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Disney recently cut ties with twenty-seven-year-old Swedish YouTube star Felix Kjellberg, known as “PewDiePie,” over a series of videos in which Kjellberg posted anti-Semitic jokes and clips. While such attempts at humor are not rare on the Internet, Kjellberg’s stand out more than most due to the more than fifty-three million people who subscribe to his YouTube channel, by far the most on the site. He built that following through videos and humor that often pushed against the boundaries of acceptable comedy.
Ultimately, the same sense of humor that brought him multi-million dollar deals with YouTube and Disney now threatens to undermine much of what he’s built. As a Disney spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal, “Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate.”
Kjellberg, however, thinks the problem is less with his jokes and more with people taking them out of context. As he said in a video on January 22 of this year, “We’re going to have to start separating what is a joke, and what is actually problematic . . . Is something that would be considered a joke purely homophobic, or anti-Semitic and all these things? Context ing matters.”
Yet, it’s difficult to understand how more context could make the videos less offensive considering two of those in question are of two men holding a sign that reads “Death to All Jews” and an actor pretending to be Jesus saying, “Hitler did nothing wrong. I feel sorry for him. He only wanted to act upon God’s will. Don’t worry though, he stands beside God now.” Considering that those involved were paid by Kjellberg to play their parts, his surprise at their actions rings hollow, even if the views they expressed were intended to be nothing more than comedy.
And while Kjellberg is probably telling the truth when he states that he’s not a racist, any attempts to shift blame to others or justify his actions betray, at best, an immature naïveté. After all, someone who’s made millions by pushing the envelope shouldn’t expect to get the benefit of the doubt when he goes too far. In fact, none of us should. If that seems unfair, then we really only have ourselves to blame.
In a culture where the fastest way to advance is often by bringing others down rather than lifting ourselves up, counting on others to treat us fairly is simply illogical. Now, some undoubtedly will and, as Christians, we must be among that group. God calls us to live by his standards rather than those of the world, which often means treating others better than we expect to be treated ourselves. At the same time, however, we must be cognizant of the reality in which we live.
And, lest we think this unfair culture to be a modern development, Jesus warned against just such a world. Before sending out his disciples, Christ told them “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Essentially, Jesus wanted his disciples to understand the importance of maintaining balance between a healthy skepticism of the sinfulness in others and the child-like innocence that prevents us from assuming the worst. That can be difficult, as most of us naturally lean to one direction or the other, but the Holy Spirit of which he spoke in verse 20 stands ready to help us remain in the center.
So the next time you’re treated unfairly, be neither surprised nor jaded by the ability of our fellow fallen people to tear us down in order to build themselves up. And remember that, even though we are new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), the ability to do the same to others remains in each of us. That truth doesn’t excuse their sin, but it should give us a bit more compassion for those attempting to navigate this life apart from the Father’s help.