YouTubers Say The Darndest Things

On celebrity and consequence.

This is acclaimed actor Richard Gere, star of such movies as An Officer and a GentlemanPretty Woman, and The Mothman Prophecies.

I’d like you to imagine something for me. Imagine if one day, while being interviewed, the Golden Globe winning performer suddenly started repeating neo nazi talking points, ranting about societal “purity” and how immigrants need to come from “compatible” places.

Imagine if Richard Gere supported noted racist Steve King, specifically defending the phrase “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

Keep imagining.

Imagine if Richard Gere appeared on a livestream where he seemed to have a complete mental disconnect from reality, claiming discrimination can’t happen in America while simultaneously arguing that white people are being “displaced” from the country they built and wealthy black people commit more crimes than poor white people.

At this point I don’t want you to argue over what has been said. Just imagine Richard Gere going on this whirlwind tour of racially provocative statements.

What do you think would happen after he was done?

Do you think the press would ignore it, think it unimportant because he’s “just an actor” and pass it over for other stories?

YouTuber JonTron behaved the way our hypothetical Richard Gere did, and his frankly stunning outbursts were reported on by a number of outlets, primarily Gizmodo, which has been surprisingly pilloried for its decision to report on the things a notable person said and did. Totalbiscuit accused the publication of stirring drama and providing a “moral sermon” in its report. Boogie2988 declared JonTron a target of vindictive self-styled good guys who did bad things.

Neither men defended Jon’s views (how the fuck could any reasonable person try?), but they did express a shared sentimentality that Jon was seized upon by a hypocritical press with a sociopolitical axe to grind.

JonTron’s controversy comes off the back of PewDiePie’s departure from Maker Studios following a prank in which he had two Indian men hold up a sign reading “Death to all Jews.” This was reported on by the Wall Street Journal, prompting PewDiePie to fire back at what he considered a hit piece singling him out and painting him in an unfair light.

In an “apology” video, PewDiePie spent most of his time defending the joke, claiming it was “taken out of context” and that outlets like the Wall Street Journal are out to get him. He claimed reports on his “just jokes brah” did more harm than good because it didn’t focus on actual problems and real racism.

“Personally, I think they are the ones normalizing hatred because there is actual hatred out there,” Mr. DiePie suggested. “Instead of celebrating my show getting canceled, why don’t we focus on that instead? Why don’t we focus on some real issues?”

Again, I’d like to return us briefly to my thought experiment. Imagine Richard Gere publishing a YouTube video in which he had men hold a sign up reading “Death to all Jews” and laughing because the men holding the sign didn’t understand the English language. Imagine the reaction to that.

For one thing, it would be more than a few online articles talking about the situation. CNN, FOX News, the goddamn BBC would be all over that story like flies on shit. Richard Gere is a big deal, a hugely well known actor, and the very idea of a man that influential doing anything so incomprehensibly stupid would turn quite a few heads.

This is to say nothing of what would happen if he pulled what JonTron pulled. Let’s be perfectly honest – Richard Gere’s career would be over. You can survive an unsubstantiated rumor about slinging a gerbil up yourself, but parroting racist views on livestreams?

And yes, some of the outlets covering Gere’s behavior would be hypocrites to criticize him for it. But they’d do it. Oh how they’d do it in droves. And let’s be honest, not a one of us would be surprised about it. In fact, we’d all be talking about that time Richard Gere went fucking postal on the Internet.

What Fantasy Racist Richard Gere did makes Michael Richards’ notorious outburst seem almost considered, and I think we can all agree the former Seinfeld star won’t be getting a major role in House of Cards anytime soon.

Keep all that in mind, and now remember that JonTron and PewDiePie are more relevant to a younger generation of people than Richard Gere will ever be.

PewDiePie has over 54 million subscribers. More kids recognize him than Jennifer Lawrence. Somehow he is surprised the media would cover him doing something shocking and offensive. JonTron has a less titanic three million subscribers, but that’s still an incredible amount of people watching and he’s still more important to young audiences than many “mainstream” media sources now.

These men are bigger than Richard Gere. In many ways they’re hotter than Hollywood’s hottest. The idea they wouldn’t start making headlines when they say and do outrageous things is beyond naive and perhaps speaks to how utterly unprepared for fame they are.

For me, there’s no point debating what JonTron said. His defenders can claim he was “taken out of context” but there’s no real context that justifies some of the shit I’d heard with my own two ears. They weren’t jokes, they were beliefs. And yes, he absolutely has a right to those beliefs, just as much as anybody else has a right to find those beliefs vile and disconcerting

They’re the views that would tank the career of someone who isn’t lucky enough to have their foundation on YouTube, where the professional consequences rarely amount to more than a momentary dip in subscribers.

JonTron and PewDiePie, while lamenting the hit jobs being performed on them by an evil Old World Media that hates those Young n’ Crazy Rebels, fail to realize quite how fucking lucky they are to live in a world where what they did amounted to a bit of a bashing in some blogs before the world moved on.

The fortune inherent in that situation is nothing short of miraculous, given the entertainment careers that have imploded across the decades before YouTube found a home for everybody.

Kramer, ya were born in the wrong decade, bud!

[Note: To emphasize, I am not saying that what PewDiePie did and what JonTron did are on the same level. I believe PDP’s video was intended to be humorous but a very, very bad idea. I think JonTron was just fucking gross. However, the naive reactions they both had are absolutely comparable]

Basically, YouTubers need to face the reality that with the fame and fortune they worked so hard for comes caveats. Once you start influencing millions of minds, of course people are going to notice when you do something that crosses a line. PewDiePie, JonTron, and those defending them seem taken aback, horrified even, that the likes of the Wall Street Journal would bother with them, that they’re being focused on instead of “real issues” without realizing they are the issue now.

They’re the next generation of celebrity, and guess what, celebrities get talked about.

Celebrities get talked about a lot.

“Sometimes people are gonna say things you don’t like,” explained Boogie in his video. “People are gonna have ideas and opinions that you don’t enjoy.”

This is true and it works both ways. One opinion and idea that several big YouTubers don’t enjoy right now is that YouTubers are relevant enough to make headlines and become international controversies. One opinion and idea that several big YouTubers don’t enjoy right now is that, no, you can’t share your racist beliefs and expect nobody to argue back.

The Internet has warped the idea of “free speech” to mean “speech without consequence” and that’s simply not what it is.

Absolutely, JonTron can share a Trumpian view on immigration and claim discrimination isn’t a problem, but other people have the exact same right to call him out on it. Given how insular YouTube communities can be, it’s easy to see why some might believe they’re free from the consequences of speech, but as their entertainment empires grow and more people become aware of them, they’re going to find those consequences are very real and they hit like a sack of bricks.

YouTube has seen more individuals than I can count skyrocket to fame without managers, without marketing departments, without agents, without people telling them when to stop or how what they say and do could impact the world as well as themselves. I do truly believe that some of them don’t understand how important they actually are, and that their surprise right now is genuine.

But this is the reality of the situation. You are celebrities now, and that doesn’t mean you get to say and do whatever you please. Just like an office worker can’t call their boss a shithead and expect to keep their job, so too can a JonTron not start spouting alt-reich rhetoric and expect Gizmodo not to write about it.

Just ask yourself from now on, “Would Richard Gere get away with it?”

If the answer is no, perhaps engage the brain before the words just come a-tumblin’ out.

Piratepoots
Guest
Piratepoots

You know, I am one of the people who says Jontron just really sucks at talking in an unscripted situation and under pressure, just likely didn’t get his points across very well, but this article is everything else I’ve said. Neither of these guys had an easy time after after they did what they did and rightfully so, because even if you screw up your words, choosing your words before you open your mouth is important and if you know you can’t debate well, you shouldn’t put yourself in that situation. And don’t even think about posting to twitter without… Read more »

Bence Solymosi
Guest
Bence Solymosi

You’re very on point with this, but just to specify a few aspects: I don’t know how pewdiepie thinks about this, but the problem with the wall street journal article was that they researched his videos and pointed out “facts” such as him pointing in a way so thathis hand is outside the screen and could may be doing the nazi salute, which you could argue is a little defaming. The joke itself wasn’t even what you said it was. It wasn’t good, no, but it was meant to show how much bullshit you could get away with and how… Read more »

09philj
Guest
09philj

The press are the more important issue here. People are always going to do and say stupid, hateful things. What happens next is largely down to how journalists handle it. If they continue with the current trend of hyper partisan, buzzword ridden political treatises, moronic culture wars are only going to be propagated more and more violently.

Unfortunately, I also can’t blame the press, because they’re only trying to make money in a difficult market, and it’s the increasingly politically illiterate population who are demanding that the press absolutely has to endorse their views or it’s SJW/alt-right rubbish.

Blort
Guest
Blort

At no point did you even cover what JonTron even did that was supposedly so heinous. The point of view that there should be ‘consequences’ for someone self-employed tweeting about his political beliefs is fucking disgusting, dude. I can’t believe you’re perpetuating this lynch mob or harassment and abuse.

You’ve certainly lost a fan in me.

Stephen Mc Devitt
Guest
Stephen Mc Devitt

We live in an age in which an evil racist eldritch abomination in spray-tanned foreskin barely held together by an ugly ugly toupee as leader of one of the powerful countries in the world. In this day and age, it’s harder to be a minority (female, gay, trans, non-white, non-Christian) to be able to go through a day without some form of discrimination, whether it’s passive-aggressive or being assaulted. PewDiePie as well as shows like South Park and Family aren’t helping. If anything, they’re normalising bigotry without realising it. They’re hurting their minority fans who have to deal with discrimination.… Read more »

Will Bertazzo
Guest
Will Bertazzo

Absolutely agree Jim. I’m sick to death of this “You can’t say that to me because I have free speech” mentality that the internet’s Trumpians and SJWs (real SJWs, not people who like a piece of media with an lgbt character) spread all over the damn place.

Grey Wolf
Guest
Grey Wolf

I want your baby.

Lewis w
Guest
Lewis w

I said this same thing about the PewDiePie controversy. Whether or not he meant what he did, and whether or not he realises how popular he is are irrelevant. He says dodgy stuff like that, and then gets surprised when his sponsors drop him. I think he and Jontron still think they are just wacky teenagers who hang around in their bedrooms playing videogames all day, and don’t want to take any responsibility when things go south.

Paul C
Guest
Paul C

Jimbo doin us proud

Mauricio Rodriguez
Guest
Mauricio Rodriguez

Jim, I believe you’re downplaying the way these outlets have been responding to these controversial messages by these youtubers. Yes, you’re absolutely right in saying they have a right to their opinion, and express it, just as much as anyone else has a right to call them out for it. HOWEVER, the opposition to these opinions is usually overloaded with buzzwords and very little actual substantial arguments. It is a very different thing, to say “JonTron is wrong because this and this and that” than to say “JonTron is a racist misogynistic bad person and is stupid and you is… Read more »

Sir TapTap
Guest

Great job, Jim, one of the best pieces I’ve read about this whole deal. Amazing how few people think before they speak and don’t want to take responsibility for their own words.

Afroduck
Guest
Afroduck

While I disagree with many of Jontron’s opinions, I do not think that his statements are by definition racist and I have actually gained respect for him as making his views known took balls. His views encourage discussion which is always good in my book and I’m glad that we live in a time that he can ‘get away with this’. Come at me nerds.

Elderlygoose
Guest

I now have a mental image of Richard Gere as the Jimsaw killer.

CyanManta
Guest
CyanManta

This is what I needed to hear more of in the wake of this JonTron shit. Pewdiepie I can understand because I can see the context and realize it was a poorly planned joke; plus, the WSJ did, in fact, refuse to offer the proper context in their response. JonTron… no. Jon, you do not get the same benefit of the doubt. There is no context in which what you said could be “just a joke.” You spoke your mind, you got shit for it. That’s how the world works. In the court of public opinion, people are not entitled… Read more »

BAH!
Guest
BAH!

Of course, Jim, you realize you’re going to have to acquire a Miniature Fantasy Racist Richard Gere for your podium, right?

222464
Guest
222464

Hello, I agree with most of this, but have some quibbles. I don’t know enough on the JonTron situation to comment, but I “saw the evidence” for the PewDiePie one and would like to comment. Some points: – What PewDiePie did is not in his best interest, and was obviously a bad move. The correctness of the move is another question. – By the logic of “Don’t expect them not to be criticized”, we can also say “Don’t expect to not have internet backlash”. I don’t really see the point in this argument, as it goes both ways. – I… Read more »

Reclusiarch Reclu
Guest
Reclusiarch Reclu

Absolutely perfect editorial, Jim, I honestly can’t believe that this kind of double standard is a thing people are willingly fighting to keep as status-quo…

Every time I think I can’t love you more, you surpass yourself with stuff like this, you truly are an inspirational figure, at least to me.

Camilo Fernández
Guest
Camilo Fernández

Damn, hypothetical Richard Gere is a [♪SKELETON WARRIORS♫]…!

Bright Spark
Guest
Bright Spark

I will not comment on the PewDiePie-part, simply because I don’t usually watch his content and had no strong opinion about him one way or another before the media covered his recent actions. Also I haven’t seen the “pranks” myself, so I don’t feel like I could contribute to that part of the discussion in any meaningful way. JonTron’s racist outbursts however are a different story. I was a fan since a good while before Game Grumps and watched his content until he started focussing more on terrible movies, so I was quite shocked when I read Jon’s tweets because… Read more »

sand
Guest
sand

Totally agree Jim. It’s shocking to me how many fans defend bad behaviour by their favourite youtuber. Like when people defended Syndicate and the other guy over the gambling scam. These guys need to be called out for doing the wrong thing because as you said, they are celebrities and they do influence young minds. Glad you did this piece.

Sylentmana
Guest
Sylentmana

Before me lies a vast bog so dark and murky that it makes other issues seem like a merry jaunt through the park. I dare not attempt a crossing.

Beathil Tenchijeff
Guest
Beathil Tenchijeff

A very well written and thought out article. 7/10.

Wellsy487
Guest
Wellsy487

Very well put together piece Jim. My wife and myself have different opinions on PewDiePie’s video, and though we both felt that the WSJ did take captions out of context, I believed that his “joke” about Jews was just stupid, and proof that sometimes these content makers need to be monitored. I have a wicked sense of humour (as most people would if fans of yourself) but there wasn’t anything funny about that video. It should be a wake up call for Pew to think a little bit more about what he does, not just complain that people don’t like… Read more »

Fionntan Conway
Guest
Fionntan Conway

Thank you for speaking out about this. While JonTron’s comments were incredibly shocking to this long-time fan (now unsubscribed), it was even more shocking how other Youtubers tried to defend them, and then criticised others for reporting his racist tirade. Yes he is entitled to say what he likes, but he is not above criticism. You are absolutely right in saying that when you have a platform like JonTron’s, you also have a responsibility.

I would be very interested to hear your take on the recent Colin Moriarty Twittergate.

ebyef
Guest
ebyef

Great article, but what I really come here for are the tags:

> Please Don’t Be Mad At Me Again Reddit
> You Got Yourself A Racism Problem There

Best Tags 2017: Jim Fucking Sterling, Son.