YouTube's biggest stars keep turning to be massive racists
In the swirling vortex of unhinged toxicity and rampant moronic behavior that was 2014-era YouTube, one content team stood out as being somewhat watchable and personable. That braintrust was h3h3 productions, comprised of husband and wife team Ethan and Hila Klein. In the channel’s halcyon days, Ethan specialized in goofy reviews of bizzare internet videos, which he reacted to with a mix of disgust and outsized enthusiasm. If you desperately needed someone to make fun of DJ Khaled hitting on women in an abandoned pier on a jetski at 3 a.m., or laugh at a fake prank video involving a group of grown men calling themselves “The Salad Boys,” h3h3 was just the ticket. The combination of the overenthusiastic, loudmouthed Ethan and the shy, sardonic Hila was a winning one.
If a loyal h3h3 fan was cryogenically frozen four years ago and woke up now, they would find a shockingly different set of content and priorities. Gone are the comedic sketches and laser-focused reaction videos. Instead, most of Ethan’s content — and it is indeed Ethan’s channel these days, as Hila has receded farther and farther into the background — consists of longform podcasts and rant videos. Once committed only to “punching up” at celebrities and pre-established YouTube stars, h3h3 now largely centers around “cringing” at “SJWs” and “crazy feminists.” That’s right, your friendly neighborhood goofball is now a hardcore reactionary.
As for Ethan himself, his priorities are certainly different. Once quick to point out the toxicity and unpleasantness of the internet, he now dishes it out on a daily basis. With such sterling observations as “Women are, in a nature setting, designed to be conquered,” “Indians are all just the goofiest people. Don’t all Indians look like janitors?” and, in reference to Roseanne Barr’s racist ambien tirade, “I know that it was extremely bigoted what she done, BUT THAT DOESN'T CHANGE HOW OFFENDED THE SJWS ARE! IT'S JUST WHAT SHE DOES!"
Inviting the likes of full-time Canadian misogynist Dr. Jordan Peterson, UKIP “classical race realist” Carl “Sargon of Akkad” Swindon on his podcast would have been bad enough, but Ethan manages to keep pace with them in the racism and misogyny department. That’s really frightening stuff for any former viewer, especially considering how young the average h3h3 audience member is. The one saving grace is that many of h3h3’s newer videos have been demonetized by YouTube, preventing them from earning money from hateful content. Ethan is convinced that the Wall Street Journal orchestrated the demonetization because they’re deathly afraid of online content, but that’s a rather unlikely theory.
Maybe we should have seen this one coming, given that Ethan attached himself to another fallen star of the nascent internet landscape, Jon Jafari. Better known as JonTron, Jafari originally specialized in video game and film reviews and became beloved for his warmth and energetic sense of humor. In 2013, Jafari teamed up with animator Arin Hanson and created the comedy series “Game Grumps,” to widespread acclaim. By that point, Jafari was something of an icon for his young audience. Other content creators, like Ethan Klein and Jared “ProJared” Knabenbauer, looked up to him as an inspiration.
After a successful year with Hanson as the Game Grumps, Jafari left abruptly in 2014, with no communication or indication why. Neither Hanson nor Jafari’s replacement, musician Dan Avidan, would as much as acknowledge Jafari. Aside from a brief and unsatisfying cameo by Hanson in a Jafari parody of Star Wars, fans were left completely stumped as to why former best friends seemed to avoid each other’s names like the plague.
As time went on, the near-total radio silence from Game Grumps on the “Jon Issue,” as their fans came to term it, made much more sense. Jafari’s release schedule trickled to a halt, and he began expressing his opinions in new and more worrying ways. Apropos of nothing, Jafari in March 2017, “Wow, how scandalous, Steve King doesn't want his country invaded by people who have contempt for his culture and people! NAZI!!!” For those of you not familiar, Steve King (R-Ia.) is the United States’ only open white nationalist Congressman. King had in March 2017 that Dutch Islamophobe and quasi-fascist Geert Wilders “understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies.” The connection there isn’t a fun one.
If that wasn’t enough to ruin any JonTron fan’s day, his attempt at damage control was even worse. Jafari sat down with streamer Steven “Destiny” Bonnell for a debate that same April, in which Jafari outed himself as a massive white nationalist in his attempts to clear his name. Lowlights included his claim that “We've gotten rid of discrimination in our Western countries. If you don't think we've gotten rid of discrimination, you're living in a fantasy land,” another claim that “Wealthy blacks also commit more crime than poor whites. That’s a fact. Look it up,” and responded to Bonnell’s criticism by saying “These are just slurs; white supremacist, racist.”
In response, Jafari was fired from his role as a voice actor for the upcoming game “Yooka-Laylee” and was dismissed from NormalBoots, the production company he had founded in 2009. NormalBoots’ decision was made public by Jared Knabenbauer, who had jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with his inspiration back in 2011. If there’s one lesson to be learned from this story besides “don’t be a white nationalist if you like having friends or respect,” it might very well be “never meet your idols.” For the record, Jafari received no punishment from YouTube, his primary source of income.
While Ethan and Jon are just the most tragic examples of YouTube’s descent into racist garbage, they’re hardly the only ones. Felix “Pewdiepie” Kjellberg, the single most subscribed YouTuber in the history of the website, has openly dropped the n-word on air in what he called a “heated gaming moment.” Philip DeFranco, the self-appointed “King of YouTube News,” spent most of the 2016 campaign cycle attempting to assuage his audience's fears that Donald Trump was unqualified to be president. Steven “Boogie2988” Williams claimed that gay rights activists were “bloodthirsty, heartless monsters who want [me] dead for thought crime,” and stated that they should have given homophobes 20 years after Obergefell v. Hodges to “prepare” before legalizing gay marriage. The entire platform is full of these people, and they’re influencing a whole generation of impressionable teenagers and young adults.
Is YouTube terrible at times? Actually, it’s terrible most of the time. But there are a few glimmers of hope out there. For every 1000 Minecraft gamers who think the Nazis should have won, there’s a Lindsay Ellis, or a Natalie “Contrapoints” Wynn, or a Binging With Babish making quality content.
To get a bit eschatological for a moment, a mystical tradition in Judaism holds that the world is only not destroyed for the sake of 36 worthy men. Maybe this is a stretch, but perhaps YouTube is only kept alive for the sake of those scant few worthy content creators. Otherwise, the likes of Ethan and Jon would have been cast into fire and brimstone a long time ago.