The dust has largely settled around popular YouTuber Felix Kjellberg, known as PewDiePie, who used to attract a constant stream of scandals; on Wednesday, he showed he’s still got it, and began trending on Twitter after he mocked TikTok creator Scarlet May, a deaf woman.
In his most recent YouTube video, Kjellberg stars in mock horror at May, who is telling an anecdote while using sign language; Kjellberg shuts off the video prematurely, then seemingly mocks her voice, moving his dog’s paws around to mimic her signing, and makes fun of her long nails.
Even for a cringe reaction video, it’s pretty low – cringe culture is notorious for being toxic, as the whole idea of cringe reaction videos is to uncover the most “embarrassing” content uploaded onto the internet, and turn it into a joke (Contrapoints, another YouTuber, has a great video essay exploring the dark underbelly of cringe culture).
Reacting to “cringe” is something that every group on the internet seems to do, but there’s a big difference between mocking the powerful, and the downtrodden. And frankly, there was nothing funny about May’s video; it was simply her telling a story while signing.
As the backlash started to form, Kjellberg quietly edited out the offending segment of the video without addressing the criticism. At this point, we’ve all endured years of cancel culture discourse, and a lot of creators have figured out that simply addressing scandals as they arise and clarifying intentions are the best way to quell the fire and, well, make things boring again. By letting the controversy fester, “PewDiePie” continued to trend on Twitter as fans and critics argued over his true intentions.
As per tradition, Kjellberg’s fans claimed that Kjellberg was simply making fun of May’s nails, and that Kjellberg didn’t even know she was deaf. This is all pretty familiar for a Kjellberg scandal, in which a backlash forms and fans claim innocent ignorance on Kjellberg’s part (now that Kjellberg is 32 years-old, that defense is beginning to sound increasingly desperate).
May eventually responded to the controversy via a TikTok, and was very frank and mature about the whole thing. May explained:
“I wasn’t surprised. I’m used to it. But a big creator comes on here and puts us a million steps back, so it’s very frustrating. … Because I have to sign to communicate and have long nails, he stopped the video after two seconds and didn’t even listen to the story, and then after that, proceeded to make fun of me with his dog.”
May also called out Kjellberg’s decision to quietly edit her clip out: “You don’t get to just mock deaf people who have been struggling for years with people like you and then go about your day.”
Several hours later, Kjellberg decided to acknowledge the situation, responding in the comments section of the offending video, in which he wrote:
“Hey, just to clear a few things up: I edited out the clip with the girl that has the long nails. Had no clue she was deaf, but kinda dumb of me to not realize.. Still watching through the clip I only poked fun of her long nails. The voice I did for my dog is the same voice I’ve given her for years. (edit: ..and making my dog’s paws move was poking at people always dancing or doing some move on tiktok, which is an ongoing theme in the whole video). Anyway honest mistake, my bad.”