PewDiePie apology and ethos; a rhetorical analysis by Andreas Blaustein

Alright, so I’m not just a mediocre poet, I’m also a mediocre rhetorician! I study at university level to become a rhetorics consultant. So I thought I’d try to do some real lazy rhetorical analysis for you.

Ever heard of ethos? Sure you have. If you haven’t you suck. Anyway, ethos is what I will analyze today but first I will explain it a bit more. I will use the same understanding of ethos as Aristotle. When he wrote about ethos he wrote that it consists of three parts; fronesis (being a sensible or knowledgeable person), arete, (having good morals) and eunoia (good will towards the audience). A good character consists of these three things, meaning if you have these three things you have a good ethos. I’m explaining these things a bit lazy here but whatever, this is not an academic paper, it’s cooler.

So what exactly will I analyze? I will analyze PewDiePie’s apology video (link at the bottom). I’m sure most of you know what exactly I mean, but for those who don’t; in 2017 PewDiePie was live streaming while he was playing PUBG, a battle royale (last man standing game, like Fortnite), multiplayer shooting game. PewDiePie died in the game and got mad and said the n-word. He got a lot of backlash for it, but he quickly made a video apologizing for what he had done. There was still a lot of controversy around it, but he was still able to continue his career, still going strong as I am writing this in 2021.

What he did in the video was something very interesting. He was honest. He did not try to sugarcoat anything. My hypothesis is that his honesty might have saved his ethos. I hope that my analysis will make it clearer whether it was so or not.

I will point out and discuss the three parts of ethos being displayed in this apology video and then I will write my conclusion about PewDiePie’s ethos. So here we go!

Fronesis (being a sensible or knowledgeable person)
In the beginning of the video PewDiePie says that he is aware that other people use this word online. Later he says that this is not about him thinking he can do or say whatever he wants and get away with it.

Concerning what he said about people using this kind of language online; he knows it’s a problem. He wants to show that he has experience gaming online and that he knows that people use this language there a lot. It also seems like he wants to show that he thinks that other people who has made apology videos might have this attitude; that they can do whatever they want and get away with it. By doing this, PewDiePie might want to distance himself from that kind of behaviour and also show that he knows that that is also a problem.

Arete (having good morals)
PewDiePie says that the word slipped out in the heat of the moment and that he won’t make any excuses for it, because there are not excuses for it. He also mentions that it was the worst word he could think of. He later calls himself an idiot.

Here he shows that he knows what he said was wrong. He knows it is one of the worst words, indirectly stating that it is bad morals to use it. He wants to display here that he is aware of what is wrong and right, right being not using this kind of language. The fact that he calls himself an idiot (presumably because of the word he used, although that is not explicitly stated as he calls himself an idiot) shows that he thinks only idiots use words like these. That also means that he thinks that non-idiots do not use those words, because it is morally right since it hurts people to use it.

Eunoia (good will towards the audience)
At the end of his apology he says that he is sorry if he hurt or offended anyone by what he had done. He also says that he owes it to his audience to do better and he continues to say that he wants to improve and better himself not just for him, but also for anybody that looks up to him or is influenced by him.

This shows that PewDiePie is aware that he has a big influence because he has a big audience. He knows his mess-up have the potential to hurt a lot of people and he clearly states that he is regretful about it. He does not want to hurt anyone. The fact that he says he wants to improve and better himself also for the sake of his audience clearly shows that he wants to create a good will towards them. He wants them to feel happy watching his videos and not be hurt by them.

So to conclude, PewDiePie showed that he wants to do better for his audience, he knows what he did was wrong, even calling himself an idiot in the process, and he is aware of problems that is going on concerning the usage of the n-word in online gaming and also people who get backlash who simply try to get away without learning anything. That checks the boxes of euonoia, arete and fronesis respectively, meaning that this video created a good ethos by the Aristotelian definition.

That in itself does not mean that much though. My hypothesis for this tiny analysis was that it was the honesty of PewDiePie that was the fundamental reson that created a good ethos. I think that he calling himself an idiot was the key here. When people get backlash or get cancelled it is, according to my random speculations, because the majority of people don’t think that that person is worthy of being a public figure worthy to admire. Why isn’t that person worthy to admire? Not necessarily because that person has done something bad, but because that person is not aware that what they had done was bad. Instead they might try to make an apology simply to get away from the problem and continue their career. What PewDiePie did when he called himself an idiot was to show everyone else that he knew he had done something bad. He also showed he knew why it was bad, and that he was not trying to explain it away but rather show that he wants to be better (because who wants to be an idiot, right?). It’s a variation of what I call “the 8 Mile defense”. Remember in 8 Mile, in that last battle when (START OF SPOILER) Eminem said everything embarrassing about himself? And then Papa Doc had nothing to say, because Eminem had already dissed himself in every way possible? (END OF SPOILER) This is kind of what PewDiePie did, he showed that he knew he was an idiot which caused everyone else to go “Oh, okay, at least he knows what he did and he apologized for it. He’s at least somewhat good. Let’s move on”. Okay, not everyone said that, but I want to believe that they did because it’s way more dramatic and cool.

So to conclude even more, when you fuck up, show that you know that you fucked up. Don’t be afraid to call yourself bad names if you think that’s what you deserve, but also show that you know why the fuck up was bad. If you just call yourself bad names and then move on people will see through you, so the knowing why it was bad part is very important and usually very hard to fake. You just gotta have good morals for that. I know, it sucks. So don’t try to cheat, it won’t work and there are plenty of excellent examples of why (Travis Scott?), which I might analyze in the future.

PS! I know 8 Mile is an old movie by now and that people probably have seen it already, but I don’t care. I don’t want to spoil such a good movie for anyone ever. Come at me if you think I’m annoying for it.

Bias report
I am a fan of PewDiePie and that might have influenced this analysis