PewDiePie versus T-Series silliness reveals battle for the soul of YouTube

Swedish YouTube sensation PewDiePie and his supporters feel threatened by the rapid creep of corporatism that they think is sullying a platform that was built for and has been nurtured by individual expression.
Written by Rajiv Rao, Contributing Writer

A very bizarre battle has been raging across YouTube and beyond between two unlikely, overnight rivals. Actually, it is more of a one-sided scream of rage emitted by YouTube sensation PewDiePie, aka 29-year-old Swedish National Felix Kjellberg who makes roughly $15 million a year through his YouTube gaming videos, and his devout followers such as Mr. Beast. The object of their ire is T-Series, formerly an Indian purveyor of cassette-tapes filled with Bollywood music that migrated its business model to YouTube with astounding success.

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The bone of contention -- and this is where things get really incredibly silly -- is the largely irrelevant, symbolic title of 'most subscribed channel' on YouTube. PewDiePie had this moniker for five years but recently got dethroned as T-Series woke up to the internet and put all of its videos and songs on YouTube. Presto! Thanks to hundreds of millions of smartphone-toting Indians with dirt-cheap data rates courtesy Reliance Jio's disruption of the telecom industry, and thanks to the many Indian expats living abroad pining for a cultural connect, PewDiePie was duly unseated.

Now, you would think that PewDiePie would have simply shrugged at this non-event, rolled up his sleeves and gone back to earn another cool $15 million or so but that's apparently not how things are done in this strange world of YouTube stars whose modus operandi is to churn out 'dis' videos on anything that is even mildly disaffecting to them. It didn't help that PewDiePie, in his dis-track to T-Series, included this line, as Vox reports, to Indian people in general: "Your language sounds like it come [sic] from a mumblerap community," which proceeded to alienate quite a few Indians, many who happened to be the Swede gamer's fans.

This vacuous war has also galvanized PewDiePie supporters into spending millions of dollars mindlessly on his behalf and in a campaign against T-Series. One fan claimed to have hacked 50,000 printers with messages that read 'subscribe to PewDiePie.' YouTube star Mr. Beast spent bucketloads on billboards and radio ads in his hometown of Greenville, North Carolina urging people to subscribe to his hero. He also attracted over 8 million views on an especially mind-numbing video that showed him uttering the word 'PewDiePie' 100,000 times ostensibly garnering even more hardly-earned dollars into his coffers. Another acolyte, Justin Roberts coughed up $1 million on a billboard in Time Square exhorting people to do the same. During the course of this non-war, YouTube was also forced to remove millions of fake subscriptions from both T-Series and PewDiePie's accounts.

Also: Google's YouTube: If creators get badly out of line, here's how we'll punish them

At the heart of all of this silliness is a somewhat more serious issue, one that grapples with what exactly YouTube culture is. The campaign against T-Series is bound to have racial overtones -- PewDiePie himself has been excoriated in the past for endorsing alt-right and anti-semitic videos -- but a large part of this battle is also about rapidly encroaching corporatism that has engulfed a platform that was once identified solely with a DIY, individualistic flavor. T-Series, with its 29 channels that offer a tsunami of music in different Indian languages and musical styles all of which generate a quarter of the Indian company's $100 million in revenue, represents all that is wrong with the video platform to some of its core followers which include sub cultures of gamers, machinima-stle editors, vloggers, livestreamers, pranksters as well as a growing alt-right presence.

As more of these groups are elbowed out by mainstream entertainment and media, look for more embittered acts of retribution by these youth who feel that their community is under siege.

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