The Internet, Pewdiepie, and Why Context Matters

Photo Courtesy of Youtube/Pewdiepie

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one with an opinion when it comes to the recent controversy surrounding Pewdiepie/Felix. But as someone who consumes the Internet as much as I do, and who happens to be a fan of Pewdiepie, I think it’s important to put my opinion out there. Just to, you know, strike a balance in the extremely one-sided reports we have floating around the world wide web at the moment.

If, like me, you get bombarded with information via your social media timeline — it’s likely you’ve seen a couple of headlines that tells you how Disney (via Maker Studios, I believe) recently ended their relationship with the biggest Youtube star over reports of anti-semitism in his videos.

This is a huge story, and unlike most Internet controversies — it’s not limited to the Internet’s inner circle. Mainstream media such as the Wall Street Journal, Guardian and even the New York Times have already picked it up on their respective sites. You can find in-depth articles and analysis about what this means and how it came to be and why a joke isn’t just a joke by doing a simple google news search.

Anti-semitism is NEVER OKAY. And while we’re at it — any discrimination, hostility, or hateful act based off someone’s race, religion, ethnicity, culture, national origin, gender, sexuality, class, or disability is NEVER OKAY.

But this is why I want to argue that context matters, and while we can dismiss this whole Pewdiepie controversy as just another famous white dude picking on the little guy because… the Internet, we actually can no longer afford to do so.

Our world is constantly changing, and much of it is due to the fact that technology has transformed our lives. Technology continues to develop at a tremendous speed and we’re frankly still learning how best to utilize it without draining or losing ourselves in the process. Humanity has a lot to learn, and our catch-up pace is a lot slower than we dare to admit.

Acquiring information has never been easier, but this has also gave way to false circulation of information, and what I like to call as a limited-perception complex that feeds off our existing biases. What do I mean by the latter? The vastness of the Internet allows us to shape it to cater to what we already believe to be true. So if you’re a fan of “My Little Pony”, you can find all things related to that and create your own little cocoon where thanks to the Internet you can actually meet other people who shares the same interest as you. While that’s all fun and wonderful, it also means that if you’re racist you’d probably find a handful of people who happen to share your opinion hence reaffirming your preconceived notions of people belonging to other races. It’s ironic because the masses of information should pave way to open-mindedness and understanding, but the way we consume it has ultimately paved a dangerous path where biases and false information lurk and thrive.

What does this have to do with Pewdiepie?

I can’t say I know Felix and as much as I’d love to have him and Marzia (his girlfriend) for lunch just to talk about life and everything in between; as far as I’m concerned he’s just a famous guy on the Internet whose jokes and personality makes me laugh and whose honesty of late has actually provoked the way I think about Youtube personalities and public figures in general.

I’ve been subscribed to his channel for years now, and truthfully I adore the guy. He’s funny, unfiltered and more often than not — scared shitless when playing horror video games. But his contents have shifted a little bit in the past year or so. He’s created a lot more contents that are critical of Youtube as a platform, of the way people perceive him as a public figure, as well as just how ridiculous the Internet can sometimes be. Now, the videos that have severed his ties with Disney are, in my opinion, an example of that last bit.

Neither you nor I can deny just how insane it is that we live in a world today where people would say hateful things, or do something they may not fully understand or mean through a request on a website, for a price. This is such a perfect example of the ‘crafty’ ways we make money in the 21st century, though it also says a lot about the economic struggles people face that led them to make these choices.

One of the videos identified by The Journal featured a man dressed as Jesus Christ saying, “Hitler did absolutely nothing wrong.” In another, Mr. Kjellberg hired two men to make and display a sign that said, “Death to All Jews,” according to The Journal. — The New York Times

So we’ve come to the gist of it all. Journalists are writing lengthy articles criticizing Pewdiepie and his anti-semitic jokes/imageries. These opinions are likely to be based solely on those ‘controversial’ videos, and what little they know of him — as a guy who made millions off of Youtube, who screams and curses at his audience and plays games for a living. And though I do not know Felix, I think it’s fair to say that he’s a dedicated content creator who’s recently come out of his shell and provided the Internet with a dash of brutal honesty that, while not for everyone, can be deemed as necessary in our fast-moving world.

[ Felix has written a post on Tumblr responding to recent reports of anti-semitism in his videos]

the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

Pewdiepie uses satire to try and get his messages across. Sometimes he takes it on a whole new level that may be difficult for people to perceive as satire, because his humor/exaggeration touches on the most sensitive of topics. Does that make what he did okay? The answer would be a resounding no, but it does serve to get you to think — if you’re not limiting yourself to only those videos and instead appreciate Pewds for the contents he create.

This is why context matters, and also why I believe the Internet has grown so complex that it’s difficult to take anything at face value. As Youtube’s biggest star, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that he knows how the Internet works and how low people’s attention span really are that sometimes you need to create something bizarrely extravagant to get people to talk about some real issues. Is his brand of satire effective? Depends on who you ask; though I personally think that while it has the potential to be (and is, to a certain extent) effective and sadly is the only solution we have right now to criticize the world we live in, we need to think of better ways to send our messages across. It’s an issue that everyone needs to brainstorm on.

[I seem to recall that in his videos, Pewdiepie has expressed frustration that his audience and the mainstream media do not seem to get what ‘satire’ is.]

Take into account the fact that he’s probably trying to deliver this message specifically to his subscribers, who “know” him. Which isn’t a really strong argument because his contents are available for anyone to see, but you can’t deny that he’s probably targeting his own audience. Pewdiepie’s been running his channel for almost seven years and has garnered the largest number of subscribers on the platform — other people may not be a fan of his work, but there about 52million+ people who (arguably) adores him for his contents and personality, so what does that tell you?

It tells me that we live in a world so full of a disarray of information, that it’s becoming more difficult to evaluate anything as it comes your way.

Put this story side by side with a recent controversy surrounding Vogue’s ‘yellowface’ spread featuring supermodel Karlie Kloss, and my mind takes a second before it implodes. Because it’s frustrating, don’t you think?

Photo Courtesy of Vogue

Vogue is celebrating its 125th year anniversary as the world’s leading fashion magazine; its experience as a mainstream, well-respected publication should’ve probably been enough as a source of wisdom telling them yellowface is not okay. If you’re saying you embrace ‘diversity’ on that particular issue and then using a white model in some basic Japanese spread — it really just shows how out of touch with reality you are.

And YES, people — this is the real world. The spread of information has never been faster, and accessing them has never been easier. I argue we don’t assess them enough. This is why we can’t just dismiss the whole Pewdiepie/Disney controversy as just another racist internet story, because the way we consume our information may lead us to the uncomfortable fact that we have to rely on certain controversial tactics in order to get people to realize just how bizarre our world is.

And this is just from the Internet point of view. I haven’t even gone down the rabbit hole of actual mainstream media, and how hoaxes have somehow been so much easier to spread than I ever thought possible.

When it comes down to it, is it truly a debate between good and bad intentions? I think intentions can be difficult to narrow down, and this is why I argue that context matters. Knowing who’s speaking about certain issues, when and how they speak about it, as well as what they’ve stood up for and their strategy when speaking to an audience is just the beginning of a long list on how meticulous we need to be when we consume information in the digital age.

It’s so interesting how we want technology and yet we are not ready to carry the burden/responsibility that comes with using said technology. If anything, this Pewdiepie/Disney controversy has only brought me to a better understanding on how individuals need to inform themselves in the best way possible and not simply rely on circulating reports and headlines that may not contain as much information as you’d think.

I do believe that Pewdiepie can deliver his messages in a better way, but maybe he’s still working on that. As someone who makes a living off the Internet, I don’t think he’s doing a bad job in actually getting people to think about certain issues while still being in the public eye. [ Check out his video on Forced Positivity ]

Another note to consider — creating engaging contents is a lot of hard work. The way that mainstream media reports on this debacle seem to show how little they appreciate what he does for a living, which some people may consider an incorporation of preconceived bias.

I also understand why Disney decided to severe their ties with Felix. No one wants a bad rep, right? And sooner or later, the company will be bombarded with requests to end the relationship anyway if it didn’t already happen.

The Internet is a wonderful and scary place. How we use the Internet today, and how we utilize all these information accessible to us will determine the shape of our future. It’s not looking very bright right now, but I’m still holding on to hope.

Edit: On 16 February, Felix uploaded a video response on his channel, which you can view here.