If you don’t pay attention to online gaming culture, you may not have even heard that a cultural icon was toppled last week, but you should consider the story not for it’s details – but for what it tells us about larger American culture.
In particular, we’re referring to YouTube star Felix “PewDeePie” Kjellberg, whose sudden fall from grace has led to schadenfreude from all corners of the internet. Kjellberg wasn’t famous unless you knew of him – in which case he was the star, the brightest star on YouTube, actually, someone for whom Forbes estimated 2016 earnings in the neighborhood of $15 million.
“The real story with PewDiePie is not that somebody you’re preconditioned to hate — whether out of personal distaste for his combination of Euro-DJ obliviousness and shrieking energy, or because you dismiss his industry at large, or because you’re incredulous that anybody could make this much money doing basically nothing — got his just deserts. That’s missing the point, because PewDiePie himself is beside the point. He is one of 50 million-and-one drops in an ocean, caught in a tide toward a nasty shore.”
Instead, Clifton argues, it’s easy to miss the real story – that of a much bigger, and more insidious, pattern of angry young men repeatedly testing boundaries and pushing at edges. It’s easy to miss the real story, how a joke hate becomes real hate becomes vitriol becomes white supremacy and worse, and that doesn’t make them monsters – it makes them boys who were pushed away and found refuge in hate.
The schadenfreude over YouTube star Felix Kjellberg’s sudden fall from grace overlooks a much bigger, more insidious pattern of young men testing boundaries in the angriest corners of the internet.
That isn’t to make excuses for bigotry, which will never be okay, but it is to understand that simply calling bigots bigoted without understanding how they come to be does nothing to prevent future bigots.
It’s a cultural phenomenon of looking away when we see things we don’t like – and it doesn’t stop those things we don’t like from continuing to fester simply because our eyes are pointed elsewhere.
As Clifton puts it,
“Because we overlook these folks as they travel from A to B, we assume that A equals B; they never “changed,” they just got their covers pulled. We looked away, in reality, just long enough for the change to occur outside our peripheral vision. The reality is that they were begging for limits, and we didn’t offer them, because they’re too gross to look at. Drawing a self-comforting line between “Reddit dorks” over here and “monsters” over there does nothing to stop them, much less help them. It only serves the rest of us.”
And as he concludes, it won’t get better unless we do something, unless we connect with those angry white men and pull them away from their anger.
“The reason for that is terrible, and quite simple: because the whiny self-importance and self-indulgence of white male rage — from Gamergate to Anonymous, WikiLeaks to the Fappening, all the proliferating forms of alt-right confusion and rage you couldn’t possibly discern from that of even the least radical right — is so repugnant that it’s nearly impossible to see through. But we won’t heal, and they won’t heal, if we don’t try. Their pain is pathetic, but watch how it spreads.”
You can, and should, read the entirety of Clifton’s essay here.
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