What PewDiePie's "War on the Media" is Really About

By George Nolting on April 19, 2017

Image from PewDiePie’s “My Response” video

On April 9, Anime America, a popular YouTube channel that discusses Japanese pop culture, released a video explaining some of the financial difficulties the channel is facing, asking their dedicated fans to support them by making donations to their Patreon account. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. Anime America is only made up of a small group of fans and needs to rely on their fans for support.

However, framing this topic is a confusing discussion about “new media” and the history of older generations to criticize newer media. It eventually progresses to the relationship between YouTube and the media.

“The audience is declaring for a revolution against the media and how they do their jobs, so instead of evolving with the times and listening, they’d rather repeat the mistakes of our ancestors and fight us. Sadly, like with any industry. The best way to bring down anyone’s career is with scandal. Anything that can ruin the reputation of the mighty is considered a weapon to the outlet we’re supposed to trust. It first started out with PewDiePie and his failed attempts at comedy, followed by JonTron’s awkward debate that just proves he should really stay away from political debates.”

The mentions of Felix Kjellberg and Jon Jafari, better known by their pseudonyms PewDiePie and JonTron respectively, refer to two controversies the internet personalities have dealt with this year. The first was PewDiePie being dropped by sponsors Disney and YouTube Red after the Wall Street Journal reported on several instances of anti-semitic humor, particularly one video where he paid the company Fiverr to create a video where two men hold up a sign that reads “Death to all Jews.” The second was when video game developer Playtonic chose to remove JonTron’s voice from the video game Yooka-Laylee after he expressed far-right views about race and nationality.

The purpose of this article is not to pass judgment on the actions of either celebrity. Rather, it is meant to look at the aftermath of these events, particularly the “war” against the media and “PC culture” that Anime America’s narrative plays into, and how this mindset is not only misguided but also encourages the exact behavior the movement claims to be against.

In response to the controversy, PewDiePie published a video aptly titled My Response. In it, he apologizes for taking anti-semitic jokes too far but mainly criticizes the Wall Street Journal for, in his opinion, intentionally taking his videos out of context in order to attack him.

The main reason PewDiePie believes the Wall Street Journal is out to get him is because “they’re scared of us. We (internet personalities) have so much influence and such a large voice, and I don’t think they (the media) understand it. And that’s why they keep this approach to us.”

He cites a 2013 article by Variety that says If PewDiePie is YouTube’s Top Talent, We’re All Doomed as evidence of this. The article is strongly worded and perhaps unnecessarily cruel, but being talked about in a negative fashion is hardly an indication that the media “blatantly misrepresents people for their own personal gain.”

Was Esquire out to destroy The Chainsmokers’ career when they were labeled the Nickleback of EDM? No, the article is clearly an opinion piece that represents the thoughts of the author and no one else. It is the same with the Variety article on PewDiePie. The only opinion it represents is its writer Andrew Wallenstein. If people in the media don’t understand PewDiePie’s success, that is on them as individuals, not on the medium as a whole.

Furthermore, the types of content PewDiePie and the Wall Street Journal release do not compete with each other. One is a business-oriented newspaper, the other is an entertainer that focuses on video game content. It’s like trying to compare apples and oranges. PewDiePie might be more popular than the Wall Street Journal overall, but he never “stole” WSJ readers. The idea that he is a threat to journalism is asinine because he has nothing to do with journalism.

Paul Tassi of Forbes notes the disturbing similarities between PewDiePie’s comments of the media and Donald Trump, another figure that has declared the media as corrupt.

“And yet, PewDiePie and Trump’s defenses are remarkably similar, attacking the media as the aggressors, saying that by investigating this behavior and asking these questions that they’re trying to tear them down. Trump had a press event yesterday where as a sitting president, he openly berated the media, and while PewDiePie’s response video published around the same time uses less forceful language and he’s a more palatable personality, the fundamental messaging is the same: ‘The media is biased, and I’m the real victim here.’ This defense works with the core fanbase/constituency of both Trump and PewDiePie, and because it’s what they want to believe, and the narrative tearing down the trustworthiness of the media, any form of media, has been cultivated for years in both politics and gaming.”

Image from CNN

It’s not entirely fair to compare PewDiePie with Donald Trump. PewDiePie at least acknowledges the mistakes he has made on his part, and his claims that some of his videos have been taken out of context has some weight to it. The Wall Street Journal’s accompanying video to their article shows a clip of PewDiePie looking at images of his game “PewDiePie’s Tuber Simulator” that feature swastikas. Not mentioned however is the fact that these images are created by players of the game, not PewDiePie himself, nor is it mentioned that PewDiePie expresses disapproval of this, stating “Do you know how many fucking hoops we have to go through to make sure that this game won’t be censored? Because people will make shit like this? You’re not helping anyone.”

Like Trump, however, PewDiePie’s attempt to categorize the media as out to destroy his career is misguided. If PewDiePie believes his treatment at the hands of Disney and Google was unfair, he needs to take that up with Disney and Google, not the Wall Street Journal for simply investigating the matter. And while JonTron has stated that he understands Playtonic’s decision and has kept a relatively low profile since then, his fans should direct their frustrations at Playtonic if they believe the removal of his voice from the game was unfair, not the media.

Rather than try to tackle these issues with those who are actually responsible, Anime America instead shoots the messenger and paints PewDiePie and JonTron as victims of a media-facilitated “political correctness gone wrong” campaign. As they state in their video:

“If the media gets what they want, YouTube will become a censored prison where only child-friendly videos and narratively controlled content are allowed. No more will people be free to speak their minds about certain topics. No more can we address adult content and sexuality. No more freedom of speech. Just pre-approved content that we see on mainstream media already.”

What Anime America, as well as the numerous people who make the “freedom of speech” argument, fail to realize is that freedom of speech does not shield people from criticism. Yes, you’re allowed to say what you want, but others are allowed to critique what you say. If PewDiePie making anti-semitic jokes is protected by free speech, then so is the Wall Street Journal criticizing him for doing this. Not only is criticism protected by free speech, but it’s perhaps one of the most important elements of it.

The problem with the “anti-PC” crowd is that more often than not they’re looking to avoid criticism. Frankly, it’s a “politically correct” way to tell people to shut up. This is especially dangerous when figures such as Milo Yiannopoulos, who actively encourages his fans to harass trans people, claim that their freedom of speech is being infringed upon. This transforms him from an aggressor to a victim of an oppressive “SJW” regime, never mind the fact that he advocates for the oppression of a group of people. The irony of this is that by telling fans to distrust and attack the media for doing the basic investigation they’re supposed to, people like PewDiePie and Donald Trump are advocating for the censorship they claim to be against.

YouTube has recently come under fire from content creators for its crackdown on the enforcement of its “advertisement-friendly content” policy in its clumsy attempt at preventing advertisers from having their ads associated with white supremacist and various other hate groups. Many YouTubers are finding dozens of their videos suddenly demonetized for seemingly unfair reasons. Meanwhile, LGBT content has been flagged as restricted, with even a video of someone petting a cat being restricted for having the word “gay” in the title. Both the advertisers and content creators have a fair case so a balance can be found. It’s clear that YouTube needs to rethink the way it handles inappropriate content.

But the problem is not with the media for criticizing content creators that release controversial or offensive content. The problem is YouTube poorly handling this situation. In their video, Anime America states that several of their videos have unfairly been demonetized. They certainly have a right to protest YouTube’s decision to do this. Holding the media responsible for their financial difficulties, however, is an extremely simplified way of looking at this complicated issue.

Hi there! My name is George Nolting. I am currently a senior at Rutgers University with a major in English and a minor in Gender and Media. I particularly enjoy writing about issues in regards to gender, race, and sexuality and its portrayal in media. When I'm not sitting on the couch focusing on a video game or marathon-ing a television show, I'm probably spilling my thoughts out onto a Word document or notebook page.

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