Tech Columnist Fruzsina Eordogh published an article on the YouTube millionaire PewDiePie.
This week may have been YouTube millionaire and Swedish citizen Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg’s worst week ever, and it’s all because of Nazi jokes (and how normal 4chan humor has become to some). Kjellberg lost his ties with not just Disney and his MCN Maker Studios, but also his ad status on YouTube as well as his show Scare PewDiePie, which was wrapping up season 2 on YouTube’s Red network, after the Wall Street Journal issued a report on his content library from August of 2016 onward.
HOW EXACTLY DID THE MOST POPULAR YOUTUBER IN THE WORLD?
How exactly did the most popular YouTuber in the world think it was okay to make jokes using Hitler imagery at a time when the US is seeing a spike in hate crimes and hate groups related to the Trump presidency?
Well, besides being unaware of the political climate across the Atlantic and that he had become popular in the U.S. among hate groups, Kjellberg was playing to an audience of people who had grown up online and not only understood but expected Internet shock culture.
First originating online on primitive message boards related to hacker culture in the 80’s (See Epic Win for Anonymous: How 4Chan’s Army Conquered The Web, 2011 and Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, 2014), this type of shock culture, also known as trolling culture, where people try to be as offensive and disgusting as possible, has proliferated online in the modern era on sites like 4chan and 8chan (hence the name “Chan” culture) as well as reddit and YouTube. Think “shitposting,” being an edgelord, and heavily trafficking in outrage, whether it is real or manufactured, you or the trolled target. All those Downfall parodies on YouTube are but a taste of this kind of humor that also includes homophobic and racist slurs, lots of curse words, dicks, sexy anime babes and swastikas. It’s old hat, bores many people these days and most grow out of it, but that doesn’t mean the culture, or the language and imagery, have gone away.
THESE VERY SAME SHOCK HUMOR TROPES
In fact, these very same shock humor tropes have persisted among younger generations in part because of their taboo nature and dark meme status. As Kotaku’s Patricia Hernandez noted, they continue to show up in gamer and YouTube phenomena to this day. Dark shock humor has been a staple of web since AOL Online CDs, has been a fan favorite of teenagers for more than two decades, and children have literally grown up on it. This dark humor isn’t just limited to young men in angry corners of the web, as Jacob Clifton in his Buzzfeed piece posits, it is anywhere and everywhere. Nor does it make people who subscribe to it, or don’t get riled by it, monsters. Take, for instance, young college student and artist MousMuse, who in an interview wrote of the Pepe meme showing up in Nazi drab, “with all the filth of the internet, it’s just not that shocking.” (MousMuse does not support Trump either, and I wouldn’t classify her as a monster.)
THIS IS WHY KJELLBERG, A PRODUCT OF THE INTERNET?
This is why Kjellberg, a product of the Internet, thought he could get away with doing a comedy bit where he compares people who participate in the YouTube Heroes Initiative to Nazis in red MAGA hats. This is why, when Kjellberg paid $5 on Fiverr for two men in India to dance with a banner “Death to all Jews, subscribe to Keemstar,” his audience, and the YouTube community, laughed at the joke, not just because of the ridiculousness of Fiverr, but because Keemstar as the butt of the joke is a mass-hated and often mocked YouTuber. To these people, and to Kjellberg’s audience, hating on Jewish people never factored into it — everyone in that community agreed long ago that kind of language in sincerity was wrong. Paying people to do ridiculous things on Fiverr is also a popular prank, on places like 4chan, no less.
Pandering to this audience, Kjellberg thought he could safely make a video about how the media is always taking his jokes out of context and portraying him as an actual Nazi watching a Hitler speech in a military uniform. A reasonable assumption that proved to be ridiculous, when the Wall Street Journal actually used that same exact footage to call Kjellberg’s videos “anti-Semitic posts.”