“My goal with my content is always to entertain, to push the boundaries, to be all inclusive,” Logan Paul, YouTube star, said in his recent apology video, “in almost everything I do, the intent is never to be heartless, cruel, or malicious. Like I said, I made a huge mistake.”
With watery eyes, a quiet voice, and a face full of shock, Logan Paul apologized for recording and posting a video showing a suicide victim in Japan’s Suicide Forest. Like most of YouTube’s top stars, Logan finally went too far in the name of “entertainment.” I am sure most YouTube stars are not looking to promote cruelty, heartlessness, or malice, but such statements of righteousness and innocence mean very little when the standards bend to the will of fame.
Although Logan Paul’s Suicide Forest video was inarguably his worst offense, it was not his only. As he said in his own words, he pushes boundaries. Just take a look at his earlier Japan videos, full of stupid pranks, and childish stunts, all extremely offensive to the inhabitants he was exploiting for views.
Uploaded a few days before his infamous Suicide Forest video, “We fought in the middle of Tokyo” plays like a purposeful attempt to disrespect the daily Japanese work life. He sticks cameras in people’s faces and cars (Japan has strict privacy laws), rides on random work vehicles (disrespecting those trying to make an honest living), misbehaves in the Tsukiji fish market, going on to play with a dead fish and an octopus tentacle. He holds them against a Starbucks window, takes them into a clothing store, eventually leaving them on a taxi cab that drives away. During the video, Logan proclaims that “Tokyo is just a giant playground. Maybe it’s not. Maybe I should stop. Probably not.” Another video has his friends and him playing “real life” Pokemon Go in the streets of Tokyo.
Although the concept of privilege is uncomfortable to some, I couldn’t help but see privilege everywhere in Logan’s Japan playtime videos. Logan Paul, a white American with a massive social media following gallivants through Japan, pulling stunts and thinking everyone is having a great time. “Japanese people are so nice,” Logan explains, “First of all, they put up with me. Second of all, they laugh with me — sometimes at me.”
And if the privilege of that statement didn’t burn enough…
“It’s just, I love Tokyo. I love Japan. Americans, we could learn a lot.”
Learn what, exactly? Some cultural awareness?
The thing is, Logan Paul is merely a character in this community of ignorant and culturally unaware children hell bent on catching the next viral wave of cash. Entertainers entertain. And if your brand is pushing boundaries with pranks and hilarious stunts, you’re in a race to the bottom. What is the next crazy stunt? Who can we mess with next? What sick and potentially dangerous prank can we inflict on our friends?
These kids got famous off of platforms like Vine, YouTube, and Twitch. All it took was some on-camera-magic, funny jokes, and a winning personality to get a following. Some of them got luckier by making money off of it. YouTube monetization can bring in millions to these stars. Add on merchandise — Logan Paul has a clothing brand named after his parrot — and you’ve got a winning combination. Nuance, awareness (of any kind), respect, and intelligence need not apply for the formula to work. Of course, Logan Paul could be extremely intelligent, hiding it behind the mask of a highschool jock for the sake of his audience and revenue. But that would make him worse of a person.
Logan Paul had numerous opportunities to not post the Suicide Forest video. He could’ve cut the whole thing off in the brainstorming phase, but he didn’t. “Gee, I wonder if going into the Suicide Forest to raise awareness could be potentially insensitive?” It wasn’t a bad idea until millions of people had seen the video. Only until the outrage started pouring in did he rethink his decision. This goes the same for every other YouTube star that has done something idiotic or offensive for views. PewDiePie once paid Indian freelancers to hold up signs reading “Death to all Jews.” The freelancers didn’t know what they were doing, and later lost their jobs because of it. It’s not a problem until the audience starts booing.
But despite all the controversies and scandals, these celebrities still end up on the other end better than before. Logan Paul has received almost a hundred thousand new subscribers since the incident. His “hiatus” might result in positive change, but in all likelihood he’ll remain the same childish prankster that propelled him to internet fame.
Oblivious white male jock is an easy character to play. Logan does not have to analyze his antics for stereotypes, or cultural offenses. He doesn’t have to wonder whether he’s going too far. Morality is a side thought, at best. Digression isn’t an issue when your only metric is views: “It’s good because people watched and laughed at it.” Only a tsunami of rage can knock you off the race to the bottom, or at least make you realize you messed up on the pathway down.
The unfortunate aspect of YouTube stardom’s latest dumpster-fire is its preciseness. Logan Paul was not dragged through the coals because he started descending into mindless amusement at the expense of others. No, he was ridiculed because he left the bill with the wrong group: suicide victims. And although it is just and right to call out the exploitation of those who struggle with depression and suicide, I can’t help but think Logan will continue down this path until he runs into the wrong group again. Put another way, if a friend of yours was struggling with drug addiction and he happened to rob a convenience store along the way, would you focus solely on the robbery? Or, would you confront him about the root problem?
The root problem is still up for grabs, but it is a fair assessment to say YouTube harbors a significant amount of it. And being an ignorant, privileged first world child is easy to keep up in this ecosystem, as Logan Paul so brilliantly portrayed.