Now that the dust has cleared, let’s do a post-mortem evaluation on this controversy. If you didn’t know, Jonathan “JonTron” Jafari, another sometimes controversial YouTube personality in the vein of Pewdiepie, is in hot water. He’s been getting increasingly political on social media over the last several months, and it all finally came to an embarrassing head when he debated another live streamer, Destiny, about matters of race, immigration, and systemic issues in America. The debate went about as well as you would expect from two video game brands yelling at each other about social issues.
As a result, not only were the people already vocally against JonTron validated, but a whole new group of people, including former fans, all joined the outspoken parts of internet video games fandom telling him to buzz off. The whole kerfuffle came to a head when Playtronic, the developer behind the upcoming Kickstarter success Yooka-Laylee , removed JonTron’s voice acting part from the game.
It happened pretty fast, as this cycle always does. Someone with a large audience, money, power, and influence said something stupid. People called them out, and at that point they had a few options. They chose to double-down, and perhaps even said worse things in the process. Then they get dropped from a gig or lose a sponsorship. People turn on them in droves, the person in question eventually recovers or doesn’t lose enough to really be screwed, and their audience, reputation and brand identity is changed forever.
The topics that always comes up in situations like these is political correctness, censorship, and free speech. Is it not okay for JonTron to freely voice his opinion? Was Playtronic right to dump him for his personal beliefs? Are people upset by his statements right to be upset or are they participating in outrage culture?
Well, the simple answer is this: a street runs both ways. Free speech is a political construct. It means you can say whatever you want without the United States government showing up at your door and tossing you in a cell for dissent or bad jokes. It doesn’t mean your boss is a jerk for firing you after you scream racial slurs at customers.
JonTron has the right to say whatever he wants, sure. But he uses public platforms to say what he wants to millions of people. He’s not just airing private thoughts to himself or talking to his friends; he’s doing the Internet equivalent of standing on a shoebox and screaming into a megaphone on a crowded street. Just as he’s generally, legally allowed to do that, people are allowed to walk up to him and call him a jerk. Especially if he is being a jerk.
Playtronic is a group comprised of people, human beings, who are just as entitled to have their beliefs and opinions as JonTron is. They gave him the gig as fans of his work and appreciation of his being a fan of the genre. Once his work turned into a platform to beam bizarre statements about how immigration is a problem for the American gene pool to hundreds of thousands of people, well, I’m sure the folks at Playtronic had an issue being involved with him by association.
Nobody is censoring anyone or telling JonTron he isn’t allowed to continue doing what he does in his own spaces. But if someone doesn’t want him doing the same thing in their spaces? It’s well within their rights to say so. There are certainly laws and policies about workplace discrimination and police, but there’s a huge difference between someone having a hard time at work because of a bumper sticker on their car and publicly ranting about people of color.
Having an opinion is fine, voicing that opinion is also fine. Doing that in the direction of other people, hundreds and thousands of other people, and expecting people who disagree or are outright insulted by the things you’re saying not to say anything back? Getting bent out of shape because your actions have consequences, especially when you’re a wealthy person in a public-facing position? That’s the real problem. Have some personal responsibility.