Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg has spoken out against “old school media” for its role in stoking controversy around his content, singling out The Wall Street Journal for “cornering” his former commercial partners.
In an 11-minute video published today, Kjellberg discussed what he saw as a “joke [that] went too far,” admitting that he misjudged the video's tone. “I do strongly believe that you can joke about anything, but I also believe that there's a right way and not a best way to joke about things," he said.
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However, any contrition evident in the video was counterbalanced with firm accusations that the flames of controversy were fanned by “old school media” frightened of the growing influence of voices on platforms like YouTube. "We have so much influence and such a large voice, and I don't think they understand it,” he said. “And that's why they keep this approach to us."
On the subject of The Wall Street Journal's original story, Kjellberg said: "This whole thing is not a post, it was an attack towards me. It was an attack by the media to try and discredit me, to try and decrease my influence and my economic worth."
Kjellberg accused the WSJ of “forcing” Disney and YouTube to sever commercial ties, and argued that to, “portray me as anti-Semitic is doing no one a favor. You're targeting some Swedish guy that tries to be funny, most of the time it doesn't really go well - very offensive - but he means well. Is there any hate in what I do? No. Absolutely not."
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Ultimately, Kjellberg closed the video with a statement of defiance. "I'm still here. I'm still making videos. Nice try, Wall Street Journal. Try again, motherfuckers."
In addition to being dropped by Disney-owned Maker Studios, Kjellberg has now been removed from YouTube's Preferred advertising platform for contravening rules on "advertiser-friendly content guidelines", which clearly forbid the use of "controversial or sensitive subjects and events, including subjects related to war, political conflicts, natural disasters and tragedies, even if graphic imagery is not shown", something which the star's recent posts have obviously contravened.
The Preferred network offers priority access to high-profile YouTube stars, allowing advertisers to contact them directly and place specific adverts. Being delisted from Preferred will not mean that there is no way for the videos to make money, but it sends a strong message about the nature of the content and Google's view of it. As well as that delisiting, YouTube has also cancelled a second series of a reality show featuring Kjellberg.
"We've decided to cancel the release of Scare PewDiePie Season 2 and we're removing the PewDiePie channel from Google Preferred," a statement from the company reads.
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Maker Studios has cut ties with Felix "PewDiePie" Kjellberg after the YouTube star released a number of videos containing material deemed offensive and, at the extreme, antisemitic.
"Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate," the company, which was acquired by Disney for $500 million in 2014, said. "Maker Studios has made the decision to end our affiliation with him going forward."
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The WSJ said that the content of nine videos since August last year had alerted Maker Studios, with three videos published during January having now been taken down. A particularly contentious video, released on January 11, featured two men holding a sign bearing the slogan, "Death to all Jews." Kjellberg instructed the men to do so after finding them on the freelancer community Fiverr, with all three subsequently banned as a result. Kjellberg later made a bid on Twitter to have the accounts of the two men reinstated.
Kjellberg has responded to the situation directly, addressing the allegations that he is "giving credibility to the anti-Semitic movement" in a post on his Tumblr page. "I was trying to show how crazy the modern world is, specifically some of the services available online," he said. "I picked something that seemed absurd to me - that people on Fiverr would say anything for 5 dollars.
"I think it's important to say something and I want to make one thing clear: I am in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes."
However, the precise intent of Kjellberg's decisions remain somewhat obscure. In the same post, he insisted that he sees his video content as "entertainment, and not a place for any serious political commentary. I know my audience understand that and that is why they come to my channel. Though this was not my intention, I understand that these jokes were ultimately offensive."
Kjellberg gained more creative control over his videos when he launched his own network, Revelmode, in partnership with Maker Studios in January 2016. At the time, Maker said it was "thrilled to be doubling down with Felix."
That it has unravelled so quickly, and in this exact manner, is surprising. In April last year, Kjellberg seemed keen to make a clean break from what he saw as the immature humour that defined his early years.