The Content (Creator) of Their Character: On PewDiePie and Tina Fey
“[T]he content of their character” is a phrase that almost everyone is familiar with even if they are not quite sure why.
“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”. -Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream” (August 28, 1963)
Oddly enough this is a phrase that I have heard referenced more than a few times over the last day or so in reference to racist content creator Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg (better known to most as PewDiePie, who would ultimately fail that character content test) and his latest racist “slip up.” PewDiePie is no stranger to racism in his content, but most notably he had a Disney contract canceled and was dropped by YouTube’s Red subscription service for paying a group of Sri Lankan men to hold up a sign that read “Death to All Jews” only to have many other racists on the internet excuse it as “edgy” and “comedic.” Well Kjellberg was back in the news this weekend for dropping the hard “R” version of nigger (not his first time saying nigga) on his livestream of Player Unknown Battlegrounds (PUBG).
The content creator that he was streaming with immediately tried to excuse his latest racist fuck up by saying that Kjellberg is from Sweden, but as Jon Russell (TechCrunch) points out, Sweden “is famous for the highest level of fluency for English as a second language worldwide.” There is no excuse for racism and the fact that PewDiePie self-corrected ni**er to asshole is equally telling. The word was intended as the racist pejorative that it is. He fully understands what it is that he said and his comfort with the word just further illustrates that it is a word that he uses freely and often. Campo Santo has announced that they are filing DMCA takedown requests for all of PewDiePie’s Firewatch content and that they will do so for all future Campo Santo games. I wonder if we will see more game developers taking this kind of stance against racism and sexism from content creators.
We’re filing a DMCA takedown of PewDiePie’s Firewatch content and any future Campo Santo games.
— Sean Vanaman (@vanaman) September 10, 2017
Ironically, my discovery of PewDiePie’s latest demonstration of his racism came on the tail end of my watching a white, female streamer on Mixer greet a viewer coming into chat as “my nizzle” (Snoop Dogg speak for “my nigga”). She pretty quickly tried to to excuse her slip with excuses about loving rap music. She seemed generally shaken, and I almost felt bad for her until I realized that her apology was not for saying the word, but rather for getting caught saying the word on a platform that generates income for her. Note again that the word slipped because she uses it offline. Think about it, the word onomatopoeia rarely “slips” out of anyone one’s mouth because as fun as it is to say (for me at least) it is not a daily utterance. My initial inclination to excuse this streamer’s behavior comes from not only the fact that I have been actively streaming on Mixer for the last few months (yes, more self promotion) and a desire to want to see women and other marginalized groups as working together to combat racism, sexism, homophobia, and the like. But we know that folks who don’t practice intersectionality (women included) are often the largest culprits when it comes racism, sexism, and transphobia.
This phenomenon is not limited to video game content creators and we have infamously seen this in Tina Fey’s recent “Sheetcaking” skit on SNL in response to Nazi violence in Charlottesville. In the skit, Fey eats a sheet cake while going on a political tirade, and it was everything that white liberal folks wanted to see (especially considering her past history of portraying Sarah Palin on SNL), but what got glossed over (and adamantly defended by some) were the transphobic jokes about “Black men in dresses” and thinly veiled Thomas Jefferson rape jokes describing Sally Hemmings as the “hot light skinned girl over by the butter churn.” In addition to these glaring fuck ups, we have the problem of privilege telling white women to just get together and eat sheetcake as a way of ignoring the racism that is going on around them and treating protests like movies with female leads and just not showing up. And yes, I fully recognize that Fey’s skit was meant to be largely satirical, but satire fails when it is not read as satire. And as a queer woman of color I don’t read homo-/transphobic jokes about people of color or jokes about dead presidents raping slaves as satirical or funny.
Apologists for this kind of prejudice often turn to the argument that these are otherwise “good people” and that we should judge them on their character and not on any insult that they may have caused with their edgy comedy, but ultimately the injury comes from the impact and not necessarily the intent. And racism is present in the acts and when one chooses to intentionally use these acts to cause harm (or doesn’t care if they do) then they can be deemed racist. The big questions are what we do with these moments? When are they teachable moments? When is the time to cut ties? What are the dangers of leaving these moments unchallenged (especially when children are involved or folks are literally throwing “sheetcaking” parties)? While the answers may not always be easy to come by or acceptable to everyone, I think that one thing we must always do is challenge racism wherever we see it and not let folks slide on being “good people.” “Good people” often do the most harm because they go unchallenged by others and themselves. We are all flawed, we all fuck up, we all need to be checked by those around us from time to time, and the moment that we forget that we become the anti-thesis of “good people.”