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Disney severs ties with PewDiePie after anti-Semitic videos (update)

Wall Street Journal says Disney subsidiary has ended its relationship

PewDiePie Signs Copies Of His New Book 'This Book Loves You'
PewDiePie signs copies of his new book This Book Loves You at Barnes & Noble Union Square on Oct. 29, 2015, in New York City.
John Lamparski/Getty Images
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

The Walt Disney Company, owner of Maker Studios, tells the Wall Street Journal it has ended its relationship with YouTube celebrity Felix "PewDiePie" Kjellberg over a series of anti-Semitic videos.

The videos in question, some of which have been pulled down already, are bizarre. One features individuals in India holding up a sign that reads "death to all Jews." Another includes Nazi imagery, including "a man dressed as Jesus Christ saying, ‘Hitler did absolutely nothing wrong.’" Some date back as far as August. Below is a video compilation the Journal put together. It includes scenes from videos since pulled down from his YouTube channel.

"Wearing a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat from President Donald Trump’s campaign, Mr. Kjellberg used a photo of Hitler as a segue between clips," the Wall Street Journal writes. "Mr. Kjellberg says the material is portrayed in jest. He showed a clip from a Hitler speech in a Sept. 24 video criticizing a YouTube policy, posted swastikas drawn by his fans on Oct. 15 and watched a Hitler video in a brown military uniform to conclude a Dec. 8 video. He also played the Nazi Party anthem before bowing to a swastika in a mock resurrection ritual on Jan. 14, and included a very brief Nazi salute with a Hitler voice-over saying ‘Sieg Heil’ and the text ‘Nazi Confirmed’ near the beginning of a Feb. 5 video."

Maker Studios, which was purchased by Disney nearly three years ago, has removed all reference to Kjellberg from its website. He remains far and away the most popular single personality on YouTube, with more than 53 million subscribers. One sponsor, game key marketplace G2A, still lists him on its website, and ads for the service still run on his channel.

An official description of the G2A service prominently shows Kjellberg as the linchpin of its promotional strategy on YouTube.

"Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case," a representative of Maker Studios told the Wall Street Journal. "The resulting videos are inappropriate."

Yesterday, Kjellberg posted to Tumblr what appears to be an apology for the videos, or at least the attention they’ve garnered.

"Some have been pointing to my videos and saying that I am giving credibility to the anti-Semitic movement," the post states. " I was trying to show how crazy the modern world is, specifically some of the services available online.

A video from Kjellberg’s channel on Sept. 24 features the YouTube star in a Donald Trump hat watching scenes of Adolf Hitler in his studio. It has 4.4 million views at the time of publication.

"I think it’s important to say something and I want to make one thing clear: I am in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes. ... I make videos for my audience. I think of the content that I create as entertainment, and not a place for any serious political commentary. I know my audience understand that and that is why they come to my channel. Though this was not my intention, I understand that these jokes were ultimately offensive."

This may be a reference to Kjellberg’s sudden popularity on the prominent neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer. The Wall Street Journal reports that the site changed its motto to "the world’s #1 PewDiePie fansite" in January, shortly after his videos were posted.

Polygon has reached out to Disney, Maker Studios, YouTube, G2A and Kjellberg for comment.

Update: YouTube has canceled the second season of Kjellberg’s YouTube series.

"We’ve decided to cancel the release of Scare PewDiePie Season 2," a YouTube representative told Polygon, "and we’re removing the PewDiePie channel from Google Preferred."

Update 2: Advertising partner G2A responded with the following statement.

PewDiePie is a charismatic and extremely popular entertainer who, like every entertainer out there, is sometimes surrounded by controversies. PewDiePie has his own specific style of entertainment which, like with any of our partners, at times we agree with and at times we don’t.

We absolutely do not condone nor support insensitive behavior of any kind — be it racist, anti-Semitic, or discriminatory in any way.

This time PewDiePie’s video unfortunately went too far — and his actions in it were simply wrong. With that being said, we also have known and worked with PewDiePie for a number of years and know he is neither anti-Semitic, nor did he mean to offend anyone with his actions. He understands his mistake, as he has removed the offensive material from his channel.

PewDiePie has done a lot of good with his fame over the years — helping raise money for many causes and charities including WWF, St. Jude’s hospital, Make-a-Wish Foundation and many others, and has worked with us personally to raise funds for Save the Children. It would be unfair to judge him based on one mistake and not take his positive actions into account.

Update 3: On Thursday, Kjellberg posted a video in which he blamed the media for misrepresenting him, reserving scorn for the Journal which initially presented his work to Disney and YouTube. Although he did apologize for offending viewers, he went on to defend his ability to "joke about anything."

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