YouTube

Jimmy Kimmel, E! Face Brutal Backlash After Poking Fun at Leading YouTube Creators

Are we past the point, culturally speaking, of undermining a new class of digital celebrities who have risen to fame amid wholly novel content formats?

As family vlogs, shopping hauls, reaction videos and ‘Let’s Play’ gaming videos have riveted today’s YouTube generation, members of the mainstream media have probed the value and legitimacy of such content in recent weeks. And the backlash from so-called #TeamInternet has been brutal.

Jimmy Kimmel, for instance, has found himself besieged by death threats after a segment on his show last week poked fun at YouTube Gaming -- a just-launched platform dedicated to the popular category. “To me, watching another person play video games is like going to a restaurant and having someone eat your food for you,” Kimmel joked.

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However, such commentary may have sounded unexpected and a little out of touch coming from Kimmel, who himself boasts a massive digital footprint. With 6 million YouTube subscribers, Kimmel should ostensibly appreciate the power of the inane, including zeitgeisty viral hits like ‘I Told My Kids I Ate All Their Halloween Candy’ and ‘Worst Twerk Fail EVER.’

It should also be noted that, for many, gaming content has become less a futile pastime than a booming $3.8 billion industry. The gamer PewDiePie, for instance, earned $7.4 million last year thanks in part to his gaming channel, and the most popular search query on all of YouTube last year was ‘Minecraft,’ according to the company.

Nevertheless, the seething response by gaming fans proved that the community is indeed prone to a bizarre hypersensitivity of sorts. While some of the more measured commenters explained that watching video games was akin to watching sports, others wished AIDS, brain cancer and other violent death scenarios (of questionable grammatical formulation) upon the host.

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“If you were on life support,” one wrote, “I would plug it out and charge my phone.”

Ever the diplomat, after dedicating two consecutive monologues to the controversy, Kimmel is now extending an olive branch. “I have been approached, and I’m gonna sit down with people who care very much about this topic and I’m gonna be open-minded,” he said last night. “I will give these gamers an opportunity to show me what is fun about watching other people play video games.”

The back-and-forth smacks of another controversy in recent weeks, when E! Online published a tongue-in-cheek listicle expressing bewilderment in the face of rising YouTube stars. The story ignited a firestorm among top creators and their legions of fans, illustrating that, even as old media mainstays may chuckle at a new wave of digital influencers, their budding economic and cultural clout has become no laughing matter.

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Edition: December 2016

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