Remix artist Nick Bertke, best known online as Pogo, is a musician who turns sounds and songs from Disney films like Alice in Wonderland and Up into dreamy chillwave songs with millions of YouTube views. Last year, he managed to turn Despicable Me into a slick summer jam. But his association with saccharine Disney vibes extends only as far as his music. Earlier this week, a wildly homophobic video surfaced where Bertke states that he views “gays as an abomination” and cheers the 2016 massacre at the gay nightclub Pulse. Faced with immediate backlash, the musician is now trying to walk his statements back, claiming the internet “has taken the video very far out of context and proportion.”
In the video, which was filmed in 2016, Bertke addresses why he chose the username “Fagottron” for his YouTube channel. “I’ve always had a very thorough dislike of homosexuals,” he says. “I’ve never liked a grown man acting like a 12-year-old girl. I’ve always found that to be quite disgusting.” The video has since been taken down, though mirrors of it remain on YouTube. He adds that his “subtle” username is a way for him to “express to the world that I view gays as an abomination.”
After mentioning that he has “a fairly robust resentment of the gay community,” he goes on to discuss the Pulse massacre, where 49 patrons of a gay nightclub were killed by a man who claimed allegiance to ISIS, in both laudatory and Islamophobic terms. “It’s just fantastic,” he says, fist-pumping. “It amazes me to see the West actually welcoming in a culture through the floodgates that wants gays dead. I think that’s fantastic.”
Bertke has hardly been shy about controversy or promoting his belief that “free speech is under threat” because “the pendulum of society has swung left too far, and it’s largely thanks to sanctimonious social justice warriors and narrative-over-fact third wave feminists.” As XOXO co-founder and blogger Andy Baio detailed in a 2017 post, the musician has written several posts or recorded videos railing against feminism and regurgitating misogynist mantras about how “women crave drama,” that they want to be “manned around” and “treat[ed] like a child,” or that feminism makes them “self-victimizing gold diggers” with more privilege than men.
Many of these incidents were brushed off by Bertke as stunts or social experiments, part of a pattern where he disclaims responsibility for noxious ideas while still broadcasting them. After his homophobic rant went viral, Bertke released a follow-up video where he similarly tries to deflect from the prejudice he had displayed openly. In the video, he grins widely and says “what have I done?” before dismissing the username as something he created “when I was a stupid teenager.” He claims that where he grew up, the word “faggot” was interchangeable with “dickhead, or a twat, or a prick,” and that “sexuality doesn’t enter into [it] for him,” despite claims to the contrary in the original video. (“Nothing encapsulates the sissiness of a gay guy quite like the word ‘faggot,’” he says in the 2016 footage.) He then falls back on the laughable argument that he has gay and female friends, and therefore he cannot mean what he has said.
Bertke goes on to discuss his dislike for people who want safe spaces or trigger warnings. “The way I draw these people out into the open, and have done for several years, is to write and say things that I know will grind their gears.” He also mentions his admiration for figures like Jordan Peterson, Christina Hoff Summers, Joe Rogan, and Ben Shapiro, noting that “these are people I could only hope to become like one day.” He is less excited by far-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos. While he often agrees with the things Yiannopoulos says, he does not always like the way he says it. “He’ll get up in front of a crowd of people and he’ll bash the indigenous people of Australia. He’ll speak in a very sort of derogatory, very provocative way.”
He goes on to add that his goal is to entertain and create discussions, as well as “get the better of” social movements and cultures he doesn’t like. “If you or one of your friends has ended up … contemplating suicide because of something I’ve said in a blog or a video, I’m deeply sorry for that,” Bertke says. “It has never been my intention to hurt people or to offend people. That has never been my intention… I feel very strongly that it’s been very naive behavior on my part. If I’m going to tuck my tail between my legs and admit anything, it’s that these posts and these videos and these things are made for the sake of being edgy have not contributed to any productive conversation.”
It is unclear how to reconcile his statements that he wants to rile people up and also somehow never offend them. Regardless, his excuse that he is being edgy “for the sake of being edgy” — like all of his deflections — dismisses the real damage his words can do. Applauding real-world violence like the Pulse shootings isn’t edgy. It’s a step toward normalizing and even celebrating the life-threatening reality of prejudice the LGBT community must deal with.
Bertke can claim that people who know him know he’s “just being an asshole,” but it’s a throwaway excuse that cannot be taken at face value. There is no good faith discussion to be had with someone who trivializes the murders of a marginalized community. His insistence that the original video is being taken out of context is a textbook example of claiming plausible deniability, one where anyone who is frightened, hurt, or offended by his comments is simply missing a joke. Bertke does a piss-poor job convincing anyone the joke was worthwhile in the first place.