FUNCTIONS OF TABOO EXPRESSIONS IN YOUTUBE DISCOURSE: THE CASE OF IDUBBBZTV - DIVA

 
Functions of taboo expressions in
YouTube discourse: The case of
iDubbbzTV

Tabuuttrycks funktioner i YouTube-diskurs: Fallet iDubbbzTV

Jonathan Lidbäck

Karlstad University
Linguistics
English III: Degree Project
15 Credits
Supervisor: Peter Wikström
Examiner: Marie Tåqvist
2020-05-27
Title:                Functions of taboo expressions in YouTube discourse: The case of
                      iDubbbzTV
Titel på svenska:     Tabuuttrycks funktioner i YouTube-diskurs: Fallet iDubbbzTV
Author:               Jonathan Lidbäck
Pages:                26

Abstract
The purpose of this study is to identify relationships between usage of taboo expressions in a selected
YouTube clip, and how the audience of iDubbbzTV react to these taboo expressions and how they use
them themselves. The data used in this study is in the form of spoken and written language which is
transcribed and collected from a selected iDubbbzTV YouTube clip and its comment section. This
qualitative study of the usage of taboo expressions in YouTube discourse shows that many cases of
taboo expressions are used together with jokes and also sometimes serve as call-backs. Some taboo
expressions are also used as intensifiers, which can feature in both negative and positive contexts. The
study also finds that interpretations of taboo expressions can vary depending on co-text and
contextual knowledge.

Keywords: Taboo, Context, YouTube, Profanity, Online, iDubbbzTV

Sammanfattning på svenska
Syftet med denna studie är att identifiera samband mellan användandet av tabuuttryck i ett valt
YouTubeklipp samt publikens egna respons och användande av dessa uttryck. Datan som används i
denna studie är både muntligt och skriftligt språk. Denna data hämtas från videoklippet samt
kommentarsfältet från den valda videon. Denna kvalitativa studie av tabuordsanvändande i
YouTubediskurs visar att flera fall av tabuuttryck används i samband med skämt eller återkopplingar.
Vissa tabuuttryck används i ett förstärkande syfte som både kan användas i negativ och positiv
bemärkelse. Det har också visat sig att tolkningar av tabuuttryck kan variera beroende på förkunskap
angående kontext och co-text.

Nyckelord: Tabu, Kontext, YouTube, Svordomar, Online, iDubbbzTV
Contents
1. Introduction and aim .......................................................................................................................... 1

   1.1 YouTube ........................................................................................................................................ 1

   1.2 iDubbbzTV .................................................................................................................................... 2

2. Background ........................................................................................................................................ 4

   2.1 Taboo language ............................................................................................................................. 4

       2.1.1 Profanity on social media ....................................................................................................... 6
   2.2 Context ......................................................................................................................................... 6

       2.2.1 Context collapse and audience design. .................................................................................. 9
3. Methods ............................................................................................................................................ 10

   3.1 Analytical considerations............................................................................................................. 11

       3.1.1 Included taboo expressions .................................................................................................. 12
   3.2 Ethical considerations ................................................................................................................ 13

4. Analysis and results .......................................................................................................................... 13

   4.1 Video analysis ............................................................................................................................. 13

   4.1.1 Usage of taboo expressions ...................................................................................................... 13

   4.1.2 Analysis of selected instances of taboo language .................................................................... 14

   4.2 Comment section analysis ...........................................................................................................17

       4.2.1 iDubbbz’s “disclaimer” ........................................................................................................ 18
       4.2.2 Appreciative comments ....................................................................................................... 18
       4.2.3 Reference comments ........................................................................................................... 19
       4.2.4 Joke comments.................................................................................................................... 21
5. Discussion......................................................................................................................................... 21

6. Conclusion ........................................................................................................................................ 23

References ............................................................................................................................................ 25

Appendix 1 ............................................................................................................................................ 28
1. Introduction and aim

In-jokes are known to create confusion when uttered outside the context of origin. This is a
common problem online, where the social media platforms are getting bigger, and anyone
anywhere can access anything online at any given time. This contributes to a phenomenon that
is called context collapse. Context collapse is when “the lack of spatial, and temporal
boundaries makes it difficult to maintain distinct social contexts.” (boyd, 2010, p.9). Simply
put, context collapse can be described as a phenomenon in which multiple audiences are
flattened into one (Marwick, boyd 2011, p.122).

There are uncountable amounts of online-communities, with just as many jargons. The
internet is very open and easily navigated, and users of the web are bound to encounter
language use that is unfamiliar to them, such as academic language, and to the contrary
language use that may be considered bad, foul, or offensive. The YouTube channel iDubbbzTV
is one of the places where one as a viewer can come in contact with at times very foul language.
With the use of taboo expressions and profanity, iDubbbz is by some audiences perceived as
provocative and tasteless, but hilarious to others. I will in this paper perform a qualitative study
of how iDubbbzTV uses taboo expressions in a selected video clip, and how the viewers respond
to these expressions in the comment section. The aim is to develop a better understanding of
the functions of taboo language in a specific online context through an investigation of how
such language is framed in performance and reception. I will analyze the chosen video, to
provide a detailed examination on where in the video taboo expressions are used as well as how
they are used and where misunderstandings could believably occur. I will examine the
comment section thoroughly to be able to analyze how the audience responds to the clip.

1.1 YouTube
YouTube is a video platform where content creators can upload video clips. YouTube is, just as
Twitter and Facebook, also a social medium where viewers can interact with each other as well
as with content creators. According to YouTube’s website, the service “has over a billion users
– almost one-third of all people on the Internet – and each day those users watch a billion
hours of video, generating billions of views” (YouTube, 2017). YouTube is in other words a very
large platform, with huge potential for providing content creators with a vast audience to
entertain. The most common user on YouTube is the viewer. As stated above, YouTube has
over a billion users who stream over a billion hours of video together on a daily basis. It is
important to note that many viewers do not upload content of their own and are thus only

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watching and possibly commenting on other videos. The viewers are often active in the
comment sections of the YouTube videos, where they can write what they think about the video
or about other comments. Many different kinds of content are uploaded to YouTube. A few
examples of types of content are Vlogs1, how to-videos, product reviews and skits.2 The fact
that videos can differ so much in content makes it interesting to examine the relationship
between context and interpreted meaning on YouTube. The content of a Vlog-channel differs
substantially from a solely comedic YouTube channel for example. The audience gets
acquainted with a certain type of jargon when continuously visiting channels in their own genre
spectra, and when they eventually are exposed to a new format of content, misunderstandings
can happen. It is not uncommon for content creators to play a role in their videos, a persona
so to speak. Not all YouTubers do this but many claim that the person in the video is not
actually themselves, but a made-up persona. It is for example uncommon for Vloggers to
portray a made-up persona since most vloggers want to seem genuine. But for comedic
channels with at times controversial jokes it can be comfortable to have a persona to be able to
take the blame. This can potentially make it harder for audiences to differentiate genuine
YouTubers from YouTube personas.

1.2 iDubbbzTV
iDubbbzTV is a channel on YouTube where iDubbbz3 uploads humorous videos intended for
an adult audience (most of his videos are age restricted to 18 years.)4 iDubbbz runs three
channels at YouTube: his main channel iDubbbzTV, where he posts his main content; his
secondary channel iDubbbzTV2 where he posts mostly vlogs; and his third channel,
iDubbbzgames where he posts videos of him playing computer games. The content of his main
channel is divided into six categories: Bad Unboxing, Content Cop, Misaki Chronicles, whats
in the box, Kickstarter Crap and LEGIT FOOD REVIEW. These videos include gags, reviews,
unboxings and exposing videos.5            6   His gags often relate to previous events and situations
surrounding his channels; iDubbbz could for instance mock someone who tried to rebut his

1 A blog in which the postings are usually in video form.
2 A skit is a short comical play, purposely designed to make a joke of something (skit In Cambridge dictionary).
3 I will refer to the persona in the video as iDubbbz, since the actor has claimed in interviews that he plays a
character in his videos (Klein & Klein, 2017).
4 YouTube states the following about age restricted videos: ”Some videos don't violate YouTube’s policies, but
may not be appropriate for all audiences. In these cases our review team may place an age restriction when we're
notified of the content. Age-restricted videos are not visible to users who are logged out, are under 18 years of age,
or have Restricted Mode enabled. When evaluating whether content is appropriate for all ages, here are some of
the things we consider: Vulgar language, Violence and disturbing imagery, Nudity and sexually suggestive
content, Portrayal of harmful or dangerous activities” (YouTube Support, 2017).
5 Gag is a slang term for a joke or a prank.
6 Exposing-videos is a video format on YouTube where the content-creator accuses other YouTubers of not
following the YouTube norms. (Examples of norms: create original content, do not forge content and be consistent
in your way of being.)
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criticism, by quoting them out of context with a silly voice. In iDubbbz’s unboxing videos he
opens mail that has been sent to him by his fans. When it comes to the unboxing videos it is
important to state that the content of these videos is highly dependent on the audience, since
they are sending him the boxes. iDubbbz opens these boxes and is supposedly trying to make
it entertaining to watch. Humour is the common ground for all of his videos even though some
videos have a serious undertone. The videos on iDubbbzTV have different purposes depending
on what kind of subject he wants to address. iDubbbz’s gag and unboxing videos are primarily
designed to entertain the audience, with the use of silly sketches and controversial (taboo)
language. In his exposing show called “Content Cop” on the other hand, iDubbbz addresses
other YouTubers who he believes are not contributing to the YouTube-platform in a good way.
He is for example addressing YouTubers which he believes are acting in a mean or self-
contradicting manner. He also calls out YouTubers who blatantly steal other Youtubers’ videos
to use them as their own content. Even though iDubbbz does this in a comedic fashion, he still
maintains a seriousness throughout the video and can also be quite demeaning at times
through these videos. The seriousness is achieved by talking and acting in a serious manner
which contrasts the goofy personae that he adopts in his videos.

I will use iDubbbzTV as a case study of how highly context-dependent, potentially sensitive or
destructive, language use is received and negotiated in a setting that is affected by context
collapse, not only because iDubbbzTV is one of the bigger channels on YouTube (among the
top 500 subscribed YouTube channels; Socialblade, 2017), but also because iDubbbz has been
the source of several large disagreements on YouTube concerning his content and his usage of
taboo expressions. One example of a controversial conflict that iDubbbz has been involved in
is a conflict with Tana Mongeau (a YouTube vlogger) over his use of the n-word. iDubbbz
received criticism from Tana in the form of a tweet, for using the n-word in one of his videos.
The tweet read: “@Idubbbz so 3 million ppl subscribe to u and u openly say the n-word and
retard???? Kill yourself”.7 iDubbbz responded to this tweet with two videos8, one Content-Cop
video on his main channel and a vlog on his second channel. In this vlog, he visited Tana at one
of her fan-meetups in San Francisco. iDubbbz queued for a picture with her and before the
picture was taken he said “say nigger” instead of say cheese, all of this was recorded and is
available to see in the clip idubbbz visits tana mongeau on YouTube. Tana tweeted the
following the same night as the incident: “today i experienced intense racism in front of my

7 The tweet was deleted shortly after it was posted (Know Your Meme, 2017). Tana explains why she deleted the
tweet through her Snapchat (What’s The Tea, 2017).
8 iDubbbz’s video responses: iDubbbz, [iDubbbzTV2]. (2017-02-06). idubbbz visits tana mongeau [Video file].
Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j26ax_NDeek (2018-01/02)
  iDubbbz, [iDubbbzTV]. (2017-02-06). Content Cop - Tana Mongeau [Video file]. Retrieved from:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8vaJaFCFYA (2018-01-02)
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face, & was literally terrified for my life & had to have someone removed from my show.”9 This
incident indicates that iDubbbz is willing to use highly charged language and put on a
purposefully inflammatory performance, presumably to gain attention through another
popular YouTuber’s fan base, and at the same time appeal to his own audience. Discussions
about disagreements are not unusual online, especially not on YouTube since large audiences
most often are familiar with a certain context, a context that very often contrasts with another
context. Discussions about who is right arose in the comment sections and both sides stuck
firmly with their original thought of context. This is a common phenomenon in many comment
sections. Channels that generally would be considered as “normal” can get flooded with upset
viewers that may watch videos that could be considered as “abnormal” by a casual viewer,
swarming the comment section with disagreeing comments. Words generally considered as
taboo such as the four-letter words: fuck, shit, hell, dick and cunt are featured and are
sometimes also accompanied by racial slurs such as the n-word. These words are frequently
encountered either in the content or in the comment sections of iDubbbz’s videos. It is
therefore an interesting place to start examine how the audience reacts to the taboo expressions
through the YouTube video’s comment section, as well as to examine different interpretations
of the usage of taboo expressions.

2. Background

In section 2.1 I will cover taboo language and its history, and how profanity is used on social
media. Section 2.2 will cover the role of context when dealing with profanity and taboo words,
as well as prior research about context collapse and audience design in online settings.

2.1 Taboo language
Taboo is described as “A social or religious custom prohibiting or restricting a particular
practice or forbidding association with a particular person, place, or thing.” (Oxford
Dictionaries, 2018). Taboos were brought up to protect the people from things and actions that
were either too sacred or too accursed for humanity. Taboos may have to do with religion, in
which the language users are careful not to upset the gods or the dead. With these precautions
comes restrictions of certain words. (Fleming & Lampert, 2011).

9   Tana Mongeau. (2017-01-21). Today i experienced…        [Twitter   moment].   Retrieved   from:
https://twitter.com/tanamongeau/status/822994847292235776
                                               4
Taboo expressions are mainly used to intensify something or to shock and/or offend. Swearing
can be explained as “the use of taboo language with the purpose of expressing the speaker’s
emotional state and communicating that information to listeners.” (Jay & Janschewits, 2008,
p.268) This definition applies to some, but not all of the uses of taboo-language which can be
found in the analysis in section 4.2. All uses of taboo expressions can therefore not be seen as
swearing. Viewers on YouTube most likely comment to express their opinions and emotions,
and swearing can be a tool in order to do so. Since swearing already is a part of the jargon on
iDubbbzTV it is very likely to find samples of taboo expressions written in the comment
sections of these YouTube-videos. Most instances of swearing may be expected to be uttered in
anger, but this is not the case. Jay & Janschewits (2008, p.269) reason that “Through
thousands of incidents of recorded swearing, we have never witnessed any form of physical
aggression as a consequence of swearing. From what we have observed, we argue that swearing
can be polite, impolite, or neither and it may be used with any emotional state.” The taboo
expressions which are uttered in iDubbbz YouTube video can therefore be interpreted as polite,
impolite or neither. Some use of taboo expressions and swearing in iDubbbz’s video, and its
comment-section can be interpreted as Propositional Swearing. Propositional Swearing is
consciously planned and intentional and the speaker controls the content of the utterance (Jay
& Janschewits, 2008, p.269-270). As mentioned above taboo expressions are most often used
to shock or offend. This is a common feature in stand-up comedy for example, where
comedians will use profanity in combination with taboo expressions to acquire a comedic
effect. Taboo language can therefore be expected to feature in for example stand-up routines
and similar events (Fleming & Lampert, 2011). This being said, it is important to remember
that this kind of jargon or type of speech is not accepted everywhere. Words can be considered
to have a taboo attached to them in one setting but not in another. If one was to situate the
taboo speech uttered by a foulmouthed comedian in a new setting, let us say a church, then it
would become evident that this is not okay in this particular place. Because taboos within the
church involves sexuality, the devil, drugs and everything which is connected to the devil.
Speech like this is therefore not expected or accepted in a church, but may be frequent in
various stand-up clubs for example.

Taboo expressions that are commonly used in the English language today can be referred to as
the “Big Six”. The “Big Six” consists of the following swearwords (expletives): cunt, fuck, cock,
ass, shit, and piss. (Mohr, 2013) Even though these words are considered to be some of the
worst swear words today, many argue for an inclusion of the n-word which is one of the worst
racial slurs today. The word has strong ties to its racist history during the times of slavery in
the USA (Rahman, 2012).

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2.1.1 Profanity on social media
It is not difficult to find usage of profanity on diverse social media. Words from the “Big Six”
are frequently encountered in comments sections and chats where disagreeing sentences very
often are accompanied by one or more of the six swearwords. Swearwords and taboo
expressions are on the other hand not always used in a negative manner. Lutzky and Kehoe
(2016) argue that taboo expressions at times are used as a positive evaluator in comment
sections on blogs. The term shit can for example be used as a positive evaluator in the
sentences: “Your blog is the shit. I love it.” and “That is the shit man, completely awesome.”
(Lutzky & Kehoe, 2016, p.8) Although the term can also be used with a negative effect as in the
sentence “My job selling car insurance is shit.” (Lutzky & Kehoe, 2016, p.8) Co-text does play
a part in how these sentences are perceived. The definite article that separates shit from the
shit changes the mood of the sentence from negative to positive (Lutzky & Kehoe, 2016). One
can attempt to prevent profanity on social media with use of software which bans offensive
language. The problem with this method is that words can turn offensive only because of
context. Words not usually perceived as offensive can become offensive with certain co-texts
or contexts. It is therefore very hard to perform this kind of measure without ultimately
banning the whole vocabulary (Lutzky & Kehoe, 2016). Taboo expressions can also be used as
displays in identity performances when posted on public sites, the type of usage can vary but
are at most times used along with a joke or a complaint. Since social media are forums of
identity performances users can decide what role swearing has in their identities. (Thelwall,
2008). Profanity on social media is in other words used to describe emotions, and to provide
or strengthen a self-representation. In 2014 1.15% of the words on Twitter were swearwords
(Rudisel, 2016; see also Wang, 2014). What this percentage actually tells us about the usage of
swearwords is impossible to know, since swearwords can be used in a positive or negative or
even a neutral manner. One has to look at the context and co-text of the sentences to be able
do decide the intended meaning.

2.2 Context
As seen in section 2.1, context is crucial not only for determining what language is considered
taboo, but also for determining in what situations or for what audiences such language will
actually be considered offensive. When dealing with context, it is important to understand a
number of factors which play huge parts in how context is formed and how we understand
language. According to Brown & Yule (1983, p.39; drawing on Hymes, 1962) the main
contextual factors informing how we understand linguistic utterances are participants,
audience, topic, setting, channel, code, message-code, event, key, and purpose. These factors

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are used in order to characterize a particular communicative event. These factors are important
to understand, to be able to grasp the concept of context. Although they will not be used directly
in the analysis. The factors will be explained in the order they were mentioned above.

Further, I will also explain social/cultural situation, presupposition and co-text (Brown &
Yule, 1983). I will in the analytical section (4.1 – 4.2) mostly focus on presuppositions and the
shared common ground and how these factors affect the interpretations of taboo expressions
which are expressed in the video or comment section of iDubbbzTV. I will also analyze how co-
texts affect certain lexical content and how it might imply an intended understanding of the
content, as well as analyzing the different kinds of settings that are or are not featured in the
video, as well as the attributes of the speaker himself/herself.

When describing the basic features of context, it is common to start with the participants of
conversation. Brown & Yule (1983, p. 38), drawing on Hymes (1962) note that the roles of a
conversation would be firstly the speaker (aka the addressor), the hearer (aka the addressee)
and finally the audience. Participants taking part in a conversation will take either of these two
roles (speaker or hearer) throughout the conversation, and their roles will vary depending on
whether the person in question is listening or talking. The audience seldom take part in the
conversation directly, but rather overhear the conversation. Depending on the hearer’s
knowledge about the speaker, the expectations of his/her speech will vary. If the speaker is the
prime minister for example, hearers will expect the speech to be in line with what is normally
produced by a person with such a background, both in content and in form (Brown & Yule,
1983, p. 38; see also Hymes, 1962). If the hearer is familiar with the topic of the conversation
he/she will be able to narrow down the expectations of the conversation. This is what Hymes’
category of topic is about. The factor of setting regards the surroundings. Things such as
location, facial expressions of the addressor, and/or posture and appearance of the conversant
are taken into account, and the expectations will be further limited (Brown & Yule, 1983, p.38;
see also Hymes, 1962). The physical situation as well as the social/cultural situation can be
incorporated under the setting factor, since it has to do with the environment surrounding the
content. The factor of channel is about how the communication is maintained (text, speech,
signing, morse code etc.). The factor of code tells us how language is used (language, dialect,
and style) rather than explaining what type of communication is used (Brown & Yule, 1983,
p.38; see also Hymes, 1962). The factor of message-form concerns what type of form is
intended (letter, song, speech, debate, etc.) (Brown & Yule, 1983, p.38; see also Hymes, 1962).
The event factor concerns the nature of the communicative event, if the communication takes
place within another larger event. It could be a prayer in a church service for example, where
the prayer is the event and the church service the larger event (Brown & Yule, 1983, p.38; see

                                                7
also Hymes, 1962). The factor key refers to the quality or tone of a communicative event. It is
in other words a representation of how the communicative event is evaluated, is the event
understood as formal, relaxed, serious or playful for instance. The last basic factor that will be
covered in this instance is the purpose factor. This factor regards what the participants intend
to be the result of the communicative event (Brown & Yule, 1983, p.39; see also Hymes, 1962).

A presupposition is an implicit assumption relating to an utterance whose truth is taken for
granted. Brown and Yule (1983, p.28) provide a dialogue where speaker A offers a
presupposition and speaker B accepts it as true. The example follows:

“A: my uncle’s coming home from Canada on Saturday.
B: how long has he been away for or has he just been away?
A: Oh no they lived in Canada eh he was married to my mother’s sister.“

In this dialogue one can notice that the presupposition of speaker A is having an uncle, and
with the following question from speaker B the presupposition is accepted as true. Brown &
Yule (1983, p.29) states “that the notion of ‘common ground’ is also involved in such a
characterization of presupposition and can be found in this definition by Stalnaker (1978:
321)”. Stalnaker (1978: 321) defines it as the following: “presuppositions are what is taken by
the speaker to be the common ground of the participants in the conversation”. This definition
declares it obvious that not only presuppositions are important in the analysis of the comment
section. Common ground plays a big role in the content of the comment section of iDubbbzTV.
Many comments refer to other videos that the core viewers are familiar with. The notion of
common ground will be covered further in section 4.2.

Co-text refers to the text that surrounds some selected section of text. Fragments in a word,
phrase, sentence or paragraph is affected by the surrounding lexical items to help determine
meaning. Brown and Yule (1983, p.47) provide examples from Darwin’s Journal during the
Voyage of HMS Beagle round the World where the co-text affects certain words. “The same
evening I went on shore. The first landing in any new country is very interesting.” (Darwin,
1891) The literary meaning of the word landing if looked up in a dictionary would usually be
described as “a level area at the top of a staircase”. As the word landing is embedded within
this certain co-text it takes a meaning (the fact of a boat reaching land) that it usually would
not.

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2.2.1 Context collapse and audience design.
Marwick and boyd (2011) approach context collapse in their article. In this article, they
investigate how content creators navigate imagined audiences on Twitter. Even though their
article originally regards Twitter I believe that it can be used to describe the same phenomenon
on YouTube since both platforms are based on computer-mediated discourse (Herring,
Androutsopoulos, 2015). Like Twitter, YouTube brings multiple audiences into one, and since
there are no limitations beyond making a video private on YouTube, content creators on
YouTube have no way of filtering their audiences so that they only reach specific viewers. This
makes it impossible for the content creators to choose their intended audience. The lack of
knowledge about the audience results in content creators having to alter their self-
representation towards their “imagined” audience. The fact that multiple audiences are
flattened into one is a phenomenon known as context collapse (Marwick, boyd, 2011, p.122).

Audience design is a feature that is very important to YouTubers. The sociolinguistic model
that is Audience design proposes “that persons respond mainly to other persons, that speakers
take most account of hearers in designing their talk.” (Bell, 1984, p.159). By altering the
language in a video from Swedish to English for example, many different audiences can be
reached. This is most likely what is done by many YouTubers. YouTubers have information
about their viewers’ gender, age and location. With this information available, YouTubers can
alter their language, appearance, addressed topics and many more factors to fit their intended
audiences’ profiles. The chosen alteration that is most appropriate to their intended audience
is called style. It is in other words the YouTubers’ response to their audience. When addressing
audience design it is important to know how the audience works. The speaker is the center, the
speaker addresses an audience that consists of the following roles: The Addressee - who is
known and ratified and directly addressed. The Auditor – who is also known and ratified but
not directly addressed. The Overhearer – who is also known but not ratified or directly
addressed. And the Eavesdropper – who is not known, ratified or being addressed (Bell, 1984).
Bell’s description of these roles is most typically applied to spoken interaction. The audience
structure is clear and easy to understand, but when it comes to YouTube and the internet it is
not as easy to pinpoint the viewers into this audience structure. The most prominent problem
is that it is impossible for YouTubers to direct to whom they are speaking (other than age
restriction and making videos private), since everyone watching can share the clip to anybody.

Marwick and boyd (2011, p.122) state that “The large audiences for sites like Facebook or
MySpace may create a lowest-common denominator effect as individuals only post things they
believe their broadest group of acquaintances will find non-offensive”. If users decide not to do
so, there will be consequences. An example of this is iDubbbz who is aware of his vast viewer
base on YouTube and yet he posts videos of himself uttering racial slurs and swearwords. He
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is not following the norm and with the provocative form of his videos, parts of his audience
should be expected to get upset with him.

When taking all of the above into consideration it is not very surprising that YouTube is a site
where context collapses occur. In a social medium as big as YouTube it is very difficult to satisfy
all viewers simultaneously since so many things matter when it comes to their reactions to the
videos. There are also occurrences of content creators who deliberately try to be provocative.
Context collapses have to be expected in these cases. Factors such as viewers’ ideologies that
differentiate from other viewers’, or maybe even the YouTuber’s ideology is one of many
possible reasons for context collapse. Ultimately it comes down to the diversity of both content
creators and the potential audiences that coexist on YouTube and how they interpret the
content as well as react to it. Interpretations are bound to be different, and are likely to be
discussed online with contenders as well as with like-minded people. When an issue is brought
attention, it is possible for it to expand to other forums and even go viral with the help of tools
such as the trending videos function,10 and quick-message services such as Facebook-
messenger and text-messages. Viewers are bound to experience the full spectra of videos
sooner or later, and contexts will collapse.

3. Methods

There are over 245 separate videos on iDubbbzTV. These videos contain huge amounts of data
that I could use for this study. But since I have limited time and not enough resources to be
able to analyze that amount of data in the time available, I have instead decided to study a
particular video in greater detail. The YouTube-video FAN MAIL Christmas Special - Bad
Unboxing11 will be used as the primary source of data. I will perform a qualitative analysis on
the usage of taboo expressions in this video.

In addition to that I will perform an analysis on the comment section concerning the possible
reactions that these taboo expressions may have provoked. The research is done by analysing
the top up-voted comments in the comment section, as well as the general jargon of the
comment section. This will give me an insight to how the viewers react to the profanity in the
video. When I chose the video that I was going to analyze I had a few criteria in mind. The video
had to feature taboo language, and it also had to be an older video. I wanted to analyze a
popular video which featured taboo language, and also had many comments. FAN MAIL

10   A list on YouTube that includes trending videos from all kinds of genres.
11   iDubbbz, [iDubbbzTV]. (2015-12-25)
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Christmas Special - Bad Unboxing met these criteria and that’s why I chose that particular
video. I chose to analyze an old video because the comment section is not as active as the
comment section of a new video. The data that I am working on will in this way remain
relatively unchanged and major changes to the data are unlikely to occur. This makes it easier
for me to spot popular comments, and to identify references to even older videos. I will retrieve
information on usage of taboo words in the video as well as in the comment section. I will study
how the comment section reacts to the usage of taboo words in the video. I have gathered the
top 100 rated comments as a sample of the audience’s opinions (I assume that the upvoters
agree with the up-voted statements). I will analyze the top 25 comments in detail, and the
remaining separately to get an overview of the jargon of the comment section. With these
comments, I will be able to provide an analysis of how the comment section reacts to the
content of the video.

I assume that up-votes are used in a positive manner, but research has shown that “likes” in
different social media do not always represent the same meaning. A Facebook like is for
example often connected to the person posting rather than the content that was posted. It can
be described loosely as a supportive like. Friends will like each other’s posts just because they
are friends even though they may overlook the content (Hayes & Carr & Wohn, 2016). Most
viewers who are watching YouTube videos are somewhat anonymous (at least in the comment
section of iDubbbzTV). When I decided to analyze the most up-voted comments in the
comment section I concluded that the personal element is out of the picture. I do not believe
that users like certain comments based on who posted them (with the exception of YouTube
celebrities). The up votes should therefore regard the content of the comment. An up-vote is
therefore likely to be seen as an indication of appreciation.

3.1 Analytical considerations
This project falls within the scope of Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis (Herring,
Androutsopoulos, 2015). That would involve comment sections, videos and other text or
information mediated through the computer, in this paper that would be the YouTube video
and its comment section. The analyses presented below are framed in relation to the concept
of context collapse (Marwick & boyd, 2011) and the concept of audience design (Bell, 1984:
Androutsopoulos, 2014), as well as the concept of context features (Brown & Yule, 1983; see
also Hymes, 1962). Further, in analyzing iDubbbz’s self-presentation, I draw on Beers
Fägersten’s analysis of PewDiePie’s self-representation (Beers Fägersten, 2017)

I will in the video and comment section analysis look for taboo expressions, and analyze how
they are used. I will look for connections between usage and choice of words in the comment
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section compared to the usage and choice of words in the video. I want to study if the words
are used in a similar fashion in both instances. I will also analyze how certain taboo expressions
can be interpreted when contextual knowledge is available in contrary to it being unavailable.
I will also analyze if certain taboo words are being used more frequently in the top-rated
comments, compared to the number of utterances of the same words in the video, this is done
in a way so that I will be able to tell if the most uttered taboo words are represented in similarity
to the comment section and the video. As I mentioned above, I will analyze the audience design.
I will study how the discourse participants enact persona in ways that presuppose common
ground, as well as situations when occurrences in the dataset where the language norms of this
online community are being negotiated. I will hopefully be able to note the importance of
contextual knowledge when communicating in the selected comment section, as well as the
general opinion on the matter of taboo word usage online according to the commenters. Taken
together, these points of analytical interest are intended to give a picture of the character and
function of taboo language in the discourse of iDubbbz’ videos and his core audience in relation
to the complex question of the role of context in social media discourse.

3.1.1 Included taboo expressions
When I considered which taboo expressions should be included in this paper I decided to
choose words that are included in any of these three categories: Conventionally recognized
swearwords/expletives, Slurs (such as racial slurs) and Context-dependent items.
Context dependent items here refers to items such as gay and cancer which are not necessarily
or conventionally offensive or taboo, but are used in the context of the video as slurs or in a
derogatory fashion. The chosen words from the video all fall under at least one of these
categories (Mohr, 2013; Rahman, 2012).

    •   Conventionally recognized swearwords/expletives: fucking, fuck, shit, hell, dick, cock,
        cunt.
    •   Slurs: nigger, faggot, bitch, retard
    •   Context-dependent items: gay, cancer.

The requirement for inclusion is that the words can take a place in one or more of these
categories. Some words that were included in the video could conceivably have been included
as taboo items. Butt-plug is one of the words that may be considered to have a taboo attached
to it. I chose not to include it as taboo on the basis that the word itself is not taboo, but rather
the physical item itself, and the activities in which it can be used. Boobs is another word on the
brink of inclusion. The reason for why it was not included is the same as for Butt-plug, the
word itself is not considered taboo, but nudity as a concept.

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3.2 Ethical considerations
I chose not to mention iDubbbz’s full name in this paper because it is irrelevant to the study.
Even though iDubbbz is a public figure, especially on YouTube, it does not mean that he wants
his real identity to be exposed further. I am not handling any private data in this study, but
solely, aliases and text available to the public on the internet. Since the comments are posted
online where anyone can see them, I did not see any ethical problems by gathering comments
from the comment section.

4. Analysis and results

I will in this section analyze the YouTube-video “FAN MAIL Christmas Special - Bad Unboxing”
in two separate parts, the video section (4.1) and the comment section (4.2). In the video
section I will analyze the usage of taboo expressions, in terms of when and with what function
they occur and how they are framed in the video in relation to iDubbbz’s self-presentation. I
will focus especially on occurrences of taboo expressions where it is highly likely that
contextual knowledge affects how the viewer interprets the content. In the comment section I
will study the jargon and the general behavior and responses towards the profanity in the video,
as well as how taboo expressions uttered in the video are used in these comments.

4.1 Video analysis
iDubbbz uses taboo expressions on 74 different occasions in the video. The video itself is 10
minutes and 48 seconds, with a 30 second outro (I will not take the outro into consideration
in this analysis.) The actual video content being analyzed is therefore 10:18 seconds long. This
means that there are almost ten instances of taboo expressions every minute of the video. The
expressions are uttered consistently throughout the video, but there are a few sections of the
video where taboo expressions are uttered in clusters. One example of this is at 3:58-4:30 in
the video, when iDubbbz opens a box with crochet items. In this 32 second segment of the
video, taboo expressions occur twice as frequently as they do throughout the rest of the video.

4.1.1 Usage of taboo expressions
Table 1 shows the usage of taboo expressions in the video. The criteria for words included as
taboo can be found in section 3.1.1. Within the context of the video I believe that the words and
expressions used in the video are used in order to shock viewers familiar or not familiar with
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this type of content (as well as for comedic effect). The words included in the table are either
recognized expletives (regular swearwords), such as the four lettered curse words: fuck, shit,
hell, dick, cock and cunt or slurs such as faggot, the n-word and bitch. The third category of
words i.e. cancer, gay and retard are words which do not belong to the swear words or the
slurs. These words are context-dependent words which are included because the context of the
video makes it clear that the words are used in a depreciative manner or as slurs. The sentence
“What are you fucking gay dude!?” is an example of this kind of word usage. iDubbbz directs
this question at the microphone stand as an expression of annoyance. The intensifier fucking
is a conventional expletive. Gay is not conventionally recognized as a ‘bad word’, but is in this
specific instance clearly uttered towards the microphone stand as a slur. The sentence is
therefore considered to be offensive and inappropriate. Another word that has been used in
this video and has caused some YouTube controversy (see section 1.2) as a consequence, is the
n-word. This word is used on five occasions throughout the video, either on its own or as a
compound together with the word faggot.

The n-word has an especially strong taboo attached to it, due to its role in the history of slavery,
segregation, and racial oppression in Western history, and its continued use as a racial slur
today (Rahman, 2012). This word is globally known as one of the worst racial slurs.
Nonetheless iDubbbz uses it as many as five times in the span of one ten-minute video.
Regardless of context and surrounding co-text this statement is bound to get criticized, and so
it has been.

Table 1. Number of taboo expressions used by iDubbbz in the video, in descending order of
frequency.

   Taboo
               Fucking   Fuck   Shit   Faggot   Hell   Dick      Nigger   Cancer   Gay   Retard   Cock   Cunt   Bitch   Total
 expression

  Instances
                 17       13     9       8       6      5          5        3      3       2       1      1      1       74
    (N)

4.1.2 Analysis of selected instances of taboo language
As mentioned in the previous section, taboo expressions are quite frequent in the selected
YouTube clip. The n-word is used as many as five times. The very first usage of the n-word
comes as soon as at the 29th second of the video. The compound “nigger faggot” is written in
cursive on a letter that one of his viewers has sent to iDubbbz. Reacting to the letter iDubbbz
says the following:

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(A) Hey everybody welcome back to another episode of bad unboxing fan mail. For any of
        you who think me and my subscribers are a bunch of savages, just get a load of how
        perfectly the word nigger faggot is written in this letter. That's right, a savage couldn't
        write that well. (iDubbbzTV, 2015, 00:20-00:32)

In this instance iDubbbz is holding the letter and speaking confidently into the camera. He is
showing the letter at 0:29 in the video. The word appears to be written in a sophisticated way
that would contrast with the supposed opinion of the viewer (and the sender of the letter) being
a savage. The n-word is in this instance uttered by iDubbbz, but he claims that he is not the
source from which it came. iDubbbz has stated in an interview at the h3h3 podcast (Klein &
Klein, 2017) that he is not the source of this contentious compound, but when he says it, it is a
callback to the introduction of the word, i.e. a callback to the person that said it first, that would
be a man who started one of his response videos to iDubbbz with saying just that compound.
He argues that he is able to say these things because someone else said them first (Klein &
Klein, 2017). According to this logic, iDubbbz is quoting what is written in the letter. He
(indirectly) points at someone who did it before him, which makes it okay. This kind of callback
is in fact a common feature among the viewers commenting on this video. Many of the taboo
expressions in the video have a history on iDubbbzTV. Fans and viewers can create callbacks
with the use of words or sentences which are recognized from previous events connected to
iDubbbz. By including these words in a comment for example fans will be able to recognize the
words as a callback. Since the subscribers and iDubbbz share common ground they can do this
and still be able to understand the references without being offered contextual explanations.
Some taboo expressions can therefore be considered as references or callbacks, just because
they were prevalent in a previous video. This logic can be questioned on the grounds that these
words are offensive no matter who utters them. The n-word still has the same history, it has
been and is still used as a tool of oppression. It does not matter what intentions the speaker
has when uttering this word. The cultural-historical context cannot be ignored. If this word is
used while purposely ignoring the cultural-historical context, it can certainly cause harm.

Another segment in the video that contains rapid successions of taboo expression is at (4:48-
5:02) in the video. The taboo expressions which are uttered are fucking and fuck. iDubbbz
opens a package and realizes that he has been set up with a “trap” and says:

    (B) “this was a big fucking fail it's it's got all this glitter inside it's basically a glitter bomb,
        having said that I'm here to entertain, oh I wonder what's in this, oh shit that’s glitter
        fuck you fucked me you fucked me you fucked me.”

                                                   15
He begins by stating that the “letter” is a big fail, he says it in a way which seems natural and
out of character. He has now recognized that the letter did not fool him. The video cuts and
iDubbbz is now in character. It is easy to tell that he is in character because his voice and
posture changes. He opens the glitter bomb and acts surprised, he yells “you fucked me” three
times in a high pitch voice, and looks discomfited. This is funny because he decided to act
surprised even though everyone knows that he already knew the fact that it was a glitter bomb.
The taboo expressions are in this segment used in an intensifying manner as well as a substitute
for the word “fooled”. By opening the glitter bomb inside his room, he is also intensifying his
self-presentation as being careless and crazy. He does not mind a messy room, and he does
something that a “normal” person would not do.

Two more instances of the n-word are uttered at 8:06-8:11 in the video. iDubbbz opens a
package which contains a Gameboy SP with the n-word written on the screen. iDubbbz picks
it up and says:

   (C) “I got a Gameboy SP that has nigger written on the screen.”
       (iDubbbzTV, 2015, 08:06-08:08)

iDubbbz says this seemingly unimpressed, with a monotone voice and a natural face
expression. The second after the Gameboy is cut from, iDubbbz proceeds to read a letter which
came with the package, which he read out loud.

   (D) “Hey nigger faggot I hope you like all this free stuff.”
       (iDubbbzTV, 2015, 08:09-08:11)

When iDubbbz reads the letter, he is sitting leaned back in his chair. His facial expression is
yet again neutral, his voice shows no indication of enjoyment when reading the letter since he
has a low and monotone pitch of voice. The taboo-word usage in this segment is rather high.
The n-word is used twice in this 10-second segment. Bear in mind that this is taking place in
two different scenes. He is not saying them after each other live, but it is edited in such a way
that the words follow with rapid succession. It is apparent that iDubbbz made the decision to
include these instances of taboo usage post editing. Despite his awareness of the usage of
taboo-terms, which in most arenas are considered to be distasteful, he still chose to include
them in the video. iDubbbz is yet again strengthening his self-representation of being someone
careless and edgy. This choice of inclusion can be contrasted with his own comment (1), which
is featured in section 4.2. When this contrast is taken into consideration one can easily accuse

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him of hypocrisy. The same logic as presented after example (A) could theoretically be applied
to this example (D), but to claim that iDubbbz has the privilege to say the n-word without
consequences just because someone said it first is problematic.

A segment in the video where taboo expressions are used in a directly offensive manner is at
8:20-8:24. Yet again it is a letter directed to iDubbbz the letter reads:

   (E) “To Faggot: Fuck you!” (iDubbbzTV, 2015, 08:20-08:24)

iDubbbz reads the letter with his normal voice, and then proceeds to look into the camera
looking disappointed, he then starts to shake his head before it cuts to the next package
opening. The taboo expressions Faggot and Fuck are used as a slur (the f-word) and a cursing
expletive which are aimed towards iDubbbz. By reading this letter, he alters his self-
presentation to become self-confident since he “lets” his audience make fun of him. It also
implies that he has got some self-distance. It is normally not seen as a nice gesture to call
someone a faggot and to say fuck you at the same time. Although, if the common ground that
iDubbbz shares with his audience is taken into consideration, it is not that odd for this letter
to be written in such a way. The channel has a history of being harsh with many controversial
utterances, it has a history of harsh and straight forward criticism, and iDubbbz seldom shows
any “real” emotions in his videos. This letter is perhaps communicating some kind of
appreciation, because no one would send a package filled with hand written letters and
paraphernalia which relates to other iDubbbz videos, if not being a fan. By providing this
segment iDubbbz is able to create a bond of give and take with his intended audience. Since
iDubbbz himself makes fun of people on a regular basis it is only right for others to occasionally
make fun of him. By reading this segment, iDubbbz seems mortal.

4.2 Comment section analysis
When analyzing the top 25 comments, I identified three major categories in which all the
comments could be fitted. The categories are Appreciative comments, References and Jokes.
These three categories are not mutually exclusive and can occur simultaneously in the same
comment. These three categories are the basic groups in which I will sort and analyze the top
25 comments. I will provide in depth analyses from a couple of highly rated comments from
every category. In section 4.2.1 I will analyze the most up-voted comment. It is a comment that
is quite different from the rest since it is written by the content creator himself.

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4.2.1 iDubbbz’s “disclaimer”
iDubbbz provides the audience with a form of “excuse” which he pins to the top of his comment
section.

   (1) ”i said nigger a little too much in this episode. I feel like 1 or 2 niggers is okay. but once
       you start saying it 4 or 5 times for one video you might have a problem. -ian xoxo”
       (iDubbbzTV; 3100 up-votes)

The top-rated comment in the comment section is from iDubbbz himself. He is explaining that
he feels like he said the n-word a little too much in the video. By posting this comment on his
own video he is altering his self-presentation, and his audience design at the same time.
iDubbbz is basically showing an understanding about the complexity of this word and the taboo
which is attached to it. He shows awareness of overusing the word, and tells his audience that
it is not normal to use it “4 or 5 times for one video”. His self-presentation is altered towards a
more sensible individual who shows awareness, moving away from the edgy persona he had in
the video. On the other hand, since he signed the comment with Ian (the first name of the
person who portrays iDubbbz), one might interpret this comment as Ian’s personal thoughts,
but not necessarily the character iDubbbz’s. This type of comment encourages his audience to
be careful when using this word, but it is not trying to stop them from using it, quite the
opposite in fact. This comment literally tells the audience that “one or two n-words is ok”. This
is quite prominent in the comment section where over two hundred instances of the n-word
can be found. This comment can be seen as an encouragement to the audience to stay “savage”,
but also to be careful when using the word. By posting a comment like this he also shows some
kind of remorse about his choice of words in the video, and with this comment pinned to the
top of the comment section, offended critics can be informed that he is “aware” that he
overused the word, and he will therefore preempt criticism. His comment can therefore be seen
as a face-saving act, in which he is trying to adjust his self-presentation towards his actual
audience (i.e. people that will not necessary agree with his usage of taboo expressions). The
comment can be seen as hypocritical since iDubbbz decided to include the word in the video
even though he knew that it was inappropriate.

4.2.2 Appreciative comments
This category concerns comments that express approval of the video or some specific aspect of
the video.

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(2) “Your videos are the only reason I haven’t killed myself. (Oliver Amorim; 1700 up-
        votes)

I interpret this comment as a compliment, which is based on the shared ground and the general
jargon of iDubbbzTV. According to the commenter, this video is in other words so funny/good
that they prevent the viewer from killing him/herself. It can be seen as a compliment just
because of the shared common ground on iDubbbzTV, even though it is generally seen as an
awkward way of putting it. iDubbbz and his ways of joking about depression often results in
him saying something about killing himself. These kinds of jokes are in line with iDubbbz’s
edgy self-presentation and persona, since he apparently does not care about the consequences
of neither death nor depression. Based on the number of up-votes that this comment has, it is
fair to state that the edgy persona that iDubbbz enacts in his videos is appreciated by his core
audience to such an extent that they try to reenact it themselves. The comment features no
taboo expressions, but includes the concept of suicide which in itself has a strong taboo
attached to it.

The following comment is one of the 25-comments with the most likes. This comment can be
interpreted as an appreciative comment.

    (3) ” Dude the fucking box of glass killed me.” (Andy; 512 up-votes)

This comment appreciates the segment in the video in which iDubbbz opens a box of glass. The
taboo-expression fucking is used as an emphatic intensifier to intensify the overall positive
assessment of the video. The sentence is designed to convey a positive evaluation because killed
is most likely being used as an idiom for “made me laugh really hard”.

4.2.3 Reference comments
The reference category draws upon contexts from previous videos. They require knowledge
about presuppositions and a shared common ground for the comment to be fully understood.

    (4) “ “What are you fucking gay dude?” ” (Lord Illu Vondy; 1000 up-votes):

This comment is a quotation from both the analyzed video and also a reference back to a
previous video. The quote could be written with the purpose of showing that he/she understood
the reference of this quote in the video. This comment refers to two videos, firstly the Christmas
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