Here’s my thought process whenever a media controversy lights up Twitter:
- Something interesting happened!
- I have thoughts about this.
- I’m gonna look online to find out about this.
- Looks like a bunch of much smarter people said everything that needs to be said about this.
- I’m gonna play a video game!
That’s why you don’t see many “topical” posts on Word Salad Spinner— I like to say something unique and insightful, even if “unique” means “the only person to talk about binders full of women in 2017.” I cycled through a lot of possible approach angles when drafting this post, including a version that would start with me blasting a lot of people I respect. Those respected media scholars I follow weighed in on PewDiePie, pointing out how the joke functions in modern society, and missed whom the actual target of the joke was.
Here’s the setup, for the blissfully ignorant about to become informed and regretful. There’s a website called Fiverr, a freelance service that, among other things, hosted two Indian entrepreneurs, called the Fiverr Funny Guys. The Guys will display and say a message in a video if you pay them. Enter PewDiePie, the record-breaking YouTuber with the most subscribers in the world, a “professional” “””funny””” guy. In his own words, he wanted to push this service as far as it would go. So, in this video (deleted from his channel, but what did he expect?), PewDiePie paid two people to hold up a sign reading “Death To All Jews.”
This video sparked discussion about shock comedy, and whom the comedic targets in the video actually were. Some say the video made fun of PewDiePie’s tendency to overdo his jokes, other claimed the antic targeted so-called sensitive PC culture from an alt-right perspective, and a few pointed out, oh yeah, Jewish people probably felt a bit hurt too. Did any of these commentators actually watch the clip? Because it’s pretty obvious (in terms of social norms, not in the context of the joke itself) who the target is.
Can you guess?
Duh! The target is Keemstar!
Keemstar runs the YouTube show “DramaAlert,” and read about it here because it’s ultimately not important. Other than the fact that Daniel Keem is a guy.
All the news articles I read forgot that the online form for the Fiverr Funny Guys service asks users to submit an accompanying pronunciation, in addition to their written message. The freelance site lacks any qualms about wrong pronunciations. So when the Fiverr Funny Guys held up the offending sign, they screamed, “Subscribe to Keemstar!” straight into the camera, just as PewDiePie asked. Maybe I have this insight because I was “””””””privileged””””””” enough to share classes with many wanna-be edgy guys, but I’ve seen this type of joke many times before.
Was this PewDiePie’s intent? I don’t know. All this commentary and controversy dances around a crappy joke. I can’t examine PewDiePie’s head to determine what he was thinking at the time. I suspect that thinking had nothing to do with the video. I write a lot of comedy and a lot about comedy, but I don’t need to take a media studies class to learn about this kind of comedy, because I used to live with it. It’s that type of enforced-cringe humor, where guys try to embarrass friends by associating them with stupid shit. If you’ve seen women do something like this with other women, please let me know, because I hope we’re not the only gender pulling that. Like I said, I didn’t learn this in a classroom. The joke here would be intact if, instead of saying, “Subscribe to Keemstar!” the “Funny Guys” held a sign reading, “I eat my own belly lint!” or “Justin Bieber > The Beetles.”
What’s the difference? With those last two examples, it’s assumed that only a tiny selection of idiots believe those ideas (and, especially with the Bieber joke, no one’s life has been or will be ruined because of those ideas). It’s universal humor: liberals who hate Keemstar would get a kick out of associating“Atlas Shrugged is a masterpiece!” with them. I wish we could assume similar things about “Death To All Jews.” Every day, as I’m discovering, someone in America realizes “Merlin’s Beard, Anti-Semitism is still a functioning ideology!” And for people that assume “No one could ever take Nazi propaganda seriously!” there’s a hard lesson to be learned when you post a silly YouTube video and Nazis start calling you “one of us” and both Disney and YouTube cut ties with you.
Some of my readers may assume Nazis are just a niche group that can never hold political respect again. Others assume they already do. I’m personally on the side of “It’s a little overblown, but holy fuck this is scary.” The Internet creates factions that paint wildly different pictures of life; with so many traditional jokes based on perspective, there’s no one joke that will communicate the same message to everyone. You’re whispering gossip with a megaphone. Online, you’ve got the spotlight every night, and every night’s a tough crowd in a foreign country that hates people who look like you. The best antidote to all this is research and empathy, a broadening of perspectives. A sappy message, but time-tested. Though I don’t mean to impress on anyone a simple answer to such an issue. Again, this is why I don’t often give knee-jerk responses to flashing headlines— I want to break the cycle.
So yeah, the difference between drawing a penis on someone’s sleeping face, and drawing a swastika there, is that no one ever pledged an agenda of race subjugation to a penis. Although they did make the pledge to plenty of dicks, amiright? Ain’t nothin’ offensive about a Nazi pun. Making fun of Hitler’s regime can be a blast if you’ve got the skill to keep a well-focused target, and the ball to do it right.
But the next time you steal your brother’s Facebook password and type “I love anal penetration” into his status bar… consider how you’re trying to tell the joke. By all means, say something, since it’s fun getting your friends embarrassed, and all brothers have it coming. Everyone can improve his or her comedy. I might one day create the funniest Holocaust joke in the world… but I’d still apply critical and discerning thought before I tell it to a Gypsy. I’m not here to tell you want to joke about. The truest thing I can say right now is, “Don’t worry about the people who won’t laugh… worry about the people who’ll nod.”