With over 53million subscribers, Felix Kjellberg, better known by his screen name PewDiePie, is the biggest star on YouTube. The Swedish star’s videos have been watched over 14 billion times. Becoming famous for his comic commentary while playing video games, he now has legions of teenage fans, who he calls the ‘bro army’. South Park co-creator Trey Parker wrote glowingly of Kjellberg when he made Time’s list of the 100 most influential people in 2016, calling him the ‘most powerful artist’ of ‘a new artform’ who shouldn’t be underestimated.
This internet megastar came under fire last week when an ‘investigation’ by the Wall Street Journal (someone watched a bunch of his videos) unearthed nine examples of Nazi imagery and perceived anti-Semitism in his videos. Disney’s Maker Studios had been working with Kjellberg. And when the Wall Street Journal went to Disney for comment, it subsequently severed ties with him. Since then, he’s been pulled from a premium service and an advertising scheme on YouTube.
To describe this as PewDiePie’s ‘downfall’ or ‘fall from grace’ would be to misunderstand the online world. While this sort of scandal would usually end someone’s career in film or TV, the fallout has had no effect on his YouTube audience. Even without his production deals, he’ll still earn millions this year. He’s gained an additional 500,000 subscribers in the last two weeks alone. Indeed, he allegedly lost more subscribers, tens of thousands, after he previously posted a video where he outed himself as an atheist.
The coverage of this story says more about the media’s snobbishness towards internet personalities than any prejudice held by the Swedish star. News reports generally introduce Kjellberg as someone ‘you’ve never heard of’, often making a point of refusing to call him by his ‘stupid’ screen name. But even that doesn’t justify the way in which this comic YouTuber is being depicted. The New York Times ludicrously described him as a ‘populist reactionary’, while an Independent headline pondered ‘When did fascism become so cool?’.
The Wall Street Journal compiled a compilation of his most heinous ‘anti-Semitic’ moments, all lovingly taken out of context. The clip that’s caused the most offence, and has now been taken off YouTube, shows PewDiePie looking at a website called Fiverr, where you can pay people $5 to do just about anything. To show the absurdity of this concept, he asked two Indians to post a video of themselves holding a sign saying ‘death to all Jews’. (The duo are part of a comedy troupe called Funny Guys, and aren’t ‘poor brown people’, as described by the Independent.) At the end of the video, PewDiePie is clearly shocked they actually go through with it.