YouTube’s reign over the ever-expanding video-sharing environment that now epitomizes a vast swathe of the internet is nothing short of dauntingly impressive. It has given rise to a global interconnectedness never before seen and is responsible for the recognition and fame of thousands of once-ordinary people; musicians, comedians, talk show personalities, podcasters, authors, directors, actors, and even Logan Paul.
If you have never heard of Logan Paul, firstly, congratulations, and secondly, that is probably for the best. However, he and his brand of video content are pivotal pieces in the popularity puzzle that has now become the frantic search for YouTube stardom.
Logan Paul, a generically handsome, muscular, charismatic, energetic, blonde twenty-something, got his start with internet fame on Vine, a popular (and now terminated) video-sharing smartphone app. His fan base grew around his comical, culturally relevant, and not particularly special six-second videos shot predominantly in his college dorm room and various places throughout his local community.
As his internet fame grew, so did the complexity and detail of his videos, in which he employed the use of a greater variety of “narratives” in his mini-sketches, as well as the introduction of other characters, such as his younger brother Jake (now also an inexplicably famous YouTube personality), to increase the overall wow-factor of his content. Upon Vine’s demise in early 2017, Paul moved his video empire over to YouTube, where he began making longer video-blog (more commonly known as “vlog”) style content and even launched his own clothing brand, Maverick Apparel.
The gist of his YouTube strategy – and admittedly the strategy of many, many other aspiring YouTube celebrities – is this: embody no particularly reputable or marketable skills, act like a feckless child, participate in spontaneously outrageous and sophomorically comedic activities, surround yourself with attractive and otherwise uninteresting sycophants, and pretend like your actions have no worldly consequences.
This sordid strategy, coupled with his already large Vine fan base, has garnered him over 15 million subscribers, the overwhelmingly vast majority of these being young, teenaged boys. While this may sound like a needless tidbit at present, it will become abundantly clear why that matters so profoundly.
On New Year’s Eve 2017, Logan Paul uploaded a new video to his YouTube channel titled “We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest…”, with the thumbnail of said video being a presumably shocked Logan Paul juxtaposed ever so distastefully next to a partially blurred image of a suicide victim hanging by the neck from a tree. Already a horrific start to a YouTube video available for viewing by any human being with access to the internet, the video begins with a half-hearted disclaimer regarding the sensitive nature of the video followed by Paul aggrandizing himself for “breaking new ground” by filming and publishing footage of a dead body for mass consumption on the world’s most ubiquitous and easily accessible video-sharing platform.
The video then skirts over to the vlog portion of the upload, which features a disgustingly childish Logan Paul adorned in a hoodie from his own brand and a Monsters Inc. winter cap, the placement of which on his head causing his outdated Bieber haircut to sprawl even more obnoxiously from his scalp than usual. He is shown frolicking around with his sycophantic, and equally as shameless, friends in a parking lot adjacent to what is widely referred to as the Japanese Suicide Forest, named so because it is a forest in Japan where a disproportionately large amount of people go to take their own lives.
Somehow finding comedy in this very sullen and morbid location, Paul and his group of socially unaware, immature tourists begin talking into the camera about entering the forest to find out if it is truly as haunted as people claim it to be. And, as you can expect from both the title, thumbnail, and setup of the entire video up until the most recent point that has been described, they stumble upon a dead body.
Almost immediately after discovering the body hanging from a tree far beyond the beaten path, Paul and his gang of immoral idiots begin disrespecting and verbally desecrating the body and the circumstances that may have led to the death. Tasteless jokes are seemingly unending, as well as close-up shots of the dead man’s face and extremities, off-hand remarks about the personal experience of viewing a dead body, and almost congratulatory overtones – as if it were a commendable or laudable accomplishment to have found, captured on video, and made light of a victim of suicide in a country where suicide and mental health are major public health crises.
Within hours of its uploading, the video received nearly 10 million views and 600,000 likes. A deplorable aspect about this exacerbated dumpster fire of a video is that it was uploaded to an audience of children; teenaged boys who, for whatever unimaginable reason, look up to Logan Paul as a role model and a figure of success, masculinity, and idolization. These boys, in loyalty and in what can only be described as brainwashed ignorance then gave the video those millions of views and hundreds of thousands of likes. The content is already sickening enough without the implications of unprepared eyes and emotionally underdeveloped brains consuming and retaining this grossly mature visual information.
The video has since been taken down after receiving a burst of well-deserved backlash from the greater YouTube community, as well as several major news outlets, all of whom characterized the video as a tasteless, tone-deaf dehumanization of the very serious and pressing issues of suicide and mental health. Paul issued both a video and written apology, the latter being more excusatory and braggadocious than remorseful, throughout which he boasts about both his massive presence on the internet and his tireless “work” ethic, as well as concluding his sentiments with a peace sign emoji and the self-promoting hashtag, #Logang4Life. After weeks of social media isolation, he also uploaded a video regarding suicide prevention; seemingly obligatory in nature as a means of making ineffectual amends with the world at-large.
Many admonishers have predicted that this monumental mistake may cost Logan Paul his large fan base and popularity in the weeks to come. After all, YouTube – following an eleven-day vow of silence – finally stated that they would put Paul’s current movies on hold that were being released through YouTube’s newly minted paid subscription service called YouTube Red, remove him from one of Red’s television series, and expel him from Google Preferred, thus pinching off a portion of the over $17 million in YouTube revenue he once received. However, his unceremonious departure from YouTube celebrity could very well not end up occurring, and that’s the worst part.
We have already seen Logan Paul’s fan base react to the video and the content that preceded it, and it’s all been the same: unhindered idolization and praise, no matter the circumstance. These millions of kids have been groomed by Paul and other YouTubers like him to view whatever they release into the world with nothing but adoration and exaltation, to the point of extreme excess; to the point where even going so far as to film and joke about a dead body for one’s own personal gain is met with hundreds of thousands of thumbs up. In the wake of heavy criticism, they have even begun defending Paul and his actions. So no, this video is not the end of Logan Paul’s YouTube prominence. A speedbump, maybe, but nothing that can’t be recovered from with a few more hoodies and goofy hats and whacky antics.
Logan Paul – while in his own right has created a plague of undeserved attention, money collecting, and popularity – is representative of a much greater toxicity among his archetype of YouTube influencers; the people who invade young minds with valueless content, ingratiated and engorged with physical comedy, luxurious vehicles and material goods, immature behavior, and culturally relevant yet completely unoriginal jokes and recycled narratives.
They are not the John and Hank Green’s or the Casey Neistat’s, or the Tyler Oakley’s; those creators on YouTube who make worthwhile, interesting, tastefully innocuous, and quality-driven video content and who care about their subscribers, even a little bit. They are the bottom-of-the-barrel, store brand, dime-a-dozen, morally ambivalent (if not bankrupt) con artists who use groundbreaking and substantial internet platforms like YouTube to peddle their fruitless wares and trick millions of kids into thinking their content is worth anything other than a perfunctory scoff and a one-way ticket to cultural obscurity. And they do it all while being paid an aggregate of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars.
Logan Paul and his imitative counterparts are the worst that YouTube has to offer, and it’s hurting the platform, hurting social media as a whole, hurting the reputations of more distinguished internet influencers, and hurting young people.