When “Funny” Was Never Funny in the First Place

Sam Pepper.

If you were on YouTube or were part of the YouTube community at any point in the past 4 years, that name will be very familiar; and for all the wrong reasons.

In September 2014, former 2010 Big Brother star Sam Pepper released a video that sparked major concern and controversy within the YouTube community. His video titled “Fake Hand Ass Pinch Prank” was exactly what you’d think: a “prank” on unsuspecting women where Sam would touch their bums without consent.  It wasn’t his first video featuring themes of sexual harassment, Sam was known for his “teenage dirt bag” vibes, but the YouTube community was not taking his “pranks” lightly anymore.  And rightly so.
YouTubers and fans took to the platforms they knew best, twitter and YouTube, to express their disgust at Sam’s videos and the way that they were normalising and humourizing sexual harassment and assault.

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YouTuber Jack Howard, the Vlogbrothers (Hank and John Green) and ‘sexual health guru’ Laci Green were just a few of many YouTubers to release videos reacting to Sam Pepper and bringing light to the issue of sexual assault and harassment. Laci also presented an “open letter” to Sam writing “We [the YouTube community] are deeply disturbed by this trend and would like to ask you, from one creator to another, to please stop… While it may seem like harmless fun, a simple prank, or a “social experiment”, these videos encourage millions of young men and women to see this violation as a normal way to interact with women.  1 in 6 young women (real life ones, just like the ones in your video) are sexually assaulted, and sadly, videos like these will only further increase those numbers.”

The public sphere debate went further than just the YouTube community, having legacy media companies such as the telegraph, Cosmopolitan  and bbc’s ‘Newsbeat’ report on the controversial video and the outburst it received online.

Sam’s video was permanently removed from YouTube a few days later and the YouTuber was boycotted from many YouTube events (such as Vidcon) and other YouTubers channels.

As a fan of YouTube it’s amazing to see that so many of the content creators I support are aware of their influence amongst their audiences and the power they have, to bring social issues like sexual assault to the public sphere and to raise discussion of what is and is not acceptable when it comes to treating women and what constitutes as a prank or a joke, and what doesn’t.

 


Other references:

Frankie McCamley, October 1 2014, ‘YouTube star Sam Pepper faces sexual harassment claims’, BBC Newsbeat, viewed April 1 2017, http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/29404364/youtube-star-sam-pepper-faces-sexual-harassment-claims

Alanna Bennett, September 22 2014, ‘Youtube’s Sam Pepper Got Called Out By Fellow Youtubers After Disgusting Sexual Harassment Video’, Bustle – BDG Media, Inc, viewed April 1 2017, https://www.bustle.com/articles/40837-youtubes-sam-pepper-got-called-out-by-fellow-youtubers-after-disgusting-sexual-harassment-video

Reni-Eddo Lodge, September 30 2014, ‘Sam Pepper sexual harassment row: How YouTube teen fan girls found their voice’, The Telegraph, viewed April 1 2017, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11130720/Sam-Pepper-sex-harassment-row-How-YouTube-teen-fan-girls-found-their-voice.html

Sam Gutelle, September 22 2014, YouTube Community Blacklists Sam Pepper After Controversial Video, weblog post, 22 September, Viewed April 1 2017, http://www.tubefilter.com/2014/09/22/sam-pepper-prank-controversy/

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