You are here

I Finally Subscribed To PewDiePie

I have finally gone to the channel of the most successful YouTube personality and clicked "subscribe". I probably won't watch any of his videos but I wanted to do my part to keep him in the lead as 2019 starts. The story is that Felix Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie, got 5 million subscribers by 2013 — more than any other YouTube channel — and managed to hold onto that record for another five years. Today, it looks like his reign is about to end with the Indian media conglomerate T-series acquiring subscribers at a much faster rate. A live counter that I've started watching currently has PewDiePie at 79 million and T-series at 78 million.

This is roughly the same number of people who have ever bought a Nirvana album. The world of difference in perception is what piqued my interest when I first heard about PewDiePie. For an artist who becomes famous with the help of a record label, there is a massive gradient between the two extremes of "I'm a fan who buys albums" and "I've never heard of them". As such, I would expect almost everyone in Canada or the US to have some idea of what Nirvana is. Conversely, I've had plenty of people tell me that they've never heard of PewDiePie. 79 million people is enough to fill a country and a large one at that. But outside this community of loyal fans, any chance of a lasting impression has to compete with the trope of an entertainer chatting into his webcam everyday. PewDiePie is a reminder of the isolation that the Internet can bring and the surprise that can be felt upon learning how many people don't think what you thought "most people" think.

When an unaffiliated Internet user becomes massively popular, there are bound to be companies that see this as a threat. These conflicts first became obvious on YouTube near the end of 2016. September saw the introduction of a system to categorize videos as not advertiser-friendly — an insinuation that boycotts of anything controversial or political should be encouraged rather than discouraged. In December, Google included PewDiePie in its "rewind" year review for the last time. And two months later, writers working for the six big media companies noticed that Felix agrees with the mainstream comedian view that all topics, including Nazism, are fair game for jokes.

The claim that Felix made these jokes for discriminatory reasons is too weak to even bother refuting. It's much more interesting to look at the backlash that was generated across the Internet. Maddox made an April Fools joke to mock the Wall Street Journal which started the wave of criticism. One anti-PewDiePie WSJ writer, by the name of Ben Fritz, was exposed as a normal person who also makes jokes of the same nature. Another, by the name of Jack Nicas, was accused of falsifying evidence that he could easily find racism on YouTube. After realizing that he was mistaken, the YouTuber who wrote this withdrew the accusation. My favourite reaction was a proposal to draw attention to the WSJ articles that deny climate change. Because scientific accuracy matters most when your Internet hero is being criticized right? In a great example of the "Internet never forgets" meme, the Wall Street Journal website was hacked to include an apology to PewDiePie just last month.

While criticism of PewDiePie in the technology section (some of it more justified) has now become a permanent fixture, I would say that the future looks bright for this particular prankster. Google's attempt to downplay his influence has clearly backfired, with the latest Rewind becoming the most disliked video of all time. The so called rivalry with T-series has led to a boost in subscribers that would've been hard to acquire otherwise. And finally, having enough ideas to still upload a crazy new video every day is a sign that he has overcome the most difficult challenge for anyone trying to make it as an independent.