Pewdiepie Isn’t An Anti-Semite, He’s Just a Tool

Pewdiepie Isn’t An Anti-Semite, He’s Just a Tool

Following the Wall Street Journal asking questions about repeated examples of Nazi imagery and anti-Semitic remarks in Pewdiepie’s recent videos, Disney severed all of its ties with Youtube’s biggest star. Shortly afterwards, Youtube cancelled his show and removed his channel from its premium advertising service. With the charge of anti-Semitism the Wall Street Journal took Kjellberg’s work very seriously, as is their right, and clearly his partners did so too.

It’s perhaps worth pausing for breath. Kjellberg has made a habit in recent times of ‘trolling’ the media, most infamously with his promise to delete his channel when it hit 50 million subscribers. In that case he said he’d do it, then of course didn’t, and mocked the media for reporting his initial claim. In this case it seems from the video evidence Kjellberg is again trying to be provocative and ironic, without much of a larger idea behind it, and these clips have been picked up and reported by major media as straight-up examples of anti-Semitism.

Perhaps the most important context for this is that Kjellberg’s audience is extremely young, with most being younger than 20 years old. Even if Kjellberg is not an anti-Semite, this alone makes his behaviour highly questionable: the punchline to one of these jokes is two men, paid by him, play-fighting before unfurling a sign that says ‘death to all Jews.’

Put like this, it seems stark indeed. But YouTube doesn’t really work in such a straightforward way, and great creators like Pewdiepie use various techniques to manage tone and make their jokes. Kjellberg frames himself, the rapid-fire pace of his thoughts and jokes, with surprising cuts and amusing effects that emphasise his points, alongside exagerrated facial reactions and in-jokes. Obviously a lot of the humour is visual, and about quick contrasts.

Which is how you end up with shots of Kjellberg in an army uniform, apparently watching a Hitler speech with approval, perhaps intended as some sort of absurdist miniature. You get tiny glimpses of Hitler in title screens flashed up for a second. You get Kjellberg playing games where the layout is a swastika (and he’s clearly not happy about it). Hitler and the Nazi iconography is not really about the historical reality here – it’s more about Hitler’s omnipresence online as both meme and avenue of attack. If you want to see it for yourself, a selection of clips follow.

The provocateur’s instinct has always been there in Kjellberg’s videos, but this particular strain is reacting against the extremes of political discourse. ‘You can’t do this but I did I lol!’ There’s an interesting Venn diagram to be imagined here between the Pewdiepie audience, overwhelmingly young and male (the most obvious signal being Kjellberg’s constant talk of his fans as ‘bros’), and the political extreme he’s using for the joke: the so-called ‘alt-right’ movement, which appeals to young white men in particular, whose own economic prospects are often grim yet find themselves blamed online for all of society’s ills.

There is a deep well of resentment among certain young men, and a determination to fight back – provoke, mock, troll, whatever. Some control the instinct to lash out, some might make the odd snarky comment, some go all-in, and some try to mock the whole thing but instead produce videos with signs saying ‘Kill all Jews’ for an audience of 53 million, most of whom are children and teenagers. And so this happens.

Pewdiepie Isn’t An Anti-Semite, He’s Just a ToolImage: Supplied

The above image is a popular white supremacist website which is obviously loving all this attention. This image captures that, whatever Kjellberg’s intentions, he has given succour to scumbags. On any given day, week or month a website like this will be railing against something – but it now has to sit on Kjellberg’s shoulders that he’s made a thing they can really use.

Kjellberg is not just one of the most famous faces in the world, but is now being embraced by the far-right as a propaganda tool. They see the value in these images and clips of Pewdiepie in settings with Nazi imagery and anti-Semitic remarks, which will never be used or placed in the context they first appeared. Even if it all seems cool now, I wonder what Kjellberg’s thoughts will be in a decade, two or three decades, and for the rest of his life as these images recur.

Kjellberg’s response to these events was posted on his tumblr:

It came to my attention yesterday that some have been pointing to my videos and saying that I am giving credibility to the anti-Semitic movement, and my fans are part of it as well for watching […] This originated from a video I made a couple of weeks ago. I was trying to show how crazy the modern world is, specifically some of the services available online. I picked something that seemed absurd to me—That people on Fiverr would say anything for 5 dollars.

I think it’s important to say something and I want to make one thing clear: I am in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes.

I make videos for my audience. I think of the content that I create as entertainment, and not a place for any serious political commentary. I know my audience understand that and that is why they come to my channel. Though this was not my intention, I understand that these jokes were ultimately offensive.

As laughable as it is to believe that I might actually endorse these people, to anyone unsure on my standpoint regarding hate-based groups: No, I don’t support these people in any way. Yeah, what do you mean you can’t pay two guys to carry a ‘death to all Jews’ sign in 2016?

Kjellberg’s argument is terrible: “I know my audience understand [my thinking] and that is why they come to my channel.” The man has 53 million subscribers – the idea he has some omniscient grasp of their political beliefs, how they come to his channel, or what they take away from it is self-evidently ludicrous. Either he has a worrying god complex, or simply hasn’t thought this through.

These videos have resulted in Pewdiepie being plastered across website front pages. This will be the first time some people hear of him or watch him; they may just see the image with the sign out of context. They might be attracted by the ideas anyway, and feel this kind of joking and language legitimises them. They may just be a Jewish kid, looking for some news about videogames.

Young audiences absorb what’s around them, and reproduce it in various (often funny) ways. In hindsight I’m struck by, among all the gaming community reactions following Trump’s victory in the presidential election, the Minecraft subreddit’s devotion to building walls. It’s perfect because it fits the game, of course, but it also shows how deeply this Trumpian idea has burrowed into the US psyche.

Pewdiepie Isn’t An Anti-Semite, He’s Just a Tool

And, you know, there’s a question of basic human decency here. Is getting poor people to hold up a sign that says ‘death to all Jews’ reflecting badly on them, or on the website that employed them, or on the person who ultimately paid them to do it? Is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Swede paying two Indian men a pittance to display an anti-Semitic sign “insanity,” as Kjellberg would have it? Or is it just sick?

Disney had no choice in the matter. At bottom this is a story of unchecked influence. Felix Kjellberg is good-looking and great to watch, gained a huge following through this, and therefore thinks he’s a genius. In one respect he clearly is. The problem is that, at 27, he’s become the boy who never grew up. Kjellberg’s unique position as king of the influencers would much better-suit someone who considers the consequences of his actions. He should know, better than anyone else in the world, that nothing once said is your own.

Kjellberg’s audience will stick with him, of course they will, and this will be painted as an attack by those who just don’t ‘get’ his humour. You can see why because, when it works, it really works. The Israeli-based freelance website through which Kjellberg paid for a Jesus impersonator to say “Hitler did absolutely nothing wrong” (another meme) shortly afterwards banned the account of the user involved. Kjellberg notes this news and then: “Can I just point out that it’s a little bit ironic that Jews somehow found another way to fuck Jesus over.”

As the viewer processes this line, Kjellberg immediately stops speaking, briefly looks below the camera, then back up to flash the most brilliant, photogenic smile you’ll ever see. It’s a great line and a great delivery. “No? OK…” and he moves swiftly on. Even in this context his quickfire wit comes first, and he’s telling the ‘bros’ to stay cool – I got this, and nothing’s changing.

One has to hope that this situation is a cause for more serious reflection. Kjellberg may say it’s all just entertainment, and he can hug that word close whenever reality briefly pierces his gilded bubble. But if it is, then the world’s children and teenagers deserve a better class of entertainer.

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This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour from the British isles.


  • Stanton has a knack for putting his hands into some right absolute muck at times and makes a hell of a lot of sense.

    These one-man corporations who use gaming as leverage to make themselves a lot of money and capital (watch Pewdiepie sign up to Netflix or something in future) have been allowed to get a free pass while the industry suffers as a whole simply by association.

    Nintendo’s been pilloried for its Youtube tactics, but this alone shows its reasoning. The games industry should be very concerned about those hangers-on that are making $$$ off of its hard work.

    You’d think they’d have learned after the debacles with politicians like Jack Thompson.

    Guess not!

  • It shows how immature pewdiepie still is. He also swears as much as Gordon Ramsay (If not more), which really puts me off

    • Yo wtf so your basically saying that pewdiepie isn’t allowed to me himself?? And all these articles are a bunch of crap, they just lie to put pewdiepie down, and to ruin his reputation. I can understand the swearing annoys you, but if it dose DONT WATCH HIS VIDEOS THEN honestly… I hate how these kind of articles can just think they can hate on pewdiepie! So what if he dose something wrong? ITS LIFE! You mess up once and awhile… jeez

  • when i finally tried seeing what the guy was about i watched his video of him playing a slenderman vr game and the amount of screaming, arms flailing and overacting left me dumbfounded. 15m for acting like a twat?
    Are people finally coming around?

  • I’m split on this. On one hand, I get what he was trying to do – show how offensive a thing someone would do for money – while on the other hand I get why people are pissed off with him.

    And for me, thats the problem with the whole situation. Depending on what side you land on, your argument is perfectly correct, and its hard to see the other opinion. They are almost mutually exclusive.

    He’s a knob for making his point this way, if only for the fact that enough followers wont understand the issue so might learn the wrong lesson, but the simple fact is that he does have a point. And for that, whether someone agrees with them or not, YouTube are wrong for cutting his revenue source for the reasons they give.

    • Eh, I dunno about that. Disney don’t want to be associated with somebody that makes jokes that offend a lot of people. The YouTube program that he got cut from is ostensibly meant to be a program for ‘Tubers who make sponsor/advertiser friendly content, which PewDiePie’s isn’t really, even discounting this latest set of videos.

      He’s still going to have a huge audience for his videos and make buckets of dosh – it’s not like he’s actually been deplatformed for these jokes.

      I don’t really see a problem with looking at both sides here personally, either – you can understand that something upsets/offends some people while still thinking it should be permitted.

      • Yeah, understand why Disney dumped him. They really had no choice in the matter, and I have no issue. Its that premium channel thing I think was wrong. There were two parts to this; Disney dumping him, and YouTube blocking him from that channel.

        First one, fair enough, its certainly not in line with their image, and thats played out as it should, but to censure him from the premium channel because they disagree with him is starting to get into freedom of speech areas.

        He hasnt supported any anti-semite stance, thats all been laid on him by others, he’s just done a really dick move to make a point. To me, Disney dropping him was where it should have stopped.

        • People pay Google for YouTube Red subscriptions, and then YouTube pays content creators to produce videos for the service. Google are within their rights to decide what shows they want to fund in this context. If you disagree with their decision, vote with your wallet and cancel your YouTube Red subscription and follow PDP wherever he goes next.

          It is hard to see this as a freedom of speech issue, since there are a large number of subscription video streaming services out there, and YouTube Red is one of the smaller ones.

  • If he was trying to make a point about what you can get people to do for $5 and that THAT is that punch line then wouldn’t you want to make that apparent in your video? Maybe at the end (or the start for that matter) say “Holy F$#K look what people will do, this is what is wrong with the world”.. But no he is going for shock value and going for the lowest form of comedy (if you can even call it that)… I for one am glad he has lost his YouTube show and Disney partnership, maybe, just maybe it will bring him down to earth a bit.

    • Have you seen the original video? Because that’s what it’s about and he almost says exactly that, because he’s horrified that someone actually did it.

      Pretty stupid way to make a point though.

  • Tool is too light and Anti Semite is a bit strong..n so I use a different word

    He says he isnt but, gave $5 dollars (and 5 min fame/shame) to other people to act like Assholes, so he can react to them in a video to make thousands in ad revenue.

    PDP is a Grade A asshole… he iniated, paid for, exploited, victimised, denied any wrong doing, and is blinded by his own ego that this was not in anyway wring from start to finish, and did it to profit from it.

    This is not a social experiment, its cheap form of entertainment classed as a social experiment to see what people would do for money… heres a clue Mr Industrial Economics graduate, anything if they dont have food water ir a roof over their heads… they will sell their body and soul just to survive anothe week for 5 dollars and people do even more for 5 seconds of fame… your not same sociologist or pyschotrist, your an asshole with a viewership who doesnt understand the ethics of media, war crimes or illegal human experiments.

  • “Kjellberg’s unique position as king of the influencers would much better-suit someone who considers the consequences of his actions.”

    Sure, but that’s not how the world works. He’s king of influencers because there are 50 million people who love his crappy content, and that’s what worries me.. We aren’t quite living in “Idiocracy” yet, but we once joked about Trump becoming president…

  • Kjellberg’s argument is terrible: “I know my audience understand [my thinking] and that is why they come to my channel.” The man has 53 million subscribers – the idea he has some omniscient grasp of their political beliefs, how they come to his channel, or what they take away from it is self-evidently ludicrous. Either he has a worrying god complex, or simply hasn’t thought this through.

    Or, possibly, he understands innately or consciously that people are suggestive and one of the best ways to get the people on the fence over to his side is to suggest they understand what he was doing.

    Throughout the article you’re ungenerous with his motivations, which makes sense because the latter half of the article clearly shows you coming down on the side of preferring to eliminate nuance in favor of never saying anything that can cause others offense.

    My take is that the nuance is there. A little Jewish boy may indeed be hurt for a while, but he might also grasp nuance and if there’s anything in this world people could use more of it’s the scalpel of discernment — none of which we can have if we’re going to suppress every edgy moment in all media so the little Jewish boy (please won’t you think of the children?) can avoid ever having to confront hate speech at all.

    As a gay child, I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t the rare homophobic idiots that hurt me but the mainstream and systemic nature of homophobia in the 80’s and 90’s. Anti-semitism isn’t mainstream and Pewdiepie is not a warrior for it’s cause.

    I concede that edgy humor can embolden actual neo-nazis. However, we have cherished the idea, as an enlightenment value, that ideas themselves can be passed around freely even if we don’t like them. It is an offensive, to me, to suggest we should attach more blame to PDP because the neo-nazi’s didn’t get the joke. It’s like suggesting that we can’t teach Darwin because some idiots used his ideas to make a justification for ethnic cleansing.

    We need to stop requiring our entertainers to always be “better classes”. The enlightenment is not dead yet, please stop trying to kill it. We’re capable of handling difficult ideas, even little Jewish kids.

  • I’ve had to revisit this article after watching pewdiepie’s latest video about the entire affair and have since realised how right he is and how wrong, damaging, irresponsible and attention seeking this article really is.

    I would think a site like Kotaku that usually has great, down to earth and interesting content would be more neutral and fact based than this, but that’s not the case here.

    This article reads like it was written by someone whose only research was to read the wall Street journal article (which I also have done, it’s not difficult and doesn’t take very long) and quickly skim through some tumblr posts. It’s very thin and one sided, and when there is supplied quotes taken from Felix himself you mock them or tear them down directly after.

    You take numerous liberties, as did the wsj, in the way you phrase your examples, which usually lack any kind of context or explanation AT ALL and use highly emotive language (very unbiased and factual approach) to support your own emotional response. This kind of petty ‘journalism’ paired with the provocative and clickbait-esque title is just lazy and pathetic.

    The parallels drawn with the alt right movement (another clickbait term to get the search rankings up) are so far removed it’s ridiculous. The article is meant to be about pewdiepie (at least that’s what the misleading headline says) but there are more words about the wsj article and neo nazis then about or from pewdiepie. It goes far beyond delivering a context for your personal opinion (heavily based on an article written by three other men) and seems very personal and emotionally driven, like any good today tonight or 60 minutes segment. If only it was a video, then you could have used that classic technique of desaturating an image of pewdiepie and slowing it right down, while overlaying a red stamp over his face that says liar or scum. Classic, fact based reporting.

    For anyone who didn’t know anything about the whole situation to read this article first they would undoubtedly think the worst of pewdiepie based on this hackneyed drivel, and unfairly so. That is the OPPOSITE of what journalism is supposed to be, not finger pointing or side-taking, just the facts from both sides. Your personal opinion isn’t necessary or warranted.

    What a waste of a html document, I hope you got some sweet, sweet clicks out of it.

    • Wait so because you saw a video of the guy defending himself, any other accusation has to be wrong and unfair? Here’s hoping you’re never called to be a jury… “He just said he didn’t kill all those people! The only despicable human beings here are the other juries who want to condemn him on the flimsy basis of ‘evidence’ and whatnot!”

      • Have you seen the original video? Have you seen the explanation video? Have you tracked the timeline of events? Have you read the wsj article and can blatantly see the inaccuracies, cherry picking and out and out lies?

        Because it sounds like you have just read this article and made up your mind based solely on that. How ironic.

        My statement above isn’t about whether someone is guilty or innocent, pewdiepie obviously is guilty of making a joke in bad taste, I’m not disputing that, but this article is incredibly bias and opinionated and really just sticks to one side of the story. That to me is not journalism at all.

        • I’ll agree that the WSJ article wasn’t great. However, I heard PDP’s explanation video and I’m not convinced. The fact that shortly after consequences started raining in he tried to create new channels to circumvent them speaks to me of a person who is not really sorry (or even understands why he should be sorry) of what he did, but of having been caught and experienced consequences.

          That’s why those consequences PLUS the public repudiation seen here and in other outlets is important. Some people just don’t have a strong moral compass (and that’s the best I can find within myself to say about him) so regulations and the threat of loss of social standing are necessary tools to make such people behave in humane-like ways, even if it doesn’t come naturally to them.

  • Not sure about him not being anti-semite. A LOT of his “jokes” seem to go in that direction. At the very best I can stretch what his penchant suggests, he’s a troll that likes an easy target.

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