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Is PewDiePie the new Harold Bloom?

The YouTube sensation has moved from casual racism to monthly book reviews – of Hemingway, Kafka and Melville

5 May 2018

9:00 AM

5 May 2018

9:00 AM

The most subscribed to channel on YouTube — by far — belongs to a rather strange young Swede named Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie. Kjellberg has over 60 million subscribers, whom he refers to, alas, as the ‘Bro Army’. Most of his videos consist largely of him sniggering, putting on silly voices and making comments about other YouTubers. He is, of course, absolutely brilliant. For older readers, just imagine if Clive James on Television had been scripted by the Monty Python team, with the production values of Spike Milligan’s Q…

Outside the PewDiePie cult, he’s more famous for his casual racism. When a clip of him using the N-word appeared last year many thought it should be all over for him. But then he’d already survived accusations of anti-Semitism the year before — he’d paid people to hold up a sign saying ‘death to all Jews’. (Some people are so touchy.) Now PewDiePie has — incredibly — started doing monthly book reviews on his channel. Last month he encouraged his viewers — teens and twentysomethings mostly — to read no fewer than ten books. And what were these books? Some vile pap and schlock, something truly awful? Mein Kampf?


Book one was Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea — ‘not that interesting’, according to PewDiePie, which is about right. Second was Moby-Dick and — once he got through the obligatory dick jokes — he got that about right too. ‘It goes from narrative to straight-up facts about whales to poetry to philosophy… a book with books inside it’ — an insight more than worthy of, say, Harold Bloom. Of Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning: ‘I think there’s some important stuff in here’. Correct.

Other choices included Kafka’s The Metamorphosis — ‘It’s really a story about isolation and feeling not wanted and feeling like a problem… And feeling like an actual cockroach… I can’t help but sympathise’ — and no fewer than three Mishimas. This month: Crime and Punishment.

It’s just possible that 60 million subscribers are not only not wrong, they’re actually alright. And Mr Kjellberg: he may be a fool, but he’s not an idiot.


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