It’s hard to know which is more embarrassing to have to write: the words “YouTube star” or the silly name “PewDiePie.” As it happens, the latter is an example – indeed, the prime example – of the former: PewDiePie, a 27-year-old Swede whose real moniker is Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, is the biggest of all YouTube stars.
It happened fast. A drop-out from a technology college, he tried unsuccessfully to get an apprenticeship at an ad agency. Then, six years ago, while working at a hot-dog stand, he posted the first of his homemade videos, of which he’s now made several hundred. By August 2013 he was the most subscribed user on all of YouTube. His videos routinely get millions, if not tens of millions, of views. He’s now accumulated a total of over 14 billion views. He makes tens of millions of dollars a year off of this stuff.
Now, many a discerning adult, if confronted with one of Kjellberg’s videos, might scratch his or her head over the young Swede’s success. It’s not exactly witty or sophisticated fare – and that’s putting it mildly. But his followers (largely teens and tweens) love him. In any case, his immense success led the folks at Disney to sign him in 2014 to a lucrative contract.
For a while there, he seemed to be moving from triumph to triumph.
But his smooth ride hit a bump – at the very least – on February 14, when Rolfe Winkler, Jack Nicas, and Ben Fritz published a report in the Wall Street Journal about Kjellberg’s videos. Their investigation had been spurred by a recent incident that had caused a brief and limited flurry of controversy. On January 11, Kjellberg posted a video on which he explained that he had found two young Indian guys online who offered to display a message while dancing in the jungle – all for the price of five dollars. He sent them five dollars, and, doing what he had paid them to do, they danced and laughed on camera while holding up a banner reading “Death to All Jews.”
After showing the footage, Kjellberg told viewers: “I didn’t think they’d actually do it. I feel partially [!] responsible…” He then broke into giggles and said he had to give the guys “five stars” for doing what he’d asked. “Let me know if I should do more of these,” he said. “I don’t feel good….I’m not anti-Semitic…It was a funny meme…I swear I love Jews, I love ’em.” But the contrition, if that’s what it was, lasted two seconds. He did, after all, post the video – which to date has logged more than ten million views.
As the Journal reporters discovered, this was not an isolated case. Several of the videos posted by Kjellberg during the last six months, it turned out, contained “either antisemitic jokes or Nazi imagery.” If he had any real regret about the “Death to All Jews” incident, it had dissipated by January 22, when he posted a video showing “a man dressed as Jesus saying, ‘Hitler did absolutely nothing wrong.’” In another video, Kjellberg wears a Nazi uniform while watching a video of Hitler. At least once, he invited viewers to draw swastikas.
After the Journal‘s article came out, Disney cancelled its deal with Kjellberg. He didn’t have much to offer by way of a defense. All his “jokes,” he insisted, were offered in a spirit of innocent fun. The “Death to all Jews” thing was an effort to show “how crazy the modern world is.” One chilling revelation was that the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, according to The Guardian, had “run a series of articles about the YouTuber, describing him as ‘our guy’” and praising his work because “it normalizes Nazism, and marginalizes our enemies.”
Is Kjellberg a Jew-hater? Maybe, maybe not. But the ease and reflexivity with which he resorts to Nazi and anti-Semitic tropes reflects a mindset that has prevailed in his country throughout its modern history. During World War II, Sweden, which was officially neutral, aided the Nazis in a number of ways. Also, while the wartime king of Denmark famously stood up for his Jewish subjects against the Nazi occupiers and his Norwegian counterpart, Haakon VII, went into exile in Britain for the duration, Sweden’s king, Gustav V, happily socialized with Hitler. Today, Swedish Jews are routinely terrorized by anti-Semitic Muslim immigrants, and many of those Jews are fleeing the country to save their skins – a disgraceful state of affairs that very few gentile Swedes bother to speak up about, and that the Swedish media largely ignore.
Which raises the question: does Kjellberg ever “joke” about Islam? We suspect not.