes are offensive, and that’s where they gain their staying power. Having said that, the joke was a bit tone deaf in the current political climate, and he should have noted this while editing the video. There surely could have been something else that he could have had people on Fiverr write that would have achieved a similar outcome of showing the power of money on the internet, versus using a hateful expression that could easily be taken out of context as it has. A point of contention is that people feel that it shouldn’t be joked about (true depending on how you feel), and that it would radicalize that base that truly does believe such a thing. That seems a bit farfetched; although, I do believe that the alt-right could use PewDiePie as their “icon” of sorts, even though PewDiePie himself doesn’t follow that same ideology.
Out of this whole ordeal, The WSJ certainly doesn’t come out looking good, and their shoddily edited video of their “proof” was lackluster at best. It’s also safe to say that they should be held to a higher standard, considering they are an actual news outlet. Whereas PewDiePie must realize the impact he has on his 52 million subs and the fact that they appear to skew a bit lower in age, and thus are more impressionable than older viewers.
I can’t tell you where we should or shouldn’t draw a line between what is and isn’t comedy, That would in fact destroy the foundation of satire and the real ideals that comedy was built upon. This whole ordeal reeks of a “conventional” news outlet grasping at their faltering subscribers versus a YouTuber who can reach multiple times more people and at a much more inexpensive price.
Something that has always bothered me has been the fact that we are so quick to tear each other down instead of build one another up. What PewDiePie has built is nothing short of extraordinary, but sadly more emphasis is always placed on how much money he makes or on his each and every fault. As mentioned in his “Response” video, he does indeed donate to various non-profits/charities, but that is hardly touched upon when an outlet sees a quick and easy way to gain clicks at the downfall of another.
PewDiePie probably should have been a bit more cognizant about the attention that he can command with each and every word he speaks, but I highly doubt he ever thought The WSJ would dedicate time and money to make him lose sponsorships and ad revenue. If anything, this will only work to rally his fan base and paint conventional news outlets with an even broader brush than has already been done.