Friday, June 9, 2017

Our Internet Reputations: When YouTube Stars Disappoint

Hey all. I hope you had a happy Memorial Day. We're still here, and let's honor those that aren't. Let's honor victims of hate crimes, of emotional abuse, and of prejudice.

This summer I have a novel coming out, Neo Mecha Mayhem. It will be a sci-fi novel, set on the island of Okinawa, inspired by Batman and by Satoshi Kon's films. I'll be posting more information as I get the publication details.

A fiasco happened earlier this year, regarding YouTube gamers. These Internet celebrities, the lucky ones, gain a following by playing a game with style. I've been following Markiplier and Jacksepticeye, since they make scary games less scary. They gained so much fame that mainstream entertainment companies like Disney took notice. Then they didn't.

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One gamer messed up. Felix, aka PewDiPie, made the mistake of paying two South Asian actors to dance around with a sign saying "Death to the Jews". He claimed it was a joke and was horrified they actually did it, even though most South Asians would most likely not understand the implications, and $5 USD is roughly 332.95 rupees in Indian currency. That isn't chump change. The Wall Street Journal reported on the video, as well as how white supremacists and Neo Nazis took the video, and others with similar humor, at face value. Disney ended a multi-million deal with Felix, and YouTube Red cancelled his second season of Scare PewDiePie. Felix later made an apology video, while he condemned the Wall Street Journal for painting him as a Nazi. The apology felt backhanded. 

Felix was insensitive and didn't think through the consequences of his actions. He also had a terrible sense of timing, posting his videos right when Neo Nazis were becoming mainstream again, and when the Trump campaign was attacking everyone none-white and neurodiverse. Disney of course has a history of standing against Nazis, despite what conspiracy theorists may think, with its war films and cartoons made to speak against fascism.

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Of course, one has to ask why Disney would go with Felix. Disney has its adult franchises and minor companies, but he isn't child-friendly material. Felix is foul-mouthed for one, and has an abrasive character. He's entertaining, I will admit. 

I'd like to think that Felix really didn't know about the rising conservatism and hate. Given by his reaction in the video, and how he later responded, he didn't seem to realize what weight his actions would have. His friends and fellow gamers Markiplier and Jacksepticeye vouched for him. Jack also had the decency to admit that Felix messed up badly, while Mark has asked for people to remain respectful.

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Then we contrast this behavior with that of another gamer. JonTron, half of Gamer Grumps. The son of immigrants, of course Jon Jafari stands with racist right-wing anti-immigration rhetoric, even though he benefited from the system and labels himself as white. After Rep Steve King came under fire for his comments on anti-immigration, Jon defended them and added his fuel to the fire with inflammatory comments during a stream. He then offered a back-handed apology where he claims his views were misconstrued, and that he's against "tribalization" of America. He still got cut from an upcoming game, and his channel has lost multiple subscribers.

There are minor differences, but the rhetoric remains the same: "We think that we are above the consequences to make these jokes and we can justify our words using 'context'". It's shameful that we have to remind people that the Internet has consequences, and that our image can easily shatter. I wonder where the basic human decency goes. While Felix may have the excuse of not understanding bigotry, Jon ought to have known better when having an immigrant family.

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Granted, we have a history of celebrities behaving badly. Actors and actresses had dalliances, while authors like H.P. Lovecraft faced criticism for racist rhetoric. Daphne Du Maurier chronicled her father's affairs, while ignoring hers as a married woman. None of this is new.

The difference lies in how the Internet rapidly increases communication, and breaks down the barriers that were there before. Before people would write letters, or send telegrams. There would be time to think of what one would say. You could still mess up: Alexander Hamilton, for example, published the infamous Reynolds Pamphlet at a time when one had to assemble metal blocks on a printing press. These days, it takes less time to destroy a reputation.

We can't control if people misbehave. We can chide them, or educate calmly about when not to make a tasteless jokes. Sometimes we get lucky and get a celebrity who will own their mistakes. Markiplier, for example, has apologized to his friends for being controlling over video production.

Let's keep reminding each other about basic decency. The world is much more ominous than it was two years ago, and we should remember that the Internet has changed society. I hope Felix and Jon shape up, realizing their words and videos have consequences. If not, we always have Mark and Jack.

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