Guilty by association… or not
By Rebecca Peterson, Humour Editor
Here’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently: It’s really easy to get annoyed when people you like don’t hate the same people you do.
I remember this used to really bother me as a kid, because honestly, everything bothered me when I was a kid. It’s part of why I’m on medication now. Even so; as with most decent writers and comedians, I’ve had my share of bullies, and I couldn’t understand why other kids in the class who weren’t bullies were friends with such assholes. Could they not see that the eight-year-old girl that called me a freak was filled with unspeakable evil? Were they blind to the hellfire burning deep within that third-grader’s eyes?
I read a lot of books—specifically, a lot of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, over and over—so I had a pretty clear-cut sense of good and evil. I figured good people were good people and evil people were evil people. So when good people went to evil people’s slumber parties and signed their grade seven yearbook, my worldview was thrown entirely for a loop.
Thankfully, I became older, wiser, and—as previously mentioned—medicated, and I developed a healthy zen about the whole thing. “One man’s asshole is another man’s bestie,” I mused. After all, I’ve had friends with asshole friends, and I have, arguably, been that asshole friend. In all our interconnected social networks, it just doesn’t make sense to drop good people out of your life because they occasionally have bad taste.
I think this is a principle most of us can get behind, so here’s where it gets tricky: applying it to public figures.
I was recently disappointed by a YouTuber I like after she posted a video in which she called herself a “huge fan” of YouTuber PewDiePie in response to public criticism for an absurdly racist “practical joke” he played in January. I’m not here to argue over PewDiePie’s actions, whether they were racist (they were) or if he deserved to be cut from his deal with Disney because of them (he did). I have never been a fan of PewDiePie, but I have been a long-time fan of the YouTuber supporting him, and it hurt that she didn’t seem to understand the very real pain that people suffered because of his “joke,” especially in such a turbulent time. She received a lot of criticism for her comments, criticism that she joked about and brushed off instead of taking seriously, which was also frustrating to watch.
On Twitter, however, I saw another favourite YouTuber of mine talk about the matter, someone who’d met PewDiePie a few times. All he said was that he didn’t support PewDiePie’s actions, but that when he’d met the man in person he seemed like a “nice guy.” Suddenly this YouTuber was inundated with messages from various anonymous internet people calling him a “literal Nazi,” among other things, for essentially saying something kind about a friend. A shitty friend, but a friend, nonetheless.
Do I think PewDiePie is a nice guy? No. I also haven’t met him, but I doubt meeting him would change my opinion.
I’m certain some of the messages sent to the YouTubers who didn’t indict PewDiePie for his actions were well thought-out and appropriate arguments attempting to educate rather than lambast and attack. However, I also recognize that these YouTubers get millions of comments every day, ranging from sweet to bat-shit insane. It’s much more likely that they’d stand with a fellow YouTuber, rather than change an opinion they’ve formed from their own experiences based on the words from millions of anonymous voices.
I’m still disappointed, of course, just like I was back when everyone thought one of my bullies was the coolest girl on the playground, even as she mocked my (admittedly horrible) dancing in front of everyone and tried to convince the other girls not to shop at the same stores I got my clothes from. That, of course, isn’t on the same level as posting a video using people of colour to display an anti-Semitic message worldwide, and as I am neither Jewish nor a person of colour I know I have quite a lot of privilege coming in on this issue. It’s easier for me to try to shrug off my disappointment and still enjoy watching videos by YouTubers who do not actively condemn his actions.
The problem with seeing people as objectively good or objectively evil is that very few truly evil people exist. The world is largely made up of decent people and less-decent people who do horrible things sometimes. It doesn’t excuse these things, or the people who do them—far from—but maybe we can cut their friends a break if they seem, for the most part, to be relatively okay.