The decision was due to several videos with anti-Semitic imagery that he posted over the past few months, exposed in a Wall Street Journal examination of the videos, which found that “since August, PewDiePie has posted nine videos that include anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi imagery.”
Although Kjellberg was allowed a high degree of independence in his deal, which was facilitated through the Maker Studies division of Disney, the company said that these videos were too extreme. Kjellberg has been known in that past for posting provocative content that was intended to be incisive, but, Maker Studios said in a statement, “He clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate.” Three of those videos, one of which shows a man dressed as Jesus saying, “Hitler did nothing wrong,” have since been taken down.
Even before Disney addressed Kjellberg’s offensive content, Tumblr and Twitter users criticized his videos. One Tumblr user wrote earlier in January, “Honestly the amount of people I have seen defending pewdiepie over that anti-semitic video and/or calling the people who are upset over this ‘triggered cry babies’ is fucking disgusting and sad.”
Kjellberg has yet to respond publicly regarding being cut by Disney, but on February 12, he addressed the bubbling controversy on Tumblr. He wrote that he “was trying to show how crazy the modern world is,” and that he is “in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes.”
Many on social media applauded Disney’s decision, reacting strongly to the videos and noting that Kjellberg’s jokes were, at best, in poor taste. Others, perhaps more longtime fans, didn’t see a break from any of Kjellberg’s norms within the videos. They implied the fault was with Disney for not understanding the nature of the entertainer with whom they’d partnered.
This isn’t the first time Kjellberg’s been on the receiving end of an ethical mishap. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission implicated him in a dishonest marketing scheme for the game Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor in which publisher Warner Bros. paid people to positively review the game but did not always disclose that they had done so. Kjellberg was one of those that Warner Bros. hired for the reviews.
Going forward, the termination of Kjellberg’s deal will likely serve as an example of a mismatched pairing between large corporations and YouTube entertainers, and it will perhaps spark a more in-depth examination of whether the goals and values of both parties fully align before a contract is signed. Still, Disney’s cancellation of his agreement represents the tighter leash on which personalities like Kjellberg can find themselves after striking up a deal with a company whose public image must be aggressively maintained.