How PewDiePie "fudged the labels" to avoid anti-Semitism claims because of his YouTube videos

The comedian's claims of innocence are only fooling the already converted

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published February 15, 2017 11:59PM (EST)

Felix "PewDiePie" Kjellberg (AP/Matt Sayles)
Felix "PewDiePie" Kjellberg (AP/Matt Sayles)

PewDiePie, the YouTube comedian who made a series of videos that were anti-Semitic and pro-Hitler, is now being held accountable for his actions.

After posting a video for which PewDiePie (whose real name is Felix Kjellberg) paid two men to laugh while holding a sign marked "Death to all Jews," Disney has severed ties with the YouTube star. YouTube itself has canceled plans for a second season of his reality series "Scare PewDiePie." There have been nine videos overall that PewDiePie posted that seem to attack Jews or contain Nazi imagery.

The PewDiePie incident is reflective of a broader trend that has emerged over the past few years in the internet's political culture. The alt-right movement has used various internet forums to promote white supremacist belief systems, even as its members have insisted that their actions weren't motivated by bigotry. Instead, when called out for promoting the marginalization of long oppressed groups, these members claim to be victims of oppression themselves.

"He is experiencing exactly the same problem that the rest of us are," said popular alt-right sympathizer Sargon of Akkad in a YouTube video about the PewDiePie incident. "And when I say the rest of us, I mean anyone involved in Gamergate, anyone involved in the alt-right, anyone involved in justice Democrats, anyone involved in any kind of countercultural movement that is seeking to challenge the narrative hegemony of the progressive left."

The YouTube star has many fans on the white supremacist fringe, including the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, which proclaimed itself "the world's No. 1 PewDiePie fansite." For his part, PewDiePie has said he does not support hate groups or their agenda and his videos are essentially just pranks.

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 9.42.31 AM

PewDiePie has played the victim in the past when critics expressed concern over racism such as his penchant for Nazi imagery.

There are two particularly sinister tactics used by PewDiePie and his ilk that need to be identified: The first is what Al Franken, as a comedian, called "kidding on the square," which is when someone claims to be kidding with an offensive remark but later it becomes clear that he or she also genuinely believes in its offensive content. That's the difference between genuine satire and sincere bigoted comments.

The second tactic can be known as "fudging the labels," which is when someone repeatedly caters to the views of individuals with offensive opinions, but distances himself or herself from others holding those views.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Alt Right Anti-semitism Donald Trump Original Video Pewdiepie Sargon Of Akkad