As an entertainment industry professional, you are obligated to check out anything and everything in the media business that’s attracting buzz out there. How can you reasonably expect to produce successful content if you aren’t familiar with how other people out there are succeeding?
But before getting a glimpse of what is the hottest attraction on YouTube right now, here’s a one-word warning: Don’t. Not if you want to retain your sanity.
Because if you are over voting age and take a look at PewDiePie, your reaction will be fear — in more ways than one.
PewDiePie (rhymes with ‘cutie pie’) is the alter ego of Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, a 23-year-old Swede who has 12.6 million subscribers on YouTube. That’s more than any other of the pop-culture figures you’d expect would be the frontrunner, from Justin Bieber to Lady Gaga.
And how does someone you’ve never heard of manage to get 2.6 billion views for his videos, which are part of the vast stable of channels operated by multichannel network Maker Studios? Blathering like a blithering idiot, apparently.
Foul-mouthed PewDiePie jabbers nonsensically to the fans he calls “bros” primarily about videogames in a voice that reminds you of a young Bobcat Goldthwait between hits of nitrous oxide.
Try this test: Sample a PewDiePie video. If a barrage of images and sounds that enthrall so many come across as positively incomprehensible to you, congratulations: You just confronted the cold, stark reality that you are horribly, irrevocably old.
That can be the only explanation as to what separates you from so many others who actually appreciate this content. To look at PewDiePie slack-jawed is to look in a mirror and see your own irrelevancy staring back at you.
Truth be told, he’s not all that different stylistically from previous top YouTubers, going back to the Fred Figglehorn character that became one of YouTube’s first breakout stars several years ago, or Smosh, the comedy duo that is still going strong at No. 2. But the aggressive stupidity of PewDiePie may finally force a question the world has postponed addressing for far too long: What does the popularity of these dolts say about the generation of kids worldwide that are making them icons?
What’s scary is that there is no way to dismiss this as some kind of outlier phenomenon that will come and go. PewDiePie is not some viral one-off where the novelty fades the second the video ends. To the contrary, Kjellberg has methodically built himself a mini-empire by posting videos frequently instead of coasting on a hit or two.
The frenetic aesthetic he’s helping shape on YouTube is simply too humongous to remain contained to the platform. Surely the day is nigh when that wild style will make its way on air, i.e., “World News Tonight With PewDiePie.”
But how PewDiePie and his ilk will infect the culture at large is an open question: The talent bred on YouTube could make the leap to other media. Or those already on TV will start adopting the aesthetic of YouTube. Perhaps the boundary between YouTube and TV won’t exist anymore. Maybe all three of those options will come to pass.
Perhaps we can comfort ourselves that the PewDiePies of the world are just phases teenagers will age out of and mature into more refined programming tastes. Or maybe this is a sign of a coarsening to come.
Call me a codger, but it’s worth considering that the democratization of content distribution YouTube is enabling may carry with it a downside: an increasing supply of dumbed-down content. With a little luck, PewDiePie will be offset by more intelligent options that prove just as popular.
Otherwise, we’re just left with psycho babble.