Image Erosion: PewDiePie’s Predicament

Is it really okay to do or say whatever you want?

When you’re relatively anonymous, you can probably get away with saying just about anything you want. You might find yourself appealing to a specific audience even, which helps you build your image in the public’s eye.

This is what people do to become identifiable personalities. They find their niche and capitalize on it. It’s what I’m trying to do with Falcon Game Reviews, and it’s what YouTube personalities do with their channels. Gaming content creators in particular do all manners of things to get people to pay attention, from doing reaction videos to destroying consoles.

Your personality becomes your image. It’s how people see you; and as a public figure, it becomes who you are. Your image becomes you, and who you are on a personal level gets drowned out.

YouTuber Noob-tubes Himself

That’s right, I’m talking about PewDiePie. He’s recently been in hot water for his actions on his YouTube Red show, where he paid two men to hold up signs with an anti-Semetic statement I won’t repeat here, and on multiple occasions featured Nazi rhetoric and statements about Hitler.

So Google and Disney dropped their support of him.

But was it wrong for him to do what he did? Well, that depends on your perspective. If you find irreverent and dark humor offensive, then yeah… it was wrong. Google and Disney cutting their ties with PewDiePie is ample evidence of that, because regardless of the intent of his sketches, those organizations didn’t want to be affiliated with him in light of the offensive nature of his work. He was getting reamed by the media for his comedy sketches, which were casting a negative image on him. Naturally, they wouldn’t want to be viewed as potentially enabling Nazi rhetoric. Google and Disney weren’t wrong to stop endorsing him because they were protecting their interests; they are trying to maintain their image in the public’s eye.

But his show’s content isn’t all that different from the likes of Louis CK or George Carlin (comics that I genuinely think are funny) though, comics whose sketches include jokes about all manners of controversial subjects. Where’s the difference though? Irreverent comics use similar material as a way to shock their audience and elicit laughs over how deplorable it is. Their target audiences were generally older folks, where PewDiePie built his empire on a viewer base of teenagers. That’s probably why Disney, a company aimed at capitalizing on young people, was so drawn to him.

PewDiePie’s subscribers might have thought his content was funny, because they appreciate his brand of humor, but Disney obviously didn’t want to get caught appearing to endorse a personality that can potentially draw in Nazi sympathizers (regardless of that actually being the case). Google followed suit once the public appeared to be turning on him.

Comics like Louis CK and George Carlin would not be the types of guys that would be approached by family-friendly or socially-conscious companies for sponsorship deals in the first place, nor would those comics likely accept sponsorship deals anyway. Irreverent and offensive humor can be lucrative for some, but only when you aren’t beholden to someone to maintain a certain level of marketing friendliness.

Biting The Hand That Feeds You

Imagine if Falcon Game Reviews took off and became a big deal in gaming media (one can dream). Picture that it cultivated a large and diverse audience of readers, ranging in ages from teens to older folks from different backgrounds. Say it was eventually endorsed by big companies like Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony (which is something I’d never allow) and I began receiving funds and goods to advertise on here. Then with all that endorsement being pulled in, I started making extremely sexist jokes as a focal point of one of my pieces.

Those endorsements would dry up faster than a glass of water on the surface of the sun. Would some people think it’s funny? Probably. That doesn’t mean that a large corporation would want to be affiliated with me though, and I wouldn’t blame them for dropping me if that were the case, because they have their own public image to worry about.

What’s To Be Gained From This?

The fun thing about the internet is that you’re really able to express whatever opinion you want; the only restriction is how you want to be perceived. If you want to be seen as accessible to a diverse audience and reap the benefits of it, then your content has to be friendly to that audience. If you want to get sponsorship deals with a company, you need to do things that make the company want to do business with you. If you turn around and start saying and doing things that don’t reflect the type of behavior that your sponsor wants to be associated with, don’t be surprised when they part ways with you.

What’s to be taken from this recent debacle is that the things we (including myself) say and do have consequences, as they should. Being held accountable for our words and actions isn’t a bad thing. I’d actually like to think that being held accountable keeps me honest, personally. If you have an image to uphold in your audience and a certain reputation to maintain to keep your funding, then you need to live up to those standards. Otherwise, you need to be comfortable with the idea that things may not work out for you in the end. Eroding your own image for cheap laughs or shock value may work for some, but only when they aren’t being held to a standard by anyone funding them.

What do you think? Is what is happening to PewDiePie unfair? What do you think the threshold for appropriate and inappropriate content is for a content creator? 

Sources: WSJ.com and GameInformer.com

 

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19 thoughts on “Image Erosion: PewDiePie’s Predicament

  1. Is it ok to say/do whatever you want? Within reason. Is it ok for a company to drop an individual why they feel what they say/do is at odds with their values? Absolutely.
    Having said that, whilst I don’t agree with what he did, I do feel the media that doesn’t understand YouTube personalities are vilifying him rather severely. There are comedians that have made edgier content than this.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Like many others have pointed out (including Geddy), it looks like it’s the controversy of the month.

      As unfair as the situation is, it still feels like PewDiePie shot himself in the foot. Support of him relied on a certain image to exist, and it appears that a few media organizations destroyed that image in a matter of days.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. He’ll have a huge fan base after this regardless and the ad revenue will still keep rolling in. I don’t for a second think his life is over, but this may well be a big setback due to him being careless in a time when comments and actions like these are under increased scrutiny.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Everything he did was taken completely out of context by some pseudo-journalists working for a popular brand of bird-cage lining paper called the Wallstreet Journal, who then took this information, blew it up to get clickbait ad dollars, called it “news,” and then cornered Disney into dropping him so they could capitalize on it and make a few bucks. How is that not sleazy?

    No, I don’t think any of that is right. A couple of nobodys that should be arranging GIFs into lists for Buzzfeed cut a content creator’s income stream to make a name for themselves, by taking clips of what he said and rearranging them to make him look like a racist. I believe that’s called slander. Or maybe it’s libel, I don’t know. But it’s modern journalism in a nutshell.

    h3h3productions had a great take on the whole thing, who is both Jewish and a good friend of Pewdiepie. I’m not personally a fan of the Pewds but I am a fan of Louis CK and think that everyone needs to stop taking life so seriously.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for pointing me to h3h3, their video is definitely worth watching regarding the subject.

      I really don’t have any issues with PewDiePie’s actions honestly (though I don’t find him entertaining), but I don’t have an issue with Disney or Google either honestly. It makes sense from a business perspective to distance themselves from the issue, though it’s clear that media organizations are trying to capitalize on the opportunity to draw in readers. Why they approached his backers is beyond me though.

      I think if anything, he’s positioned to make a true competitor for YouTube at this point. He has more than enough subscribers to make Google regret their decision.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I mean, I don’t have any issues with anyone except the WSJ. It’s like with modern journalism there’s a constant race to be the most negative, and who needs that in 2017? Everyone is already negative enough thanks to the news. That’s why I deleted Facebook and focus solely on writing happy content now 😀

        Side note – h3h3 is a terrific channel btw! Highly recommended. They make excellent content.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Just a comment on comedy… There’s a difference between “making a sexist joke” and “joking about sexism.” The first one will piss people off, and the second one will get people to realize how ridiculous sexism is. George Carlin’s humor worked because he was using humor to point out ridiculous issues in society, not directly insult people or say inappropriate things and then “har-har-har it was a joke get a sense of humor.”

    From what I know of the situation, PewDiePie wanted to see if he could get people to hold up an offensive sign if he paid them $5.00. Maybe he was trying to make a statement on how people will do anything for money, but paying people to do racist things is not “funny.” This was not “joking about capitalism,” this was “telling people to make racist comments.”

    I’m not Jewish, but I live in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Recently, I drove past the local temple and saw swastikas and “kill the Jews” graffitti’d on the signs and buildings – a recent happening since the election. At any rate, that phrase is not a joke, and he is not “joking about racism.” The point he was trying to make about capitalism (or whatever) was a good one, like I said, but it was not handled well.

    Having said all that, I think the media has been a little primed for racism and sexism to be on the rise, especially with the recent election of a certain racist, orange menace.
    …But I prefer the NY Times, anyway 😉

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Fantastic point about comedy in general. I’ve seen people attempt to defend PewDiePie by claiming that the intent wasn’t to be racist, but intent isn’t important in the long run. Sure, he may have said that pointing out how screwed up society is was his goal, but like you said, there are so many other ways that could’ve been handled.

      As Geddy was saying though, I think this is something that (despite being an incredibly poor attempt at satire, in my opinion) got blown WAY out of proportion by opportunists seeking for a big scoop.

      Also, I’m fairly certain that WSJ and Fox News are from the same company, which might explain a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha yeah. I do agree that this was blown way out of proportion; part of the issue is that these “negative” stories are shoved down folk’s throats and then the message/unintended message/anger spreads like wildfire. While I think that people should be intolerant of intolerance, you also need to pick your battles wisely.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I believe everyone has a right to express their opinion, which extends to making whatever joke you want to make. However, there’s a corollary to that statement; that is, if you have the right to express yourself, others have their right to react to that expression – positively or negatively. Those opposed could prove to be wrong in hindsight, but they were still within their rights to react the way they did (assuming they did nothing illegal or harmful, of course). I think that second part really trips a lot of people up; there are more than a few internet personalities for whom you can tell they try to have their cake and eat it by expressing an opinion while also expecting their audience to be on the same page only to be genuinely shocked when they’re not.

    Now, I’m not convinced he’s any sort of anti-Semite. The biggest source from which I personally take the most umbrage it is that the joke was painfully unfunny – it had poor delivery and a weak punch line (in other words, par for the course). What I am convinced of, based on his history, is that he really doesn’t think things through, and if he ends up having to face a major consequence for that joke, it’s nobody’s fault but his.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You hit the nail on the head about reactions. While people have the right to say what they want, that doesn’t mean that people have to be okay with it. I think that’s where people are getting bogged down in part, because there seems to be large contingent of people that are mad at Disney and Google for dropping support of PewDiePie.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Yeah, I’m mostly with Red Metal and Athena on this – with the caveat that I’ve not seen much of pewdiepie.

    I’ve actually defended comedians and comedy many times before, because I think they/it can play an important social role by pushing boundaries, but a) that’s not a free pass, and b) there’s a degree of responsibility inherent within that relative freedom. People like Louis CK, George Carlin and the late, great Bill Hicks have sailed very close to the wind at times, but they were smart enough to know it, and more importantly here, they knew most of their audience were smart enough to get it. I don’t think either of those things apply in this case. Add in the current climate, and I think the best you can say about pewdiepie is that he was incredibly foolish and careless.

    There also seems to be an element of him having “form” in this area too – which makes the above more of a thing, precisely because even if it is satire, recurring themes can have the drip-drip effect, and you’ve got to be aware of that as an entertainer, and you’ve got to act accordingly. He uses “out of context” as his defence, but I’d argue he’s equally dammed if you take this in the context of the frequency – and frequently insensitive – way he’s used this particular kind of shtick.

    In contrast, in the film “Borat”, Sacha Baron-Cohen used Anti-Semitic language and themes to highlight and expose important points, and in one memorable scene, he did so by knowing his audience wouldn’t get that it was satire, perhaps even that’d they’d be happy and willing to assume that it wasn’t satire. Notwithstanding the fact that Baron-Cohen’s Jewish himself, he succeeded in making his point, and he exposed (and made us face up to) uncomfortable truths – so that both worked satirically, and justified the “offensive” nature of the language and themes within that particular context.

    If pewdiepie’s “point” was about ‘people doing anything for exposure/money’ (or somesuch), he could have used any number of other “punchlines”, and if his point (like Sacha Baron-Cohen) was to expose people’s racism and/or indifference to it, getting people who don’t even understand they’re being racist to be racist just doesn’t cut it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Bingo. He could’ve made his point in any number of ways, but using anti-Semitic rhetoric when he’s already supposedly been accused of being anti-Semitic just wasn’t smart. As Athena said above as well, making racist “jokes” that aren’t funny don’t really work for the point he was supposedly trying to make.

      I remember seeing someone else’s take on the matter too. They made the point that PewDiePie (an extremely wealthy man) paying impoverished people (who were ignorant of what PDP was asking) to do what he asked them to do was not only crass, but also comes across as a rich man playing with poor people as if they are toys of his.

      Entitled is the word for that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, I’ve spent the last hour or so reading/watching various things about it, and I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion this was a full-on dick move on quite a few levels, including the crass/entitled one.

        Also, not for nothing, I’ve lost any sympathy I might’ve had for him, given that his “apology” video contains about 3 seconds of contrition, followed by a full 10 minutes of why this is all only happening because the “old-school” media’s out to get him.

        Pro-tip: if the media’s out to get you, don’t post any shit that could even remotely be considered racist, fucknuts!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m really a fan of the idea that you reap what you sow. If you’re a public figure, whether it be celebrity or even someone in a position of authority in a company or a classroom teacher, you have a certain duty and responsibility to conduct yourself a certain way or move on. Freedom of speech is a right to everyone in the free world, but it doesn’t mean that you can spout stupidity or offensive/hateful stuff and expect everyone to accept what you say without consequence, especially not the people who’re paying you! People can cling to free speech all they like, but there’s also something called being a decent human being that should go hand in hand with how people go about their lives and in interactions with others.

    In my own working life, if I were to spew racist or sexist comments, I’d be walked to the door and given a swift kick in the ass on the way out, and that’d be on my shoulders alone. When companies take you on, they have expectations of you, whether or not they’re spelled out in a contract. People can control what comes out of their mouths, so I don’t feel sorry for PDP at all. When you think about the work that goes into a skit or a gag, it takes planning and meditated thought. It wasn’t just a whim thing. He had to sit down, think about it, plan it and execute it. Somehow after all that, he still thought it was a good idea to marginalize a group of individuals that probably help pay his “salary”. He deserves every bit of the fallout he gets.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I don’t know much about Pewdiepie other than he makes lots of cash. Comedy is a subjective thing. What one person finds hilarious another person will find offensive.

    The way things are at the moment I bet some of the people who were appalled by the sign would laugh if the banner had instead said “kill Trump.”

    Liked by 1 person

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