The Line And Where To Cross It
In the past month, The Wall Street Journal’s Rolfe Winkler, Jack Nicas, and Ben Fritz released damning articles targeting YouTube star PewDiePie, who’s real name is Felix Kjellberg. As YouTube’s most popular creator, Kjellberg has posted over 3100 videos, posted over 6 years. The Wall Street journal writers identified nine (9) videos over the last six months they found to be anti-Semitic.
In these videos, Felix showed clips of two men holding a sign saying “Death To All Jews”, and a man dressed as Jesus saying “Hitler Did Nothing Wrong”, among other inflammatory comments. Kjellberg has pushed back on these articles in later videos, stating that while he understands the videos can be viewed as offensive, he meant no harm and doesn’t hold anti-Semitic feelings. In short: they were jokes gone wrong. Despite his refutations, Kjellberg’s contracts with Disney’s Maker Studios and YouTube Red were dissolved.
Kjellberg accused the Wall Street Journal of foul play, stating they contacted Disney and YouTube about the alleged racism first, forcing their hand to react, before contacting him for comment. If true, that would mean the Wall Street Journal used its position as a news organization to push the writers’ moral agenda. You can view PewDiePie’s response video below.
This poses the question of where news organizations, as a whole, sit in our society. News reporters should be asking the tough questions and get the full truth, a quest to be completed without pushing a personal, moral agenda. These needs can often times be at odds. Writers are, indeed, human beings, prone to bias and even the occasional mistake. Is it the job of the news media to decide when a joke has gone too far? The question “where is the line” is a question we as writers need to answer all the time.
At the same time, a comedian, or any person telling a joke, needs to ask themselves the same question. The line between funny and offensive can be nebulous, depending mostly on the audience. PewDiePie’s audience is mostly teenaged video game fans, and to them (even to me as an older guy who plays his 3DS sometimes, if I’m honest), these were obviously dead-pan humor. However, to another audience, perhaps like Jewish people who have recently experienced a spike in anti-Semitic threats and crimes, these comments are inflammatory and dangerous.
The line shifted for Felix when he started moving towards mainstream companies such as Disney when his persona was not quite ready for it. I want to make it clear, I believe Kjellberg when he says he is not anti-Semitic. He has a dead-pan absurdist sense of humor, which is arguably common among Millennials. An errant joke does not make someone an anti-Semite and it is not the job of the news media to classify someone as such.