YouTube’s most popular star, Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg, is at the center of yet another controversy regarding something offensive he said during a video broadcast. No, he didn’t pay another pair of random people to hold up a “joke” sign reading “Death to all Jews” — though that did really happen.
This time, what he did wasn’t intentional. This time it was a slip of the tongue.
Here’s Kjellberg during a livestream broadcast on Sunday: “What a f—ing ni—r! Jeez! Oh my god! What the f—? Sorry, but what the f—?”
That was Kjellberg’s reaction during a moment of frustration while playing the popular PC survival game “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.” After saying the racial slur, he seemingly realises what he said. “Jeez, oh my god” is his immediate reaction after realising what came out of his mouth. He quickly laughs it off and moves on.
What’s so striking about his use of the word isn’t his hard R pronunciation — which, by itself, is striking and crazy — but that it accidentally slips out. Usually, words like that don’t accidentally slip out if you don’t use them.
In other words: What’s so particularly troubling about Kjellberg’s slip up isn’t just that he made it — it’s that it was possible at all. It likely indicates that either Kjellberg is using the word “ni—r” in private, or he’s around people who are.
His colleagues on YouTube, and many of his fans, seemingly miss that crucial point. Here’s YouTube personality Daniel “Keemstar” Keem defending Kjellberg in a video he posted to Twitter on Sunday evening:
The point many of Kjellberg’s fans are making, as well as what Keemstar is saying above, essentially breaks down to this: “What someone says in frustration isn’t a reflection of who they are.” That’s true, and Kjellberg simply using a word with such a disgusting history doesn’t make him a racist.
That word coming out by accident in a moment of frustration does, however, likely make him someone who’s comfortable with using that word. As one Twitter user concisely put it on Sunday evening: “PewDiePie wouldn’t have accidentally said the n-word unless he comfortably says it when he’s not on camera.”
Another explanation being given is that, in the heat of a video game, gamers often use horrific language.
As someone who plays games online, I can confirm this is a fact. In fact, anyone who’s ever played a game on Xbox Live, or PlayStation Network, or any other online gaming service with voice chat and matchmaking knows that the voice channel is full of toxic, profane language, including racial slurs like the one PewDiePie used.
There is of course a major difference between swearing at someone and using a racial epithet, and many playing online video games have been able to separate the two.
While playing “Overwatch,” I’m likely to shout profanity in response to what happened in the game. That profanity doesn’t include racial epithets. It never has, and I doubt I’m alone in that.
What happens next is a huge unknown. YouTube has yet to respond to request for comment, and Kjellberg hasn’t said anything on Twitter or on his YouTube since his livestream on Sunday afternoon.
The last time Kjellberg did something controversial (seen above), he lost at least two major business deals: One with Disney, and another with YouTube. It also caused major problems for advertising on YouTube that hurt many other YouTube channels.
As such, some YouTubers are already bracing for impact:
Anyone want a nice house?
2 bedrooms, 2 offices
Pewdiepie just dropped an N-bomb and I can’t afford it without ads
— Andy Castell (@AJ3) September 10, 2017
The only impact thus far has been a handful of game developers issuing DMCA takedown requests — copyright infringement requests — that force Kjellberg’s videos of their games to be removed.
Many of his fans, however, are standing by him regardless.