It’s Hard Out There for an Anti-Semite (Unless You’re On YouTube)

By  · Published on February 17th, 2017

Mel Gibson’s comeback and PewDiePie’s reign exemplify their industries.

Anti-Semitism on YouTube means you get a creative slap on the wrist, in Hollywood it means you direct Suicide Squad 2. Does either industry care about punishing these people?

You’ve probably heard about Warner Bros. recruiting Mel Gibson to direct Suicide Squad 2 after his Hacksaw Ridge became an inexplicably Oscar-nominated film. After his 2006 DUI arrest and subsequent anti-Semitic rant (“The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” is a highlight from the arrest transcript), Gibson’s workload lightened considerably. It took him four years to make another film and, despite mostly appearing in flops since (The Beaver, Machete Kills, Blood Father), he eventually rose from his racist ashes because producer Bill Mechanic really liked The Passion of the Christ.

And in 2006, Passion and Apocalypto were the one-two punch of Gibson as a real director after his long break since 1995’s Braveheart. He was on top of Hollywood.

Similarly, YouTube Creator Felix Kjellberg (who goes by the username PewDiePie) sat atop his platform until this week, when after a series of anti-Semitic jokes and pranks (including one where he hired two men to hold a sign saying “Death to all Jews”), Kjellberg was dropped from Disney’s Maker Studios and YouTube’s “preferred” recommendations.

Kjellberg is the most popular YouTuber ‐ of all time ‐ with almost 14.7 billion views and over 53 million subscribers. His commenters pled for him not to apologize on the video he released immediately after the decision from Maker Studios was reported by the Wall Street Journal, which continued Kjellberg’s brand of talking while he plays a video game. Though he released a video “apology” (embedded below), it seems more akin to Gibson’s anger at “members of ‐ we’ll call it the press.”

It took Gibson a decade to remove himself from movie jail, but his apologies hinged on his intoxicated state, blaming the alcohol for his racist vitriol. He apologized to the Jewish community, while Kjellberg merely wrote a post saying that he did not support hate groups. He feels a similar Gibson- and Trump-esque distaste for the media, refusing to cite his accusers because he didn’t want to “give them any more attention.” He also wrote an op-ed for Variety in 2013 in which he said “Old-school media does not like internet personalities because they’re scared of us.” You have to think that it’s because these internet personalities don’t have to answer to the same sort of institutional backlash.

Now, it’s no surprise that Gibson is back on top ‐ Hollywood knows that comebacks turn into dollars. Look at Charlie Sheen, a similar case of drug-addled racist ranting (in which he called Denise Richards “a coward and a liar and a f***** n******”) that spun his hateful insanity into a successful starring role on the Anger Management TV show. While Gibson faced a decade of blacklisting, it’s harder to financially punish someone like Kjellberg. Even when taking away some sources of income, YouTube is still providing his videos with advertisements that provide the majority of his $15 million income. Unlike with Gibson, the blacklisting isn’t there ‐ it’s a slap on the wrist.

Kjellberg isn’t an anomaly in the entertainment world, he’s just stupid and powerful enough to voice things without fear. As he says in his ‘apology’ video, “It was a funny meme, and I didn’t think it would work.” 2017 is where anti-Semitism is a meme and Mel Gibson is a hot directorial commodity.

The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi site which I won’t link here, was taken aback by Kjellberg’s brazen support of their ideology: “Ultimately, it doesn’t matter [if the anti-Semitism was sincere], since the effect is the same.” They continued, “it normalizes Nazism, and marginalizes our enemies.” 2006 was a different world. YouTube was barely public, launching on December 15, 2005 and people were outraged against anti-Semitism rather than outraged against the outrage. This is to say, backlash against Hollywood’s brand of racist entitlement is far different than the response to that of YouTubers.

Kjellberg and other popular creators sprinkle in soliloquies complaining about the platform like those sparse few harassers to actually be banned from Twitter. They feel victimized because they feel entitled to unchanging and unimpeded reign on their social media platform, regardless of what they say or do. This isn’t uncommon in Hollywood, but the close working relationship between studios, producers, directors, and stars make any unsavory comments a plague that spreads from one to the next, compromising projects along the way. YouTube is purely driven by unassociated creators, building populist mobs into an entitled echo chamber.

This entitlement is what leads the adolescent, white members of 4Chan, YouTube, Reddit, Twitter, and other corners of the popularity-driven internet to embrace anti-Semitism as a tool. Through eye-grabbing shock schlock and a shared sense of tasteless boundary-pushing, their model of reprehensibility is far different from that of Hollywood. While Hollywood’s racism is capitalistically systemic, reinforcing a white heteronormativity in the name of profits, the YouTube rabbit hole is another step removed. These creators have no sense of history, no larger worldview beyond the screen in front of them ‐ which often rewards them for their behavior.

The cult of personality inherent in YouTube’s production structure (where vloggers, makeup tutorialists, and pranksters must constantly be people-facing entities driving up their subscriber numbers) leads down dark roads not unlike that of Hollywood. However, the vetting infrastructure and history of mentorship away from bad behavior simply doesn’t exist on the new platform. No veteran YouTubers exist to explain to up-and-comers that this is what you don’t say, these are the drugs you don’t do, and these are the fans you don’t sleep with.

YouTube simply doesn’t handle its talent. The subsequent ego- and view-based anarchy relies on exploiting clickbait headlines and hostile behavior for the pleasure of millions of voyeurs. It’s why Gibson eventually apologized while Kjellberg rationalized his anti-Semitic speech as humorous transgression. It’s why YouTube creators like Gregory Daniel Jackson, whose revenge videos about his exes slut-shame and call for rape, or Mike Lombardo, Alex Day, Danny Hooper, Tom Milsom and others who’ve all either been arrested or silenced thanks to claims of underage sexual abuse, act predatorily towards their large followings of girls between 13 and 18.

Gibson may be miraculously back after a few years of unmarketability, but if YouTube doesn’t take more decisive steps towards its racist propagators, its service will embody the racist, entitled id that Hollywood’s just begun to (slowly) address.

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Jacob Oller writes everywhere (Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Playboy, FSR, Paste, etc.) about everything that matters (film, TV, video games, memes, life).