The situation of Disney severing ties with YouTuber PewDiePie due to videos featuring anti-Semitic comments has once again thrown the issue of controversial humour into the spotlight. This is a tricky issue for everyone involved, from fans, to Disney and even to YouTube themselves, who dropped the most subscribed channel’s YouTube Red series. Clearly any material that is anti-semitic is a problem, so the debate is about whether or not the context of the anti-Semitic jokes makes them acceptable.
The video that attracted most criticism featured the YouTuber, real name Felix Kjellberg, paying two men to hold up a sign which read “death to all Jews.” He did this using a website called Fiverr, through which people provide various services for $5. PewDiePie’s justification for the video was that he made it to showcase the absurd lengths that people will go to for money on that website.
As someone who is a fan of controversial humour I think it is always important to consider whether the shock value in the joke contributes an interesting point, or if it is simply offensive for the sake of it. This particular stunt is definitely the latter. PewDiePie could have chosen from any number of ridiculous statements to have had written on the sign, rather than using one that he must have known would offend people. And the idea that people on the internet will do anything if you pay them is hardly a revelation, rendering the video even more unnecessary. PewDiePie himself even apologised and admitted that he went about it the wrong way, saying that “the joke itself went too far.”
While I believe that PewDiePie was wrong to post the sign video, some of the responses to the controversy have been over the top. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement that Disney were severing their ties to Kjellberg, there was a seemingly endless clamour of people competing over who could claim to be the most outraged by the video. That hysteria simply isn’t helpful. Anyone who looks at a situation like this with an unwise, offensive joke and extrapolates to form the conclusion that PewDiePie is a Nazi-sympathiser needs to gain some perspective. Ultimately, a comedian made a serious error of judgement and was understandably dropped by the two biggest companies he worked with. He acknowledged his mistake and seems to have learned from it. Kjellberg should certainly think his jokes through more carefully in future, and hopefully his critics will allow him to develop.