FouseyTube is all the rage these days. But lately, this 22-year-old college student from California seems to be attracting as much negative attention as Newt Gingrich. The only difference is, I don’t think it’s fair or even justified. You don’t have to be a fan, but stooping so low is going to break your back before it breaks his.
Yousef Erakat, operating under the stage name FouseyTube, is a Palestinian-American entertainer who devotes much of his downtime to producing parodies, “vlogs”, and comedy sketches to upload to YouTube. After joining YouTube just ten months ago, Erakat’s videos have gone viral and collectively boast over 15 million views. He has since become a YouTube partner and is now on tour performing sets at community centers and schools throughout the United States. But his quick rise to fame has been met with a great deal of heat and the ad hominem attacks on his character are getting far too out of hand to let slide any longer.
Every entertainer realizes at one point or another that the content of his or her work is entirely subjective. Some will laugh, others won’t. Some will find pleasure in a comedy routine and others will want to put their foreheads on the table. Erakat, a comedian himself, knows this all to well. I am sure he doesn’t set his sights on the impossible feat of evoking laughter from every single person in the world at any given time.
Still, much of the criticism leveled against Erakat is that he simply isn’t as funny as people make him out to be. I’ve come across comments ranging from “he’s bland now” to “even his loved ones never thought he was funny” to “no self-respecting person would dare watch his videos”. Therein lies the problem. The first comment is perfectly acceptable. It’s an opinion. Not everyone is obliged to think he’s funny. The second comment is a rude judgment. Since when did the Erakat family befriend internet trolls and share with them family secrets (assuming this particular one to be true)? And the third comment reeks of arrogance. Is society expected to conform to one individual’s perception of something as subjective as a one-man comedy skit? I’ve watched a few of Erakat’s videos. Does this mean I disrespect myself? If I spinelessly conform to that particular audacious comment, would I be respecting myself again?
But the baseless commentary goes even further. Having never met this young adult who was virtually unknown to the world one year ago, people from all over have become experts on assessing Erakat’s character and judging his intentions. Many seem to share the concern that he is overwhelmingly egoistical, that his egocentrism is a domineering aspect of his work. Again, this is subjective so I’m in no position to dismiss the opinion. But I think it’s important to keep this in perspective: egoism isn’t synonymous to self-promotionalism. Self-promotion is a necessary skill in the entertainment industry. You can be as humble as you’d like but unless you attract attention to your work, you’ll be hardpressed to garner a following as strong and as large as Erakat’s. He is not complimenting himself when he wears a FouseyTube t-shirt and no matter how many times he links to his Twitter page, no empirical evidence exists to suggest that he thinks the world revolves around him and him alone.
At the end of the day, Lil Wayne repeats his name an average of four times before his songs even begin. Why doesn’t that cause as much of an uproar from Erakat’s critics?
After attacking, without merit, of course, his personality, many of his critics find fault with his intentions. Some allege that Erakat’s sole purpose for making videos is to build a fanbase of single women so that when he’s ready to marry, he’ll have thousands to choose from. Others claim that Erakat is part of a worldwide conspiracy to redefine and subsequently undermine the Arab culture in its entirety. And then there are those who are convinced that behind the façade is a greedy man who will do anything for money, even if it means selling out on his family and, in particularly, his Palestinian roots. These are all very grave, judgmental, and insulting allegations, but it is the last one that I want to focus on.
There has been much discussion over Erakat’s silence on Palestine. According to one critic, Erakat “has the [Palestinian] flag plastered all over his Tumblr”. Another notes the Palestinian flag hanging in his bedroom. A third individual reminds me that his comedy routines are based primarily on his identity as an Arab from Palestine. No matter which way you look at it, Erakat is conscious of his Palestinian identity. But with such a large following, why stay quiet on the issue?
That is a difficult question to answer, mostly because it’s the wrong question to ask. I doubt that Erakat is going out of his way to avoid talking about the occupation of Palestine but I do expect it to be difficult to mourn the losses of Palestinian lives in a comedy sketch. Not everyone is a political pundit and, even though it pains me to admit this, it isn’t fair to require everyone to adjust their professional endeavors to relate to the Palestinian cause. Nevertheless, it is absurd to suggest that Erakat has abandoned the struggle. He hangs a Palestinian flag in his room which millions have seen and commented on. Millions more have read his thoughts on a free Palestine on his blog. Imagine the number of people who investigated the history of Palestine after watching a FouseyTube video.
After all, who are we to dictate how someone else raises awareness? He isn’t hurting the cause at all. If anything, Erakat’s popularity is an asset that has the potential to effect great change. There is absolutely nothing to gain by undermining him, his credibility, or his fanbase.
Whether we like it or not, poking fun at the Arab and Muslim culture has helped Erakat rake in thousands upon thousands of fans. It’s also brought him a substantial amount of opposition. This is natural and goes to show just how diverse and valuable our opinions are. But much of the criticism has turned into unwarranted and cult-like abuse of a 22-year-old man who takes pleasure in harmlessly entertaining the masses. You don’t have to be a fan, but you do have to be respectful.
For those who argue that he is too self-absorbed and too dense to recognize the world as it exists just beyond his fingertips, a dear friend of mine linked me to the following video in which he says:
“I don’t want people to forget about the babies that are dying in Somalia. I don’t want people to forget about the houses and the families that are getting bombed in Falasteen. I don’t want people to forget about the torture that’s going on in Syria and Lebanon. Wherever you are looking at, there are people who have it so much worse than us…”