Stream Slip Up: Is sensitive language in streams gratuitous?

Humor comes in many forms. It is a vehicle for entertaining masses and can communicate messages in a light way. One of the newest forms of humor delivery comes by the way of streaming and the people who deliver this content are known as streamers. While you can stream anything, most streamers stream video games and tv shows. Typically, Streamers need to get a certain number of subscribers and views in order to get ads, so they can monetize their channels. Sometimes during a stream, a streamer will say something that most would consider insensitive for shock value. During one stream, the white Twitch Streamer Ninja while rapping to “44 more” by Logic rapped, “In the cut, smokin on Indica, my n***ga, my n**ga, my n**ga.” However, he added the racially derogatory terms into the song despite them not being in the lyrics. Back in 2016, the Swedish Streamer PewDiePie paid two Indian men to hold up a sign that said, “death to all Jews”. Compared to comedians like Dave Chappelle who uses black humor to illustrate life as a black man in America, Ninja and PewDiePie’s usage of offensive language is simply gratuitous and does not communicate a larger message. Instead it communicates a message that any content is good content no matter how offensive.

Pewdiepie is a great example of how far a streamer will go to attempt to shock an audience. During his one of his live streams he exclaimed, “what a fucking n**ga”. Luckily Sean Vanaman, the founder of the game PewDiePie was playing Santo Campo tweeted in response, “He is worse than a closeted racist; he’s a propagator of despicable garbage that does real damage to the culture around this industry.” One can argue that because of cases like this there is a line between what can be seen as racial humor and what is unapologetic racism. While some of videos focus more so on playing video games, his shock videos are made to fish for subscribers and view whether they come from a kid or the KKK. PewDiePie built his streaming empire on shock content and blatant racism. When he started his YouTube channel, he started the “Let’s Play” stream genre in which streamers play various games and comment while playing under the name PewDie. Most of the time, he played Minecraft due to the soaring popularity of the game at the time. When he didn’t get enough views, he shut it down and created the PewDiePie channel in which he started adding his more controversial content. He boosted his following by creating a community of people who enjoy watching shock content. Shock content is streaming material that is meant to shock the viewer into watching. This isn’t limited to racism, sexism, and other forms of bias. While shock content isn’t too bad, he crossed the line when his speech started to stereotype certain groups without trying to deliver any sort of message. When PewDiePie paid a guy to dress up like Jesus Christ and hold up a sign that said, “Hitler did nothing wrong”, he intended to shock viewers. Streamers share this trait with some comedians regarding delivering shocking content but unlike PewDiePie, they use it to make people aware of the plight surrounding a group they consider themselves part of. For instance, Dave Chappelle always makes fun of black people, but he uses shock humor to show people how he sees the world around him as a black man in America. Dave Chappelle even said during his skit, “n**ga you are trapped, play basketball or sell crack.” While this is a stereotypical view of a black man, it highlights the issue of a lack of upwards mobility in high minority areas. Amy Schumer also delivers quality shock content while highlighting her daily experience as a woman. During her Baby Safety ads skit, Schumer says, “It’s safest to let them sleep alone, especially when you drink, use drugs, or are overweight. Yeah, I thought that was weird too. But if you think about it, if you are drunk, stoned, or really fat, in the middle of the night, that baby might look delicious. I’ve eaten weirder things.” This skit pokes fun at women with babies which is ok because she is a woman and could become part of that social group if she decides to have a baby [which she did end up becoming pregnant]. When PewDiePie paid a guy to dress up like Hitler, he did it solely for shock value. He is not Jewish, nor does he have any experience dealing with the Jewish community to any degree other than delivering half assed apologies in which he ends up defending his actions. The damage that it does is that it normalizes anti-Semitic and racist behaviors for audiences who let it fester and meme its way to becoming part of normal society. When he apologized for the death to all Jews sign, he said “I’m sorry for the words I used as I know they offended people. I admit that joke went too far.” However, he also defended his actions stating how he was trying “to show how stupid the website [Fiverr] is and how far you can push it by paying 5 dollars.” While he was trying to point out the absurdity of racism, he ended up becoming an anti-Semite by taking part in a “joke” that was just plain antisemitic. He even said that, “he didn’t think they would actually do it” He easily could have paid someone 5 dollars to eat something gross, streamed it, and raised money. Instead he paid the two men to hold up a racist sign. This act alone proved that he is an anti-Semite and tells viewers that it is cool to pay people to insult others. I think this is where he and comedians like Dave Chappelle differ. Chappelle shows the absurdity of racism in a way that highlights his experiences as a black man while PewDiePie does it because it shows the power he holds as a white man.
Do streamers go too far? While views are important to a streamer, paying subscribers are the lifeblood of them. In order to turn a viewer into a paying subscriber, the streamer must constantly put out content that keeps the viewer on edge and entertain. Racism and offensive language are both taboo subjects that people try to avoid, so it is only natural that a streamer will hit the viewers head-on with this offensive content in order to entertain them. I think that sometimes streamers try to outdo one another by triggering as many people as they can so while they may not be offensive people themselves, they are promoting socially unacceptable behavior through their content. This creates a gross cycle of streamers putting out racist and anti -Semitic content and viewers consuming it.
So, are streamers hypocrites? In a way they are because they normalize racism by treating it as absurd without belonging to the racial or ethnic group that they target. It’s because of this culture that people from hate groups decide that it is safe for them to promote hateful views by creating YouTube channels. This is because viewers don’t understand the background behind why what they said is offensive. In one case, the Neo-Nazi Christopher Cantwell also known as “the Crying Nazi,” made an appearance on Andy Warski’s stream in which he talked about how he would create a whites-only country within the United States. During the stream, a commenter paid $5 to directly ask Cantwell the question, “How would this hypothetical white ethno state deal with undocumented immigrants?” Cantwell responded by saying “anyone who crossed the border illegally would have a fucking wood chipper waiting for them.” This was only a few months ago. While streamers like Ninja may have stopped the hate speech, they normalized it to the point where streaming sites like YouTube and Twitch became a place where these toxic views can fester and draw people in to flaunt their ownership of their underlying racist tendencies.

In conclusion, sensitive language and content in streams tends to be gratuitous. Even though streamers may apologize after the fact, it doesn’t lessen the impact of what they said. Unlike traditional comedians like Dave Chappelle who uses racial humor to not only show the absurdity of racism but also highlight his own experience with his race, streamers like PewDiePie use racism to shock the audiences and connect with viewers who normally would hide their racist tendencies even though the groups he makes fun of had no direct influence on him as a person. It’s because of this culture of views at any cost and some internal feelings of racial superiority that streamers like PewDiePie continue to do a disservice to the streaming community by feeding despicable content to people who crave it.
Works Cited
Alexander, Julia. “Ninja Apologizes after Using Racial Expletive on Stream.” Polygon, Polygon, 29 Mar. 2018, www.polygon.com/2018/3/29/17176408/ninja-fortnite-n-word-stream-logic-apology.
Jarvey, Natalie. “PewDiePie Apologizes for Anti-Semitic Comments, Calls Media Coverage an ‘Attack.’” The Hollywood Reporter, The Hollywood Reporter, 17 Feb. 2017, www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/pewdiepie-apologizes-anti-semitic-comments-calls-media-coverage-an-attack-976788.
Ramanan, Chella. “PewDiePie Must Not Be Excused. Using the N-Word Is Never OK | Chella Ramanan.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 11 Sept. 2017, www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/sep/11/pewdiepie-racism-youtube-games-industry.
Schumer, Amy. “Amy Schumer Jokes and Quotes.” Amy Schumer Quotes and Jokes, 2 Apr. 2010, funnycomedianquotes.com/funny-amy-schumer-jokes-and-quotes.html.
Tufcub. Casual Racist PewDiePie Continues To Be Casual Racist, TheSixthAxis, 9 Nov. 2017, www.thesixthaxis.com/2017/09/11/casual-racist-pewdiepie-continues-to-be-casual-racist/.

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