How do hate symbols work? A helpful guide for Pewdiepie!


if you haven’t been living under a rock
for the last 10 years you’re most likely familiar with the YouTube content
creator PewDiePie. Felix Kjellberg as he’s known outside of YouTube started his
channel in 2010 making Minecraft videos and screaming at horror games and has
since then become the second biggest creator on a platform with over 100
million subscribers to date. During his career he has been in the center of
quite a few scandals ranging from anti-semitic jokes to spouting racial
slurs during streaming sessions. His use of sexist anti-semitic and racist
language has garnered him a sizable following of far-right people, embracing
his actions. A neo-nazi website the Daily Stormer even call themselves the
world’s number 1 PewDiePie fansite for a while, and even though Felix has made
statements denouncing his behavior the website concluded that his honest views
doesn’t really matter stating that; “the effect is the same; it normalizes Nazism
and marginalizes our enemies”. This all culminated when in March of 2019
Felix was associated with the New Zealand mosque shootings where a gunman
live-streaming his deed urged viewers to subscribe to PewDiePie before killing
over 40 people. Felix did of course distance himself from the shooter in a
tweet shortly thereafter. If you were hoping that this video would discuss
whether or not Felix is a Nazi we must sadly disappoint you. We frankly do not
find that question very interesting at all, and to be honest it doesn’t really
matter in the grand scheme of things. He has an enormous following consisting of
rather young people and his behavior, what he says and how he tackles these issues
does have an impact no matter his true intentions or beliefs. Taking his huge
following into consideration and how he has been embraced as a gateway into
far-right ideology we find is quite troubling to see him repeatedly stumble
to address this problem satisfyingly. His apologies often ring hollow based on
how he frames the critique levied at him a stupid jokes, blaming
media for reporting on the things that he says and does. “It’s over for pewdie
oopsy oopsy doopsy poopsy”. With such a huge audience you have to be mindful of
your own behavior and the way you speak not to put harmful ideas out there for all
to see. Which brings us to one of his latest videos where we find him doing
just that. On the 7th of November Felix released a video under the title “The
BROFIST is declared a HATE SYMBOL!” A rather misleading title considering the
brofist is not brought up even once during the entirety of the video. He
instead goes on to lament how certain other characters and gestures have been
dubbed hate symbols in recent years after being adopted by neo-nazis. He
does not however put the blame on Nazis themselves but rather on overly
sensitive people who are implied to be stupid for being tricked into believing
these symbols mean something that they, in his eyes, clearly do not. The problem
is that Felix does not seem to understand how symbols work, or at least
his video is quite unfocused to the point it obscures whatever it is he
wanted to say. And he is rather disingenuous too – about the things that he
presents and of course the details he leaves out. Let’s take a look at the first
few seconds of the video, as they are quite representative of this issue. He
simply asks which one of these symbols are considered a hate symbol, which in
the end is revealed to be all of them. He frames this conclusion as absurd, it is
clearly meant to be taken as a joke. Like how the flying fuck could anyone believe
that the number 12 is a hate symbol? Or the bowl-cut? Dude, what the fuck? Felix does however conveniently never give any more context to the first two symbols, or even why anyone would even consider them to
possibly be used for spreading hate. And if you did not already know – let’s
explain them quickly. The bowl-cut is used as a reference to
white supremacist Dylan Roof who in 2015 killed nine black Americans in the Charleston
Church South Carolina. He has since then been promoted by young
white supremacists as a hero and a saint for the movement. The number 12 on the
other hand is a symbol for the Aryan Brotherhood. Like with many other white
supremacists dog whistles numbers are used to substitute letters – in this case
1 and 2 equals A and B in the alphabet. Felix then goes on to talk about the
internet meme Pepe the frog and how he went from being a fun-loving dude into a
symbol of hate, anti-semitism and racism. He does however never describe
the hate in more detail than that and he makes it sound a bit like this was all
just an attempt to troll people. He uses mild words like bad intentions and
positivity without genuinely pointing out how neo-nazis co-opted Pepe to do
real harm. In much the same way he talks about the ok-hand-symbol as if it was just
another trolling attempt that fooled people into believing that it meant
something that it to “normal” people obviously doesn’t. People were according
to Felix tricked by these rascal 4channers into believing that the innocent
ok-hand-symbol meant white power, when in reality it is just a thing you do
with your hand man. This is just how Felix frames it, but we know better than
this of course. So let’s talk about symbols in the most basic way possible
so that everyone in class, including Felix, gets it. And I’m talking REAL basic,
like social psychology 101 stuff. So… A symbol is something that refers to or
stands for something else and is used to convey meaning. It can be gestures,
objects or even words. The gesture of waving to someone is a symbol and we use
it to communicate something, generally a form of greeting. And, for example, the
word “spoon” is a symbol used to describe the implement that we use to eat soup
with. It is important to note though that symbols do not have inherent meaning on
their own. they do not just come from nature and
are entirely socially constructed by us. symbols therefore mean what we decide they mean. a symbol can even mean several different
things in one situation, making it possible for people to interpret them
differently. An engagement ring might for example be interpreted as a sign of
devotion by one person and a significant loss of freedom by the other.
And this is generally how many hate symbols are specifically intended to
work. The swastika is a great example of this as it has had several meanings in
different cultures before the Second World War. These symbols are also often
appropriated and given new meaning for the purposes of mudding the water,
creating confusion and to pass by people who are not already in the know. We tend
to call these kinds of symbols dog whistles as they are meant to only be
understood by the members of the in-group, just like how literal dog
whistles can only be heard by dogs. Using already established symbols and giving
them new meaning is rather effective as it makes it easy to use them, deny
involvement with the group and then slither away into the masses who do not
understand the dog whistle. If you’re lucky the masses will even stand up for
you, pushing back against those who point out what you’re actually up to – which
Felix is pretty much doing in this video coincidentally. The ok-hand-sign is in
fact great in this regard since it is inconspicuous enough and
widely used in other contexts. It can be used to leave people unsure about your
intentions or even oblivious to them. Felix does not seem to acknowledge this
as he keeps making this false dichotomy between people who like to demonize
others and those who like to troll. He’s basically framing this as a conflict
between innocent jokesters and those who in turn want to make them out to be evil.
He bases this on an alleged fact that the gesture started off as a way of
trolling, which is not even entirely true, but let’s pretend that it is. The origin
does not actually matter much. When neo-nazis start to appropriate symbols
like the ok-hand-sign to express hate it has unavoidably taken on new meaning –
that is just the truth of the matter. It does not of course mean that you can
never use the ok-hand-sign ever again, context is important. But at some point
trolling, triggering the libs or ironic neo-nazism becomes effectively
indistinguishable from the real deal. Then it’s not just a joke anymore – your
alleged fake hate symbol has become a real one. As we stated before – symbols
mean what we make them to mean. And Felix is so close to actually getting it when
he mentions how the swastika, like we did, used to mean something else. “I keep
hearing the argument that well the swastika was taken by the Nazis so
symbols do change meaning like it used to mean the Sun OR WHATEVER. but then he quickly pivots into the
argument that the neo-nazis using the ok-hand-sign is everyone else’s fault
because we quote-unquote “gave it to them” “but of course they’re gonna use it
unlike other heat symbols this is given to them. Stop making it so easy for these
people” And no, I’m sorry. That is not the case at all. That is not actually how this
works, my dude! It was appropriated which literally means to take possession of
something without permission. They took a symbol and made it mean something else. What we find most egregious about this
video however is when Felix goes on to say that not all people are aware that
it has been co-opted, which yeah that’s the point of a dog whistle, and then
finishes with the assertion that no one should know these things. “And they… And
they shouldn’t. No one should know these things”
and this friends is a genuinely harmful idea being spouted from this little
Swedish boy’s mouth right here. Being ignorant about how people use hate
symbols is not a solution. Even if you think that the media is overstepping or
that people are being falsely accused of being Nazis this is not a solution. And
on top of all that advocating this to your huge fan base, framing it all as one
big joke while you contradict yourself and disingenuously portray the
situation, is simply naive and irresponsible. The way he smuggly
laughs about it, how he implies some people can’t be Nazis and how he
deflects over and over again sends a message. And sadly he’s playing defense
for neo-nazis whether it be consciously or not. We began this video by giving a
short history on Felix’s previous scandals because with all that in
hindsight one could assume that he would maybe
learn from it and try a little harder. We don’t really want to say this because
there are some bad actors who are most likely going to misinterpret this, but we
think it says a lot about why Felix himself should be one of the people who
actually take this to heart the most. That he of all people should know that
he has to communicate better. The mass murderer who used his name flashed the ok-
hand-symbol during his trial. Something that Felix, for some reason, failed to
mention during his own video about said symbol. Now this is of course not to say
that he is responsible for this horrible attack, however he does have some
responsibility when it comes to what he says and does in front of his audience.
At the time of writing this video has over 5 million views. That is a lot of
eyes and ears on a false and misleading narrative. No one of us can probably even
imagine the pressure of having that many people watching whatever it is we are
doing, but when you are broadcasting to so many people you simply can’t afford
to be nave and irresponsible. What you say matters. What you do matters. You
simply have to do better. Thanks for watching the video all the
way through. This is our third video and there’s more where that came from, but
there will be even more where that came from if you pay us so I don’t have to go
to work so I can stay at home and make videos. If you become a patreon I will
read out your name like Sweetpink and Noctourno. Hopefully next time we will
have at least one more name there.