The Internet has warped the idea of “free speech” to mean “speech without consequence” and that’s simply not what it is.
Absolutely, JonTron can share a Trumpian view on immigration and claim discrimination isn’t a problem, but other people have the exact same right to call him out on it. Given how insular YouTube communities can be, it’s easy to see why some might believe they’re free from the consequences of speech, but as their entertainment empires grow and more people become aware of them, they’re going to find those consequences are very real and they hit like a sack of bricks.
With a celebrity like Kjellberg, it also invokes the idea that, if being a “fan” is part of your identity, any questioning of him is an indictment of you on at least two levels: both as a heroic independent thinker, and as a man with refined enough tastes to like the thing that you like. An exploration of your culture, whether that’s video games or YouTubers or white supremacy, is absolutely an attack on you, from an angle you’re no more likely to see than you are the back of your own head.
The title of the article was “PewDiePie Isn’t a Monster, He’s Someone You Know” before it was edited to “The Downfall Of YouTube’s Biggest Star Is A Symptom Of A Bigger Illness.” I suffer from the same syndrome of changing headlines, but I believe the first title was more appropriate.
There’s a combination of a 27-year-old with money and fame, and a regular theme from gaming culture online that it is standard and expected to say bad things and prove how little you care, that created this. It’s the smug attitude you might expect if you picture a late-90s hacker, or all of the communities on reddit, 4chan, IRC networks, and elsewhere that celebrate hate as a matter of course.
They will be up-in-arms at every attack on PewDiePie and their right to be assholes. I left one of my favorite gaming communities on IRC when it turned into a place where anti-semetic, racist, and homophobic views couldn’t be questioned. My hope came from the others that left first when we met up again in another online place.
Are they monsters? No. But you use the “monsters” to keep yourself from recognizing this about them, to avoid talking to them about it, to keep from opening the can and seeing what’s inside. You’d prefer to wait, and hope that the endpoint of the story in his case is something different. Violence, hatred, and organized activity are for the ones other people associate with, not the ones you know and love.
PewDiePie’s response, besides deleting the videos with anti-semetic messages, is that the reporters are to blame. He spends the first few minutes of the video explaining that because he’s rich, and he pushes back on “the media,” that’s why, he says, they highlighted his anti-semetic videos.
During the video Kjellberg says he’s sorry that although some people thought what he did was funny, others didn’t think like his jokes. His joke was hiring people to hold up a sign that says “Death to all jews.” It’s the kind of apology that a teacher would describe as “Not good enough.”
Kjellberg also complains in the response video that it’s a generational gap that makes people not understand his not-at-all-funny anti-semetic jokes.
Finally, Kjellberg ends the video by thanking the people that support him and flipping off the camera with a sarcastic “Thanks, Wall Street Journal.”
Kjellberg is not a monster, he’s not sorry, and he will continue to receive advertising dollars from every video he puts up. Google’s YouTube business will still get paid, as well, they only removed ads from some of his videos before but declined to remove them from YouTube. If he had actually made a sincere apology, I wouldn’t have a problem with him continuing, but without that he has emboldened his fans to make their own anti-semetic jokes and nothing has changed.