PewDiePie’s apology on Tuesday, for using a racist slur in widely viewed live stream over the weekend, rests on this point: It was the heat of the moment, the right time for a go-to insult, no matter how vile. Context, say his defenders, matters, as if we can’t understand what the context was here.
But I can. PewDiePie was playing a video game. He wasn’t in a fistfight or a car crash. Those are heated moments, not that a racial epithet is acceptable in them, either. Video games are something we do ostensibly for enjoyment in comfortable surroundings.
This is why it’s a hobby caricatured in the mainstream as a culture of disproportionate reaction, where no one can control their emotions, where its fans are provoked by trivial disappointments and they lash out with vulgarities calculated to shock and offend. All of that defined PewDiePie this weekend, and has on many days in his long reign as YouTube’s biggest and most financially successful star.
“Whenever I go online and I hear other players use the same kind of language that I did,” PewDiePie said, “I always find it extremely immature and stupid, and I hate how I now, personally, fed into that part of gaming as well,” he said. “It was something that I said in the heat of the moment. I said the worst word I could possibly think of, and it just sort of slipped out.”
His apology acknowledged his cultural influence on gaming, and then gave himself, and therefore his 57 million subscribers, an excuse for doing what he did. PewDiePie talks about wanting to better himself, but doesn’t seem to understand what it means for a gaming celebrity to hurl a racist slur in a livestream broadcast to a large audience (a donation even came in as he said it).
If he does understand, he’s not taking any responsibility. Why bother with an apology?
The slur and the stereotype it really proves
It isn’t fair to lay the entirety of toxic gamer culture at PewDiePie’s feet. Thousands go to the DefCon 1 of racial hatred in a multiplayer shooter, and those moments often pass unremarked-upon. But this collective is not an easily portable, easily documented, easily proven example of all the stereotypes about gamer culture. PewDiePie is.
Need an adult who isn’t in charge of his feelings to parody gamers? Check. A guy shrieking racial invective as he guns down someone in the latest hit shooter? Check. Someone with a ninth grader’s zest for casual anti-Semitism telling Jew jokes he found online? Check.
In addition to the heat-of-the-moment cop-out, PewDiePie’s defense also rests on a bullshit excuse retailed for years in forum posts. It depends upon those who glibly say that no one can rightly be offended by the casual use of a hateful word.
But the word is loaded, and it’s being used as an insult here. In his own words, it’s the worst insult he could think of. He’s using a hateful term with a hateful past to try to hurt someone else in a game of make-believe. The message is clear: Certain races are beneath me. He wants to make the target of the word feel beneath him. That’s called bigotry.
So PewDiePie, as the most popular YouTuber in the world, fosters the culture by spewing racist filth in a live stream, and then his fans help create his defense with the internet’s half-assed freshman-year essay about free speech.
Yet gamers do care about stereotypes and bigoted words when they’re expressed by people with large audiences. There’s a reason I haven’t called PewDiePie a “manchild” yet. I’ll never forget going to dinner with my parents and getting a stream of notifications angrily denouncing me because some YouTuber said I used the word “entitled” in this post.
I didn’t, but that was the word in multiple emails damning me. Hell, go here and see what kind of a trigger word “entitled” is to the most ardent defenders of gaming culture.
The problem isn’t their hateful language, they’ll argue, the problem is they’re being criticized for how they act when they’re upset. The most vocal gamers often argue about how they’re entitled to their worst behavior, whether it’s racial slurs on a livestream or harassing someone for being the wrong gender or having the wrong opinion.
“Entitled” seems to be the slur that angers gamers the most. So I’ll be using the E-word whenever I feel e——-ed to it. I’ll save it up for a good hot take, when I need the worst word I can say in the heat of the moment. Those who apologize for PewDiePie or accept ones from him can indignantly reject the sincerity of mine. And maybe after 37 more, I’ll change.