Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg became embroiled in controversy earlier this year as a result of an anti-Semitic joke he made during one of his videos, with him paying two freelancers on the online freelance marketplace Fiverr to hold up a sign reading “Death To All Jews.” Since that video was posted PewDiePie was dropped from Disney’s production company Maker Studios, while YouTube also cancelled the second season of his online reality show Scare PewDiePie.
He later appeared in an apology video in which he condemned the media for reporting on the story, but also admitted that he had “gone too far” and that “there’s a right way and not the best way to joke about things.” This week, PewDiePie released a selection of shirts and hoodies for his viewers to buy, which depict him holding his fingers above his mouth in a gesture mimicking Hitler’s mustache alongside the word “CONTEXT”.
The shirts, which are clearly intended to emulate former US president Barack Obama’s ‘Hope’ poster that became iconic during the 2008 presidential campaign, replaces the caption “HOPE” with “CONTEXT”. It features a red and blue image of PewDiePie holding his fingers across his upper lip. The shirt’s description on the marketplace Fan Fiber reads: “Context Matters, it’s as simple as that!” In a video announcing the shirt, the YouTuber said: “Definitely check [the shirt] out if you’re a fan of context, it’s a good shirt if you’re a fan of context.”
The shirt is a nod to PewDiePie’s conflict with the Wall Street Journal, which published an article reporting upon the YouTuber’s comments alongside a video containing the Nazi imagery that had been included in his content. However, PewDiePie argued against some of the clips that had been included in the footage, saying: “They used another video where I joke that the YouTube Heroes program is seen basically like a Nazi scheme, where I look at a Hitler speech, and they used that as proof that I’m a Nazi or anti-Semite. I’m not kidding, they even used my pointing my arm like this (he raises his arm), technically they can use this as evidence as well, because that’s what they did.”
But despite admitting that he was at fault for “pushing things too far” in regards to his anti-Semitic joke, PewDiePie’s new shirt once again sees him returning to Nazi references, this time with the assertion that “context matters.” Though not outlining the intention behind the shirt in the video in which he announced the shirt, PewDiePie has stated on multiple occasions that the media mischaracterized him following the Wall Street Journal debacle, arguing that the Nazi references and anti-Semitic comments had been taken out of his context. However, he also branded himself a “rookie comedian” in the wake of the controversy, significantly downplaying the reach that his comments and actions have considering his huge audience of 55 million subscribers.
Disney dropping PewDiePie from its Maker Studios subsidiary came only a month before before the so-called YouTube “adpocalypse,” in which a variety of major brands from PepsiCo through to McDonald’s pulled their ad support from the video-sharing site, after growing concerned that their products were linked with derogatory content. Though the PewDiePie controversy was not the reason behind their departure, YouTube began cracking down on the content uploaded by its video makers as a result of the advertiser walkout, employing strict new monetization rules that led to the income generated by the site’s creators plummeting as a result. YouTube is expected to lose $750 million in revenue due to the boycott.
PewDiePie even appeared in a video in which he appealed directly to potential YouTube advertisers, describing the benefits of investing in the video-sharing site and its creators. However, with YouTube making increased efforts to ensure that the videos produced by its creators are considered ad-friendly, it’s arguable that the site’s most subscribed content creator selling shirts depicting him mimicking Hitler aren’t going to help place YouTube in a more favorable light, regardless of the context