In case you don't know him, Jonathan Jafari - "JonTron" - is a YouTuber or "Internet personality". He rose to fame as the creator of the Let's Play series Game Grumps. He has over three million subscribers on YouTube, and in the past week or so became the latest high-profile Let's Play-er to become embroiled in a white supremacy storm.
Jafari first made the error of defending a US politician's controversial remarks on immigration - "Wow, how scandalous, Steve King doesn't want his country invaded by people who have contempt for his culture and people! NAZI!!!" - continued to dig himself into a deeper hole during a two-hour live stream ("If they assimilated, they would enter the gene pool, eventually."), and then released an apology video which sought to explain his comments and reset his reputation.
Didn't really work.
TROLL WITH IT
PewDiePie, meanwhile, has continued to troll the media - following what has now been revealed as a rather manipulative and insincere "explanation" for his own Nazi-based whimsy (featuring copious crocodile tears, in a textbook example of the Karpman Drama Triangle) - with yet further references to Nazism. He so funneeeee!
Meanwhile, Colin Moriarty, a founder member of Kinda Funny - a collection of "Internet personalities" comprised of former IGN staffers - quit the group recently in the wake of an allegedly sexist tweet, and has now taken to Patreon to fund a series of weekly videos which "delve deep into the issues of our time, not to mention the issues of long ago". Whatever those might be. How to deal with the bubonic plague, perhaps? How to get lice out of your codpiece?
Currently, Moriarty stands to make nearly $40,000 a month off this venture. Thanks to the generosity of 173 of you, and a handful of PayPal donors, I make just over $1,000 off mine - or about £400 after VAT and tax and fees. Not including what I fork out for it for web hosting and games and stuff. I'm deeply grateful for it, but... y'know... just sayin'. Maybe I'm not racist enough.
So: what's going on? Why are all the gaming YouTubers suddenly acting all, like, offensive and that? Why are they being dicks? And why am I writing about it again?
Well... I suppose because I wonder whether - had the Internet been around when I was first doing the original Digitiser - I'd have ended up as one of those dicks too.
I never got close to reaching the eye-watering levels of global fame as the likes of PewDiePie, JonTron, or Colin Moriarty, but Digitiser was undeniably pretty popular in the UK back in the 90s and early Noughties.
I mean, at one point we were getting over a million readers weekly, and though that dropped significantly after Teletext decided to remove the humour, and reduce our updates to just three days a week, by the end Digi was still engorged with a readership far in excess of what any print magazine achieved.
I'm not saying this to boast; we started pre-internet, were on one of the main terrestrial channels, and - at least for the first nine years - daily. We were handed a golden opportunity that even an idiot would have had a hard time ballsing up.
I suppose what was different for us compared to YouTubers is that we were part of a larger organisation, and there wasn't really an opportunity to break away from it and do our own thing online.
We also tried very hard to avoid making Digi a cult of personality. None of us wanted to be Julian "Jazz Mag" Rignall, and were a bit holier-than-thou when it came to games mag by-lines. Our names - Mr Biffo, Mr Hairs, Mr Cheese - were meant as a way of poking fun at all that; we never meant for anybody to latch onto them.
That worked well...
Digitiser is 25 years old next January. I started writing it when I was a mere slip of a 21 year-old, and I have wondered whether, over the ten years the original Digi ran for, we ever put stuff to air which would've been contentious in the current climate.
I can't think of anything specific... The phrase "sheriff's hair and poo" was removed by a sub, we were told off for suggesting that all Scottish people had ginger hair, and I got a written warning for asking security guards whether they were "Too fat and stupid to get into the army". Oh, and Ofcom upheld a complaint over Gossi The Dog being afraid of his master's belt.
And yet... I say that pretty certain in the knowledge that - even if we had been able to get it to air - we wouldn't have done a PewDiePie-style "Death to all Jews" joke.
Most of what we got away with was innuendo, or kind of darkly surreal... Certainly nothing really racist-y or sexist-y. So, actually, maybe we would've been fine.
Maybe we wouldn't have been forced to apologise for anything. I dunno though - and I sort of want to know.
I also started writing this piece wondering if you can attribute the stupid behaviour of PewDiePie and JonTron to them being young and ignorant. They're 27 and 26 respectively (while Colin Moriarty is 32 - the age I more or less was when Digi ended).
Certainly, there are things from the Teletext days which I wince at, and put down to the recklessness of youth. We took risks with our own jobs, certainly - mainly to amuse ourselves. I can see a bit of that going on with PewDiePie's misguided attempts at humour.
He doesn't have the buffer of a sub-editor between him and his audience; it's just him and a camera, unfiltered. He clearly pushes things in order to get a laugh, and evidently takes it too far.
JonTron's views on immigration are something else entirely - intended sincerely, apparently. Really, though, even if he is of Iranian heritage, is any 26 year-old - least of all one more commonly known for whimsical gaming videos - really going to add anything fresh or insightful to the debate on immigration? Is that who we should be going to for our commentary on such enormous issues?
Sorry if that comes over as patronising and middle-aged, but I've earned the right. With a certain amount of mileage comes a certain amount of wisdom, and one of the biggest lessons I've learned in my life is knowing when to keep my mouth shout.
Thus... I worry that I might not have done when I was young, if exposed to the same sort of spotlight as today's YouTubers. Then again, I've always loved the multiculturalism of my home country and city, and couldn't care less about immigration.
Something I found when I did Digi was that I never really had a sense of the audience being there. It was only subsequently, after I stopped doing it, that I realised how popular it actually was - that people even knew or cared who the mysterious "Mr Biffo" might be.
Obviously, we got letters, I saw the viewing figures, and I would very occasionally bump into people who were fans. I was taken aback in CEX once, when the guy behind the counter noticed my name and mumbled "Stay away from my bins". But it was all kind of abstract; for the most part, my day, my life, would roll on regardless, utterly unaffected by any of that.
It was only in the mid-2000s, when I had the Board of Biffo going, that, I suppose, I felt I was at the centre of something. That backfired spectacularly for me, because I ended up getting a ton of online grief, and wasn't mature or grounded enough at the time to handle it. Also, I didn't understand it - I didn't get that being Mr Biffo in a group of people who knew who Mr Biffo was would change the dynamic. I wanted to be part of the gang, but I wasn't; I was the human equivalent of a klaxon going off in a pig sty.
It was impossible to blend in, and I only realised that on reflection, once I stepped away. It could be that JonTron, PewDiePie, and their ilk simply aren't aware of how huge they are. It's not like they're Bono - soaking up the applause of 200,000 people night after night. They sit in front of their cameras, and then watch numbers rack up.
For them, getting a million views for a video might be as vague as it was to be told Digi was getting 1.2 million readers a week. How can anybody really absorb that and make sense of it?
It's different with Digitiser2000 (not least because its readership is a fraction of what Digitiser got). When I launched this site, and stepped out of the shadows, I was prepared. Still terrified initially of what it might attract, but prepared. I didn't want fame, I just wanted to create stuff which satisfied me, and I wanted to write about games again.
I'm in my 40s now, and have a ton of life under my belt (which I occasionally remove and use to beat a fictional dog). I've got a sub-editor living in my head these days (albeit one who sucks at spotting typos). Apart from the times I've waded into Gamergate or Brexit - in my attempts to understand them - I've rarely drawn any controversy to Digi2000.
Of course, this site gets a fraction of the readers that Digi got back in the day. I'm a mere speck in the current gaming scene. In the 8 years or so that I was away, YouTube rose up and I faded away in most people's memories. Had I never stepped away, maybe I'd have started a YouTube channel earlier, capitalised on Digitiser and made it bigger than this site is now... but I know I probably wouldn't have been ready for it.
The state I was in, I might well have done or said something profoundly stupid, and I'd have probably done it for the wrong reasons; for the affirmation and acceptance and love that was otherwise missing in my life back then.
The joy of starting this site when I did is that I was clear-headed and grown-up. I'm grounded and stable, and happy. Plus, it has remained small enough that I've gotten to know some of you pretty well - which I like very much.
It's honestly a gift.
Which is all a bit of a ramble really, and just me once again trying to make sense of my place in the world, and reflect upon where I came from.
Because the world is a different place now to when I started Digi; the Internet has given voice to the sorts of people and opinions that most of us were shielded from 25 years ago. Jokes - sorry, "jokes" - about killing Jews were at most confined to the playground, or Nazi rallies, or particularly offensive pub talk between wankers.
Back in the 90s, you wouldn't get white supremacists spouting their opinions on TV - but for the generations below me, YouTube is their TV, and social media is their playground. It grants these views, or these ham-fisted attempts at humour, a certain legitimacy. Maybe - who knows? - it offers the illusion that it's okay and acceptable to make jokes about it.
Part of me wants to dismiss PewDiePie and JonTron as kids who've just been exposed to this stuff, that for them it has become normalised. Except... by their age I had three children, and was doing my best to raise them to be tolerant of everyone, regardless of gender, race or beliefs.
I wrote this piece, because I was reflecting upon whether I was like them, whether it's a case of there but for the grace of God and all that.
But you know what? Whatever mistakes I made, however fragile I ever got, I know now that I would never have gone to those places, never had those opinions, never made those sorts of jokes. Furthermore, I still don't think I would've done even if I'd matured in the current climate.
Some things just are wrong and unacceptable, and thank Christ I've always known what those are. As an old man it worries the living bejeezus out of me that the likes of JonTron, PewDiePie and Colin Moriarty - unfiltered, unvarnished, un-responsible - are the ones the next generation are watching.
Bunch of twats.