Warning: There is some of discussion of anti-Semitism. Some links and images may include racial slurs, Nazis, anti-Semitism, and racism.
Something’s happened recently that’s massively interesting: Disney decided cut ties to PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg) after he posted videos with anti-Semitic imagery and statements (or “jokes”) this past month. It’s partly interesting to me because he’s made headline news for this, which is probably because he has the most subscribers on YouTube’s platform. It’s also interesting to me because he finally was shown that even jokes that utilise “ironic bigotry” have consequences.
You know, that peksy responsibility that everyone seems to conveniently overlook or outright ignore that comes with their favourite right: freedom of speech? Yeah, that one.
Now, I don’t want to focus specifically on PewDiePie because I’m more interested in the overall conversation, especially as his supporters scream about how it was “just a joke” and we’re “too sensitive” and that “none of his supporters support anti-Semitic views because they know it’s just a joke.” He’s another in a long line of people who we keep defending when they make offensive statements without even considering that there are consequences for doing so.
I’m also not interested in debating the “is he or isn’t he” question in regards to his racism; I just know that he did things that were racist. First, he intentionally selected two Indian men to do something that ended up getting them banned from Fiverr. Why? What was his logic in asking them to do this? I’m sure there were people on Fiverr who would’ve openly denied his request, as he seemingly “wanted,” because they were far more familiar with the language, the context, and the cultural issues of what he was requesting. Why didn’t he bother to ask them to do it? Was it because, as he states, he thought these guys would refuse his request? Even if it wasn’t an event intended to be racist (and that’s being polite, since it also reeks of remnants of European colonialism), we have to argue that his subconscious still overlooked the issues that these two men might have after doing what they were hired to do and selected them over anyone else; he may not have been intentionally racist, but he certainly engaged in actions that were.
As a result of his actions, these two men from a less privileged background than his own lost access to an important source of income because of a “thoughtless prank,” which also was anti-Semitic (even if meant as “ironic bigotry” or “just a joke”). People keep claiming that it was a “thoughtless prank.” The only part of the phrase that’s even remotely correct is thoughtless; he didn’t think, and that’s more than obvious. And while, yes, I know he ‘apologised’ and requested Fiverr to unban them, the fact remains that he did something he clearly knew was wrong and got two men of colour in trouble for it without first thinking of the potential consequences. He didn’t even consider the possibility that these men would do what he requested because it was”too absurd,” and he never thought that they’d get in trouble for it should they have done it at all; he’s said that he thought they wouldn’t do it. This implies that he understood it was wrong and also expected others from a different linguistic and cultural background (who state that they “did not know what ‘the Jews’ meant,” which I would believe) to have the same knowledge.
Then there’s the problem of his anti-Semitic “joke.” Since he openly acknowledges that what he did was wrong and still did it anyway, we should be able to recognise the problem. Clearly, we need to have the discussion again about how jokes shouldn’t punch down because that does nothing but support the status quo; it also does nothing except validate the people who do believe in such things (as seen above) and prompts them to act out more because they believe that others around them agree with those ideas.
In much of the discussion I see, I keep running into a few themes that I feel need to be addressed:
- What is ‘Freedom of Speech’ and how does it apply in these situations. Maybe a discussion about censorship.
- Dealing with the consequences of your ‘Freedom of Speech.’
- Impact vs. Intent and Ironic Bigotry still being bigotry.
- The rights that Disney and other companies have to sever ties with people (History, Modern Context, CSR)
There clearly are a lot more to address, but these are the ones that I feel more comfortable tackling because I’m not going to start speaking over Jewish people who have had to live with instances of anti-Semitism and have been watching its overt resurgence the entire election cycle and well into the first month of the presidency. And I don’t want to talk over people who had to watch a White House completely ignore Jewish people on Holocaust Remembrance Day, even when this is a very significant cultural event for them.
If our president is being supported by the KKK, is reported as removing them from the list of hate groups, and being linked to an increase in hate crimes, we need to be talking out and protecting people who will be harmed by such groups and individuals. We don’t need to be defending people who abuse their rights and use them to harm others; we need to be giving our support to people who are trying to speak out about actual injustices that are taking place (and ‘coming out as conservative’ and ‘having everyone ignore you’ doesn’t exactly count as an injustice, since you’re also ignoring the context of the entire situation by equating your changeable political stance to a person’s unchangeable identity).
We need to do and be better than this.