He’s just being noticed for his sexism rather than his racism this time.
An ongoing feud between Felix Kjellberg, better known as Pewdiepie—the most popular YouTuber in the world—and popular Twitch streamer Alinity Divine, is a perfect example of how women are still objectified, vilified, and exploited in the gaming community, simply because they are women.
Earlier this month, Kjellberg, who has more than 63 million subscribers…
Stop right there. Have any of you ever watched Pewdiepie? I’ve seen a few of his videos, which I watched incredulously. He plays games with a kind of goofy running commentary, punctuated with squeals and other funny noises. He is talentless. He is uninformed. He isn’t particularly interesting. His only contribution is that he plays video games, just like you do, so he’s kind of the vidya equivalent of the guy you’d drink a beer with, I guess, and he’s famous for being a celebrity, which is about the most worthless kind of fame there is.
His popularity is mystifying. But maybe not: we’re looking at it the wrong way. He is the product of a runaway YouTube algorithm, one of the hidden rules behind the internet, which as we already know, has all kinds of spurious, exploitable side effects.
Little Baby Bum, which made the above video [I will spare you all the link to the video–pzm], is the 7th most popular channel on YouTube. With just 515 videos, they have accrued 11.5 million subscribers and 13 billion views. Again, there are questions as to the accuracy of these numbers, which I’ll get into shortly, but the key point is that this is a huge, huge network and industry.
On-demand video is catnip to both parents and to children, and thus to content creators and advertisers. Small children are mesmerised by these videos, whether it’s familiar characters and songs, or simply bright colours and soothing sounds. The length of many of these videos — one common video tactic is to assemble many nursery rhyme or cartoon episodes into hour+ compilations —and the way that length is marketed as part of the video’s appeal, points to the amount of time some kids are spending with them.
It begins to make sense. Pewdiepie is just another Little Baby Bum who appeals to another, but equally childlike, segment of the market. I don’t give him credit for consciously exploiting the algorithm, though — I think he just stumbled onto the formula and is profiting mightily from it.
Just remember that when someone touts their number of followers on YouTube (or Twitter, or a blog). Those numbers are mostly meaningless and only tell you that someone has hit a sweet spot in the medium’s artificial algorithm, which inflates noise into a mysterious cultural significance.