Etika: a Pop Culture Champion

The Signpost

File:Etika in 2019 - 2.jpg
CC BY 3.0

Etika: a Pop Culture Champion

Contribute  —  
Share this
By PantheonRadiance
Amofah in May 2019.

Desmond Amofah, better known as Etika, is the first YouTuber to ever have his Wikipedia article reach the coveted status of Featured.[a] This undertaking was over a year in the making, meant to coincide with the five-year anniversary of his tragic passing. As a Nintendo gamer, Etika garnered a massive cult following due to his reaction videos to Nintendo Direct presentations along with his general videos centered around gaming and pop culture. His personality exuded a bright energy matched by very few online, let alone in real life — and it was this enthusiasm that attracted so many to him like a positive magnet near such a negative world. But over the last ten months of his life, he showed sides of himself that no one expected to see from him, as a consequence of his inner conflict with his mental health. Despite his fans and the Internet's best efforts, his story came to a tragic end in June 2019, when he was found deceased after taking his own life. Many who follow the YouTube community know his story all too well. Yet, for some Wikipedia readers — especially those unfamiliar with YouTube and Internet culture as a whole — there may be confusion over his appeal, and why someone like him is remembered so fondly to this day.

I hope I can help explain Etika in a way his own article can't, and also address this divide between traditional and Internet culture.

Celebrity worship is fascinating. It seems like ever since the 20th century, with the rise of mass media and the birth of the modern cult of personality, society crafts these massive pedestals for the celebrities we revere, and attaches a piece of themselves to those that stand in glory. But when a figure falls, it's as if the earth itself freezes, with not a single fire to thaw out the world from its dazed grief. All we have in the frost is a frozen snapshot of that now empty pedestal as we're left wondering where we go from here. As time gradually defrosts the world back to normal, we find comfort in our memories of the figure as we learn to accept that they will never be with us again. We see this cycle play out infinitely — from John Lennon to Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson to Prince, Mother Teresa to Princess Diana, Nelson Mandela to Maya Angelou — all prominent cultural figures that the world mourned for what seemed like ages. And yet, most people who mourned at the deaths of those icons have (presumably) only heard of Etika in passing, if at all. Granted, this may be because Etika was fairly niche. Although he rapidly grew in popularity before his first breakdown,[b] Etika only reached 800,000 subscribers at his peak (larger than most stadiums, but smaller than the ten largest cities in the US). But it also illustrates a rift between Internet and traditional fame in how a figure is remembered in death.

As big as Internet culture has grown within the past few decades, it still feels like online personalities have yet to reach that pedestal of fame as traditional celebrities. There have been plenty of attempts to bridge the gaps in the past. But more often than not, those bridges burn, either through the actions of one side, or certain words from the other. And even then, the general perception is that YouTube culture, and arguably Internet culture as a whole, is incomparable to the more dominant cultural mediums — movies, TV shows, music, literature, and especially high art. All forms of media that have been around for centuries, if not millennia. That's long enough to be ingrained into the public consciousness, something Internet culture's roughly 30 years just doesn't match. Time always makes a difference when it comes to culture; like a fine wine, it's time that refines it to quality. For how much spectacular, boundary-pushing content we've gotten over the years, Internet culture simply hasn't reached that same length of evolution. People still feel that it's second rate.

It's as if pop culture is a colosseum where people try their hardest to win reverence. The traditional celebs, artists and icons fight as gladiators in the middle of the stadium, while YouTubers and the general public serve as spectators or at best commentators. Passive participants in close proximity to greatness who most could only hope to reach the same esteem.

However, Etika was the exception.

He was the rare example of both — a commentator and a gladiator. Just as much as he reacted to pop culture, he carved his own marks on it all by himself. He could spend one moment discussing those melees all alone, then suddenly stand right in the center of the brawling arena, ultimately absorbing all the attention from every spectator at once. It was this cycle of action and reaction he mastered perfectly, through sheer charisma, passion and heart.

His infamous Super Smash Bros. 4 video, where he reacted to Pokémon character Mewtwo being included in the game, demonstrates his mastery at this power. It may be inconceivable how anyone could display such happiness at seeing a digital avatar inside a virtual world. But like an athlete dunking a ball inside a hoop, or a familiar face on camera saying words someone else wrote, seeing a character that resonated with many since their childhood evokes a euphoria beyond what our minds can understand. Etika captures this essence through his leaping out of the chair and yelling profanities that would get any child grounded from using the Internet. He never stopped exercising his talents. Even when the Switch captured every gamer's gaze in its 2016 unveiling, Etika managed to overshadow its popularity just a few weeks later, through his infamous "JoyCon Boyz" livestream. It's rare for celebrities to coin a phrase that penetrates the zeitgeist, let alone YouTubers. However, Etika all but managed to do so with the help of alcohol and a 3D-printed knockoff. Moments like these propelled him to the forefront of the Nintendo community, at a time when the company had transitioned from its struggling period with the Wii U to the Switch's success. His reactions soon diverged from gaming to anything he got his hands on — YouTube drama, the deep web, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure episodes, and whatever new meme dropped. And his audience grew from Nintendo fans to the general Internet realm.

It would be a disservice to merely label him as that hi-top rocking dude who screamed at his computer over pixelated characters. If you gazed beyond the surface, you'd find a man who could grow a garden from concrete with his seeds of wisdom. For example, take his advice about relationships, where he explains the idea of attraction and repulsion, and how the secret of maintaining a relationship is through keeping this balance. Building healthy relationships is a struggle for many in this age of loneliness — and celebrities (especially YouTubers) don't fare any better with their occupations. Yet Etika teaches this concept as if he knew it his whole life.

He could also be vulnerable. In a livestream where he talks about his fears, he reveals that it's those inexplicable moments that terrify him, like coming home to see your bedroom door ajar when you remember closing it. Uncertainties can unsettle us at times, but Etika seemed both frightened and attuned to them. Even in the early stages of his final chapter, he alluded to these ideas of things in the universe beyond our understanding. He wasn't the type to accept that there are coincidences in life. Rather, he looked for a purpose in everything, no matter how small. Like the Travis Scott song, Etika embodied the art of stargazing: a dreamer who wanted more from the world than he received, an idealist whose dreams were too big to be confined to such a small world. In some ways, this turmoil fueled his struggles with mental health, which was what made his situation all the more saddening. He may have fought well in the arena, but he sadly couldn't win the battle inside him.

Etika was the first celebrity I genuinely cried for when he died. Before this, I was admittedly never too immersed in celebrities. Sure, like everyone, I have my favorites — Kurt Cobain, Kendrick Lamar, and so on. But I could never get invested in their lives the same way I could for e-celebs. For the most part, every time a celebrity's passing made headlines, I was quick to keep my composure and offer my condolences when I got the chance.

However, my relationship with the Internet is a different story. I have loved YouTube since my childhood; the site's DIY approach made each video feel like peering through billions of windows to see pure human creativity. It was there that I discovered Etika in 2014, shortly before his viral Mewtwo reaction, and from there I followed his story until the final chapter. The day his death was announced coincided with the ten-year anniversary of Michael Jackson's death. For my young self, who still struggled with understanding death at that time, MJ marked the moment I realized that no one — not even celebrities — was immune to it. The morning of June 25, when I saw the tweet announcing it, it broke me. For the first time, I felt the same way that others felt when someone like Jackson had died in 2009. Cobain in 1994. Lennon in 1980.

Like the earth froze.

Even five years after his end, it's still hard for me to accept that he will no longer roam that colosseum, let alone stand on that pedestal anymore. It feels odd to harbor this much feeling towards a person who I'd only seen through a 20-inch monitor, as if he were family. Maybe because just like anyone else, I attached a piece of myself to him.

As a fan of his, the thing that saddens me the most about Etika's story is the idea that people may recognize him more for the last ten months of his life than the over ten years of his work as a YouTuber… or his 29 years as a human being. Those distant from the web may still not find his appeal interesting enough to talk about. When he does appear in discourse, there are some that use his name as an example of mental illness like he was just a statistic, or worse, a weapon to incite drama. Those moments have become lesser now that the dust has settled, replaced with the good memories of him while it lasted. However, I hope that in the next five years people will continue to remember those ten years of great moments just as much as his final months. More than that, I hope that someday, society as a whole will truly take Internet culture as seriously as traditional culture.

Regardless of whether you follow traditional culture or Internet culture, at the end of the day we're all people. People that get hyped, people that scream, that love, that fear, that fight, that struggle... that feel. As people, I feel we'd all do well to follow what Etika always said in his videos:

"Take care of yourself. Have yourself a damn good one!"[2]


  1. ^ While Shaylee Mansfield technically reached the status first, her notability stems more for her acting career than as a traditional YouTuber.
  2. ^ On Social Blade, he gained roughly 1,000 subscribers per day by October 2018, shortly before his first incident.[1]


  1. ^ "Etika Social Blade".
  2. ^ "Etika catchphrase IGN".
In this issue
+ Add a comment

Discuss this story

These comments are automatically transcluded from this article's talk page. To follow comments, add the page to your watchlist. If your comment has not appeared here, you can try purging the cache.
It's a newspaper article, hope that helps. jp×g🗯️ 02:47, 12 July 2024 (UTC)[reply]


The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0