The internet has been a universal medium for free expression since its inception, and platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. allow access to every type of media in the world. Social media has opened many doors in terms of efficient communication and countless connections to people. However, such widespread information and limitless exposure can cause major consequences when freedom of expression is questioned. In recent events, YouTuber Felix Kjellberg has been under fire for a joke with obvious anti-semitic content.
Kjellberg, also known as “Pewdiepie,” has over 53 million subscribers on YouTube, giving him more exposure than any other YouTuber. So, when he published a video with the message “Death to all Jews,” there was serious backlash from news outlets and people offended by his remarks. Although explaining in a another video that he is not anti-semitic, and that the joke was purely for comedy’s sake, Kjellberg has been suffering huge setbacks as a result. What I wonder, is at what point do racist comments, intended for comedy, elicit negative repercussions.
In terms of offensive and/or racially prejudiced “jokes,” when can comedians be reprimanded for racism? In Kjellberg’s case, he saw very real consequences of his actions to his brand. The Wall Street Journal published an article that accused him of being a Nazi and exemplified other Pewdiepie videos that featured anti-semitic overtones. Although Pewdiepie has used his powerful platform to reject any accusations of racism and apologize for his distasteful joke, Disney cut ties with Kjellberg after a long affiliation. Similarly, YouTube has cancelled the second season of his YouTube Red show, “Scare Pewdiepie.” Clearly, one joke has meant damage to his reputation and his work detrimentally.
Racism extends into comedy, protected by freedom of expression and the nature of jokes meant to push social boundaries. Kjellberg’s joke cost him heavily through negative publicity, but what about standards of comedy? Are stereotypes and prejudice free reign for comedic effect? I believe that comedy will continue to exploit race as a means for shocking content, and the world will continue to delineate a line that determines whether or not a joke goes too far. However, at what expense does this kind of comedy affect minorities? Can these continuous microaggressions foster a world that is equal to all races?