In an age of social justice and extremism on both sides of the political spectrum, the topic of racism, and particularly anti-semitism, can be a touchy one; one that many of us try to avoid like the plague. The fear of accidentally saying something we don’t mean and being brandished as an ‘ignorant racist’ or some other less-than-pleasant words, is probably one of society’s greatest fears. The ability to instantly jump to the judgement of an individual has become part of the general public’s nature, especially by those on the left. But are we being too harsh? Does the far left now mirror the zealousness of those on the far right? And is the media once again pushing out the click-bait boat?
If you’ve glanced at any news websites over the last week, you’ll have likely come across the Swedish Youtuber PewDiePie. Felix Kjellberg, 27, is responsible for the one of the most popular channels on the site, with around 53 million subscribers and nearly 15 billion video views: so it’s understandable that if something controversial happens around him, people are going to talk about it.
The whole dispute began with an article on the Wall Street Journal entitled “Disney Severs Ties With Youtube Star PewDiePie After Anti-Semitic Posts.” Right off the bat, many people will read this headline and conjure up thoughts of alt-right rallies and fascist speeches, but what were these alleged “anti-semitic” posts?
The main video in question, which has since been removed, was created to show the strange things people will do for $5. Using the site ‘Fiverr’, PewDiePie paid two men to hold up a sign saying “Death to all Jews” who then said “subscribe to Keemstar”, another Youtuber who has faced controversy in the past.
At its core, the “joke” here was the ludicrous nature of the situation. Whether this is funny or not is purely subjective, as is any joke; we all have a different sense of humour, some darker than others. These days there is a key point that many people seem to be forgetting, especially in the world of comedy: context.
In response to the outcry, PewDiePie released a new video giving his side of the story and apologising for the offence caused. He said: “I am sorry for the words that I used, as I know they offended people. And I admit that the joke itself went too far. I do strongly believe that you can joke about anything but I also believe that there’s a right way and not the best way to joke about things.”
Following this statement, an interesting point is raised. Speaking specifically about the Wall Street Journal’s article, PewDiePie went on to say: “I understand that these things have consequences – this video’s not me trying to justify that. Here’s the thing though. They don’t call it ‘jokes’. They call it ‘posts’”. And this is where it all comes down to context. Is it fair for anyone to feign ignorance and overlook someone’s intended message to support their own argument? Regardless of whether you believe this joke to be funny, or distasteful, shouldn’t we all be allowed to define the context of our own speech? It’s obvious to me that Felix Kjellberg isn’t an ‘anti-semite’ or a ‘nazi’ based on these claims by the media. At most, he made some bad choices with his humour, as do many comedians, but surely it’s overkill to attack another person so vehemently over something intended as a joke, when there are people in this world spreading actual messages of hatred?
Once again: context is key, and maybe the public’s ire should be directed elsewhere, away from a man who brings enjoyment to people through his channel’s content, no matter how bizarre you find it, and towards genuine bigotry and intolerance.
Or, perhaps it should be aimed at media outlets that rile us up with inflammatory headlines, just to increase their website traffic? Only joking of course…