In theÂ YouTube clip, a pair of South Asian men wearingÂ costume loincloths held up a banner that read, âDEATH TO ALL JEWS.â
They danced and laughed, while in a separate screen the YouTuber named FelixÂ Kjellberg (also known by his stage name PewDiePie) covered his mouth with his hands.Â âI donât feel too proud of this, Iâm not going to lie,â Kjellberg said in the Jan. 11 video, which had been viewed more than 6 million times before its removal.
Kjellberg, a 27-year-old Swedish comedian, had paid the men to hold up the sign.Â âIâm not anti-Semitic or whatever itâs called,â he said as he watched. âIt was a funny meme, and I didnât think it would work.â
Kjellberg is the most popular YouTube star on the planet. His videos have been viewed collectively more than 14 billion times. With such a massive audience came lucrative advertising and business deals, working withÂ YouTube and theÂ Walt Disney Co.
In 2016, Disney had given Kjellberg free rein over his own YouTube network, called Revelmode. Revelmode fell under the umbrella of Maker Studios, a collection of thousands ofÂ YouTube channels that Disney acquired for $500 million in 2014. Kjellberg was the most-watchedÂ personality in the studio. That was, until Monday.
Maker Studios dropped Kjellberg on Monday after a Wall Street Journal investigation highlighted the anti-Semitic sign, as well as eight other videos that included anti-JewishÂ jokes or Nazi images.
Kjellberg âshowed a clip from a Hitler speech in a Sept. 24 video criticizing a YouTube policy, posted swastikas drawn by his fans on Oct. 15 and watched a Hitler video in a brown military uniform to conclude a Dec. 8 video,â the JournalÂ reported.Â The newspaper also noted that he played the Nazi Party anthem in a Jan. 14 video before he bowed âtoÂ swastika in a mock resurrection ritualâ; in a Feb. 5 video, Kjellberg gave a âvery brief Nazi salute with a Hitler voice-over saying âSieg Heilâ and the text âNazi Confirmed.â â
Maker Studios explained its decision to sever ties withÂ Kjellberg in a statement to Variety. âAlthough Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate. Maker Studios has made the decision to end our affiliation with him going forward.â
Kjellbergâs videos are mostly popular with a young, under-20 viewership. His YouTube clips regularly accrue hits in the millions. A December video, âDELETING MY CHANNEL,â was watched 29.2 million times. Kjellberg, who became famous for playing video games while providing frenetic commentary, has since diversified his videos into skits and bizarre performance comedy.
A Jan. 10 video, for instance, showed Kjellberg and another 20-something manÂ slicing open a Furby with a hot knife before they incinerated the toy with small blowtorches. Kjellbergâs mother, as The Washington Post noted in September, has gone on record as not being able to identify what madeÂ her sonâs work comical.
TheÂ video that included the men holding an anti-Semitic sign was the result of Kjellbergâs stunt using Fiverr, a website where users can pay freelancers small sums to perform odd jobs. The duo who recorded the video, the Fiverr Funny Guys, apologized Jan. 16, sayingÂ that they did not understand English well enough to grasp the meaning of the banner.
Kjellberg, in a post on his Tumblr accountÂ on Sunday, argued that his viewers would not construe the videos as attacks onÂ Jewish people. âI know my audience understand that and that is why they come to my channel.â
He denied that he was trying to makeÂ âany serious political commentary,â he wrote. âI 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 â That people on Fiverr would say anything for 5 dollars. I think itâs important to say something and I want to make one thing clear: I am in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes.â
Perhaps his immediate YouTube audience found the clip to be in jest, butÂ observers elsewhere interpreted the video as anti-Semitic. TheÂ Daily Stormer, the white nationalist and neo-Nazi blog, posted an article Jan. 12 applaudingÂ Kjellberg.Â âHe could be doing all this only to cause a stir things up and get free publicity,â the Stormer wroteÂ in a now-unavailableÂ post (except via a cached version). âUltimately, it doesnât matter, since the effect is the same; it normalizes Nazism, and marginalizes our enemies.â
Such normalization troubled Jonathan Vick, an Anti-Defamation League associate director who spoke to the Wall Street Journal regarding PewDiePieâs videos. âJust putting it out there brings it more and more into the mainstream,â Vick told the Journal.
The Washington Post was unable to reach Kjellberg. On his Tumblr, Kjellberg acknowledged that âthese jokes were ultimately offensive.â
Kjellberg distanced himself from the Daily Stormer and other anti-Semitic groups. âAs laughable as it is to believe that I might actually endorse these people,â the YouTube starÂ wrote, âto anyone unsure on my standpoint regarding hate-based groups: No, I donât support these people in any way.â
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