Courtney Accocella ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Once upon a time prank videos were harmless and fun where favorite YouTubers might act like lunatics in a public elevator or ride a unicycle through a crowded supermarket in search of unsuspecting outrageous reactions. The key word in the previous statement was harmless, something 25 year old British YouTuber and “prankster” Sam Pepper seems to have forgotten.
Pepper received Internet notoriety thanks to his love of vulgarity and his boundary pushing “prank” videos. Videos that often generated their massive viewership and profit on the highly uncomfortable reactions of the females Pepper so often “pranks”. However, it became clear this past week that the Internet is done with his so-called “humor”.
On Saturday Pepper posted a video to his channel eloquently entitled “Fake Hand Ass Pinch Prank”. In it Pepper is seen approaching five women with having a sleeve stuffed so as to appear that both hands are in his pocket when in fact his right hand is behind his back. Pepper asks the women for directions and while they are distracted squeezes their asses with his hidden free hand. When the women display their discomfort Sam plays it off as a passerby having done the offensive act.
The video quickly drew negative attention to Pepper, and rightfully so. A tremendous outpouring of criticism, along with a series of Twitter campaigns to report Pepper’s videos were seen by thousands. Numerous notable YouTubers have also spoken out against Pepper’s actions since his posting including Tyler Oakley, Mamrie Hart, Meghan Tonjes, Charlie McDonnell, and Emerson Alumni Matt Lieberman of SourcFed, amongst others.
Hank Green tweeted that Pepper will not be welcome at Vidcon in the future, which was quickly followed by The Fine Brothers announcing that Pepper would no longer be invited to appear on their web series, YouTubers React. Even Pepper’s collaborative partner and friend Mazzi Maz has made comments to BBC’s Radio 1 saying he does not want to be associated with Pepper and he recognizes that Pepper has most certainly crossed a line.
Most notable of the YouTuber responses was that of sexual education activist and vlogger Laci Green who posted an open letter to Pepper and spurred others to report his video. This coupled with the Twitter campaigns resulted in YouTube’s removal of the video on the grounds of violation of their “nudity and sexual content” policy.
Laci Green’s letter, which has now generated over 100,000 cosigners, addresses not only this most recent video but also the slew of other videos Pepper has posted with evident sexual harassment. Green goes on to ask Pepper to stop this trend of perpetuating sexual assault on women as she sees his videos “encourage young men and women to see this violation as a normal way to interact with women.”
Green also points out in her letter that 1 in 6 women are assaulted in their life. That fact becomes even more disturbing when applied to Pepper’s 2.4 million subscribers, over half of who are female. That means that approximately of Pepper’s at least 1.2 million female subscribers 200,000 them will be sexually assaulted, just as the women are in Pepper’s videos.
On Monday night Pepper finally gave a reply to the controversy in the form of yet another highly offensive video. This time with a slight change in that Pepper was no longer the assailant, but instead it was a young woman named Alanah Cole who assaulted unsuspecting men in a video entitled Part 2 of 3. This video garnered even more rage towards Pepper with many pointing out that assaulting more people did not somehow improve the situation. And of course the title, suggesting another video and Pepper’s tweets of a big reveal led many to wonder what was to come. But as quickly as this new video came it went, this time having YouTube pull it faster than the last.
By Tuesday Pepper was ready with part three, maybe the most polarizing intact of all the videos he had posted. In it Sam lets viewers know that both videos were staged and consent was given prior to filming. He goes on to explain that this was all part of a larger plan, a social experiment to see if passersby would be as offended to male assault as we were to female assault. According to Pepper they were not.
Pepper said he decided to do the experiment after being told by a male friend that he was the victim of domestic abuse, which was never taken seriously. As well, Pepper said he felt he could relate in that he too was sexually assaulted by his own fans that would pinch his rear at meet-ups. When Pepper told fans he was not okay with being touched this way the girls would giggle in his face, quite like Pepper does when women protest in his videos.
Pepper goes on to say he is not trying to disvalue assaults on women but highlight a taboo issue of woman on man assaults. He states, “feminism is important and something we should all support. But unity, I feel, is even more important.” Maybe Pepper missed Emma Watson’s speech on how feminism is about the equality between sexes and not about women solely.
Although some have now come out in support of Pepper’s experiment, others feel this is all a hoax. On Twitter numerous individuals stated they felt these videos were filmed after Pepper saw how poorly the original video was received. This theory is based on the fact that the original video in no way mentioned that it was part of a series and that upon its re-uploading to Facebook Pepper has since added an end card that states that the video was staged, something he hadn’t informed viewers of previously.
On top of that Green let it be known on Twitter that she was personally receiving emails from women who said they had been harassed and assaulted by Pepper at past conventions looking for help. Another Youtuber thisbedottie posted a video announcing that Pepper sexually assaulted and harassed her when she was still a minor.
On Wednesday Green tweeted again, this time reporting to threatening messages she received from an email address from Pepper’s website labeled as his personal address. Green said if the emails continued she would be contacting the police. She also posted a video where she talks in depth about these issues. In response to this, Pepper claimed that the email was from an old account he no longer used and that the email was sent by a spammer and not him.
As more information and stories seem to be coming out, it seems harder and harder to distinguish between fact and fiction. It is clear that what Pepper seems to have missed is that by not informing viewers of prior given consent he is promoting and fostering a culture where sexual assaults on both men and women are normal and should be accepted by the victims. His comments against the sexual assaults have come too late and do nothing to hide the damage of his mistreatment of women in past videos.
What this controversy might best hope to generate now is that hiding sexual assault in the guise of a joke is not only not funny, but is still, most explicitly, sexual assault. And that is no longer tolerable. Rather than wasting time on Pepper we should be promoting an end to sexual assaults.