Should PewDiePie And Felix Kjellberg Be Treated Like Different People?
16 February 2017, 16:16 | Updated: 17 October 2017, 09:46
I'll break it down for you.
Felix Kjellberg has been in a whole heap of trouble recently. Having been accused of being antisemitic, in addition to having his YouTube Red series cancelled and Disney severing ties with him as a network, things aren't looking good for the young Swede. But I'm here today to talk about blame, and how Felix Kjellberg and his onscreen persona "PewDiePie" are not to be treated as the same person.
I've broken the discussion about the differences between Felix and PewDiePie down into six different ideas, focusing on his characterisation, his personality outside of playing the outspoken gamer and whether or not he is being treated fairly as a content creator/comedian.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This is purely my opinion. I present none of these things as fact, but I'm keen to hear what readers think.
1. Felix Kjellberg Is Fundamentally Different In Every Aspect To PewDiePie.
Let's get this straight right out of the gate; PewDiePie is a character. PewDiePie is not a real person. He is the fabricated persona of a YouTube Let's Player called Felix Kjellberg. They are not the same person in any way, shape or form. We had the pleasure of meeting Felix on his book tour a couple of years back and he could not have been any less like the current PewDiePie if he tried.
If, like I have, you've seen every video on his channel and his girlfriend Marzia's, you'll see in real life that Felix is a charming, and downright normal person. From the LA Vlog, where he cried over his stress levels, to old school videos of the couple cooking together, Felix is seen as a polite and mild-mannered individual who could not be further from his larger-than-life online character.
One of the main signposts for this change in character is often his voice: the Swedish accent gets stronger, his voice sounds a lot harsher and his sentences are shorter and delivered more aggressively. It is for this reason that even his most diehard fans were so confused when he announced he would be deleting his YouTube channel because he slipped in and out of his PewDiePie character. For this reason alone, the offensive jokes of PewDiePie's cannot be considered as Felix's own personal point of view - as they came directly from the mouth of a purposefully designed, controversial character.
2. Felix May Have Totally Lost Control Of PewDiePie.
In the last few months, Felix has frequently made jokes about the fact that his fans are desperate to see 2014 PewDiePie come back to the channel, when all he did back then was play horror games and scream like a wimp. He makes self-deprecating jokes constantly about his lack of imagination and how he has "run out of ideas", which were funny to begin with, but fans have since started to wonder if there is a level of truth behind these statements.
Whilst it's true that 2017 PewDiePie is undeniably different from the old PewDiePie, I have to wonder whether Felix has actually lost control of where he wanted this character to go. In 2016, he started making media headlines for his outlandish behaviour, which in turn led PewDiePie to call out the media. The media then fought back with even more pressure and it hasn't let up yet.
Felix seemed to be stuck in an endless loop of trying to out-shock the media, when one of his jokes accidentally went to far and they ran away with it. However, instead of apologising for his string of antisemitic jokes, he decided to drill the point in even harder that they were designed to be funny - thus digging himself a deeper hole.
It's entirely possible that the character of "PewDiePie" is in a state of flux right now - after all, Felix recently confessed to needing to take time away from the channel before he had a "mental breakdown".
3. Comedians Have Used Characters In The Past To Push Boundaries.
Keith Lemon. Dapper Laughs. Borat. These are all characters designed by actors/comedians to make jokes about normally untouchable subjects. In fact, Sacha Baron Cohen (the man behind Borat/Bruno) "tends to avoid making public appearances or doing interviews out of character" so not to shatter the allusion of his on-screen characters and to focus the "public interest on his characters rather than himself".
This is where I can make a connection with PewDiePie and Felix, because both of these people are massively in the public eye. When Sacha Baron Cohen makes offensive jokes, they so clearly come from the character on screen that it's hard to paint the blame on the man reading a script. However, when PewDiePie decides to use Nazi imagery in a video, it's incredibly difficult to separate the joke from the real person.
This type of "character comedy" makes it very easy for some comedians to test out non-PC jokes in a safe space that the audience can suspend their disbelief and accept that they are witnessing a work of fiction. But thanks to the freedom of YouTube to literally "Broadcast Yourself", Felix has now been personally punished (along with his friends and creators of his TV show) because his larger-than-life character took one joke too far.
4. Felix Is One Of The First Major Celebrities To Grow Up With 4Chan/Reddit.
I like to think I can safely assume, as someone who grew up on the Internet during the era of message boards and sh*tposting, that Felix is very much aware of the "humour" 4chan and Reddit represent. These spaces are often considered as the "asshole of the Internet" based on their total lack of rules and guidelines on what their users can post.
Every type of disturbing topic can be discussed on these platforms... literally. Because of this, 4chan and Reddit have been thrust even more into the underbelly of subversive culture for their approach to comedy that sits on the line of what's acceptable - and rightly so in some cases.
As someone who may have been familiar with this sense of humour, Felix could have developed a taste for shocking humour which is now starting to be expressed on his channel. The main difference here though is that he has 53 million subscribers and the entire world staring at his less-than-hidden channel - so when he says something offensive, an unintended audience will react harshly to it.
I believe this is what Felix meant in a Tumblr post that clarifies that he makes "videos for [his] audience"... an audience who understands this non-PC taste for humour.
In addition to the fact that companies, brands and politicians are taking bigger stands against troll culture in 2017, this means that PewDiePie's brand of comedy was potentially an easy PR stunt for both Disney and YouTube. On the site, we recently discussed how other creators have been "forgiven" by YouTube for appalling behaviour so you may be right in thinking Felix was used as an easy target to show the companies are indeed cracking down.
5. PewDiePie Vol. 2 Happened Without Fans Even Noticing.
"PewDiePie" as a character has changed a lot over the last couple of years as Felix has taken 100% command of his YouTube persona and pointed it towards an audience and genre he felt more comfortable with. The only problem is that it happened so gradually for some viewers, that it is now hard to point out when one PewDiePie died and another began.
Even though lots of fans are begging for 2014 PewDiePie to return, his new outlook on content seems to have brought a lot of haters and non-believers back to loving his channel once again, as he moves from screaming at inanimate objects to making self-aware jokes about YouTube culture.
This evolution may have been his downfall though. Creators such as iDubbbzTV, Keemstar and LeafyisHere have consistently portrayed one character on their channel (whether you like them or not), whereas PewDiePie has warped himself from one person into a character he now prefers. For this reason, he has often been called out for copying Filthy Frank and being a "try hard".
When PewDiePie 2.0 seemed to be in full swing, lots of old and new fans were shocked to find him throwing out the N-word and playing games with incredibly explicit sexual references throughout. No one seemed ready for this change of scene, and while people who know iDubbbzTV aren't shocked when he refers to his fans as "n***** f*****s", PewDiePie continues to be held up to a standard he is working so desperately hard to shed - even though he continues to be the quiet, sensible Swedish person underneath it all. If Ian Carter is more conservative away from his online iDubbbzTV character, we've certainly never seen it before and had our expectations of him altered.
6. And Finally, Context Is Key When It Comes To Characterisation.
Ethan Klein of h3h3 Productions and BradWOTO (Felix's editor) have each uploaded their own videos on the topic of context, so I won't go too hard on this point - but it's still crucial to remember. When the Wall Street Journal uploaded their montage of all the times PewDiePie used antisemitic jokes and Nazi imagery, I have to admit that it looked pretty bad... but then I remembered the magic word, "context".
When PewDiePie's jokes were put back into the context of video surrounding such offensive imagery, these scenes can quickly be seen as the butt of the joke. For example, when people called Felix racist, he decided to dress up in a military uniform and watch a Hitler speech to prove how ridiculous those claims seem next to a hyperbolic representation of a racist person. While these jokes probably shouldn't have been made in the first place, it's important to note that they were the punchline, and not a standalone offensive statement.
On the flip side, if you were to only see Felix as the boyfriend of Marzia in the background of all her pug vlogs and trips around the world, you would quickly come to assume him as a total sweetheart. The character of "PewDiePie" and "Marzia's boyfriend Felix" seem to exist in totally different realities, and so to isolate one of them based on the jokes they make out of context is to completely ignore that there is a real person underneath it all that would never say those things.
Felix Kjellberg does not go about his day-to-day business in a Nazi costume. So when he does it for 5 seconds in a PewDiePie video whilst mocking mainstream media for calling him racist... is it safe to assume that he wasn't being sincere?
But what do YOU think - Are PewDiePie and Felix Kjellberg totally separate entities, or should they be discussed on the same level? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
UPDATE: Felix has since confirmed the idea that he and his PewDiePie character are in fact separate entities.
In a new video, in which he discusses how "awkward" he is in public when he's Felix Kjellberg vs when he's PewDiePie, he admits that the character helps him come out of his shell. Click the video below, which starts at the exact moment of discussion.