The Reflection Of PewDiePie

Everybody grows up. Some YouTubers must fear it because youth has its own heroes and you age out of the group, and in YouTube’s case, maybe you age out of business.  I don’t think that’s true but the fear is obviously there.

PewDiePie is the most popular YouTube personality there is with over 43 million subscribers and over 11 billion views. Outsiders might think, what a stupid occupation. He watches and plays video games; that’s it, and he’s been doing this since 2011.

PewDiePie--really Felix Kjellberg--is the perfect YouTuber, who interacts so fully with his audience that that relationship is at least half of the appeal. His fans’ comments have sometimes disappointed him-- he’s shut them off for a while. But the unique engagement of social media is why PewDiePie thrives and YouTube and social media are what they are  And it’s why, when he ends an episode with a “brofist,” to his viewers, it means something that is far more than the gesture.

A few days ago, PewDiePie took a look back at his first videos, the ones  his ardent fans love for their rawness and extreme novelty, when he had lousy equipment, non-existent editing and gave minimal thought to what he was doing.

What a fascinating piece of video. It is not often that we see performers reflect on their their former selves in any critical sense, or wrestling with the idea of spontaneous/slapdash  vs. carefully crafted. The segment begins with him reading some of critical remarks from fans who miss the old, more amateurish PewDiePie.

“People don’t care about quality,” he says at one point, explaining how entertaining content trumped professional standards. But a second later, he says he wished people knew that with his later videos, how  “so much editing” occurred just to make his episodes enjoyable and concise.

And here is PewDiePie cringing at some things he said back then.  In one clip, from 2011, he says, “It shows how gay you are,” a sentence that mortifies him now.

“I thought things were funny because they were offensive,” he reflects, later making the same kind of apology for using “retarded” frequently and rudely in the past.

He’s 26 now, not 21 and his fans are aging in the same way. They can relate. This video, “Old Vs. New PewDiePie” is really not all about him.

I’d bet he will be a part of the media for as long as he lives, if he wants to be. But he is not show biz, in a refreshing way.  Appearing with Hoda Kolb and Kathy Lee Gifford on the extremely brain-dead last hour of the “Today” show recently, he deflected all the demeaning What-A-Stupid-Way-To-Make-A-Living comments those two could have made by being utterly charming.   (While he was hyping his new YouTube Red videos, “Scare PewDiePie” Gifford interrupted him, “I wish I understood all this stuff, I really do," she exclaimed. "Do they advertise on these? How do you make any money!”)

The hosts ultimately make fun of themselves. They know they know nothing. That contrasts so vividly with “Good Morning America” in 2013, which treated Jenna Marbles like a piece of dirt, despite her status as one of YouTube’s first superstars. “Do you think you deserve to have as many fans as you do?”  GMA’s obviously-disapproving Cecilia Vega asked Marbles,  a line of questioning that made Vega and GMA open jokes on YouTube for weeks after. That was then.

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