How Do You Solve A Problem Like Pewdiepie?
Pewdiepie messes up. Wait I’m sorry, Pewdiepie ‘messes’ up. To mess up is to make a mistake of the minor kind — it is not a mess up to use the ’n’ word in a livestream that thousands, potentially millions can watch. Pewdiepie apologises, but to express the word as he did — when he was put on edge, by a video game no less, shows that he has to use the word outside of that context on a regular basis. I play video games, I yell — and if this was a simple ‘f’ word, or ‘b’ word, it wouldn’t be too bad — but I have never ever even conceived of using the ’n’ word, especially with the hard ‘r’ that Kjellberg that enunciated. And it’s a problem.
It’s a problem because of the fact that his fans don’t seem to care: they get that the word has negative, painfully offensive connotations and relationships, yet they excuse it. A user on Twitter replied to Twitch/YouTuber Koffee — who wrote: “No lie I could get past PewDiePie messing up previously, but not this time. Racial slurs are NEVER excusable.”—with: “Sorry have to disagree, it’s wrong to say those words, but he apologised get over it, it’s done, so everyone stop over exaggerating it thx.” There are arguments that could be used in part to back the replier up: words are socially constructed—we give them power—however the reason the ’n’ word is so bad is that the power doesn’t come from simply being afraid or offended by the word: it has deep historical and cultural ties. The ’n’ word is a word that cannot be reclaimed like other words—some use it within their own ethnic communities, but the word could not be placed outside of the context without retaining its vitriolic meaning. Yet this nonchalant way of thinking that “everyone [should] stop over exaggerating it thx” is part of a wider problem, relating not just to Pewdiepie but to celebrity culture in general.
Pewdiepie isn’t perfect — he’s human, it’s impossible for him to be. Yet his status has elevated him, at least in the eyes of some, to being untouchable. This isn’t the first time he has messed up, but it is the first time he has messed up to a damnable degree: yet his audience doesn’t seem to grasp what he has done — instead they send him messages telling him that they love him, and that they’re there for him as though he’s some little kid who just grazed his knee on the school playground. I might be exaggerating, but this kind of thinking could lead to feelings that he is exempt from any kind of wrongdoing— just like Chris Brown, and other celebrities with convictions of violence — to the point that he could quite literally get away with murder: at least from the perspective of his fans.
After the controversy he made a video — the expected apology video — in which he rhymed off various lines aimed at improving his PR image. I said when I saw he’d tweeted about it—I admit I looked to see if he’d said anything on Twitter regarding it—that I wouldn’t watch it, but I did. The video attempted to cast Pewdiepie in the light of someone who didn’t just say the ’n’ word on a livestream: he talked about how his use of the word was something he didn’t condone, how he shared the response’s mentality when he sees others doing it — yet the way he did so was to attempt to suggest that using the ’n’ word is a childish thing, not an act of even passive racism, but the equivalent to that same child on the playground who grazed their knee calling the kid who pushed them a “Poopyface”. No. It was rife with an attitude of “I’m trying not to seem like a dick or an immature brat,” and tell the world that he’d learnt his lesson…just like last time.
Yet even if there was some way to justify what he said — which there isn’t—it is his impact that has resulted in the rest of the YouTube community becoming affected also: the Adpocalypse. It was Pewdiepie’s previous misactions that led to the current crisis content creators on YouTube: it was as a result of his last controversy that advertisers were concerned about the placement of their ads on videos—and that which led to YouTube, in fear of losing its revenue, implementing yet another inaccurate automated solution in order to keep those same advertisers. Thousands of videos — some of whom, yes I can see why—spanning a great variety of different content types have now been scrutinised by a bot that often gets content wrong: content made by creators on the subject of mental health and/or disabilities have been affected because Pewdiepie ‘made a mistake’ last time.
Yet he gets away with it because the YouTube-Pewdiepie is a co-dependant one: Pewdiepie relies on YouTube’s content delivery system to remain relevant, to acquire and sell sponsorships; YouTube relies on Pewdiepie to acquire advertisers as proof that people use the site on a regular enough basis that it is financially viable for advertisers to place ads on and around videos being watched. Pewdiepie is a character, a persona, to the point that I don’t think Pewdiepie could return to just Felix — a post-YouTuber, denounced of his status and forced to get a job at McDonalds, retail, or other traditional job. Thus as a result, his YouTube has to be kept alive to prevent that from happening.
I tell you this because you should be outraged: he didn’t just swear on a stream, he used a racial slur. He wasn’t just a person of colour sharing the word affectionately with their friends: he was a white man playing a video game put in a situation that created the same sort of outburst you might expect from an argument in real life, when the person has clearly lost, but refuses to back down — thus for this to be his go-to word in times of intense stress shows that it is a word that he uses with at least some frequency that it came to mind before the ‘f’ or ‘b’ word: words he definitely uses a lot…
So how do we solve a problem like Pewdiepie? We condemn him in the strongest possible terms; we make an example that it’s 2017 and this nonchalant use of racist language is not acceptable, and has consequences even for him. If we don’t, we let his young impressionable audience believe that this language is okay. He should’ve known better.