A Plea for Logan Paul (and Other Internet Idiots)
Logan Paul, a 22 years old YouTube superstar *, filmed himself walking through Aokigahara Forest in Japan, on December 31st. This place is reputable for hosting the suicide of hundreds of desperate people every year. I saw a censored version of the video: he basically walks through the forest, finds a person who hanged herself to a tree, films it, freaks out, films it again (from up close), acts like a disturbed 13 year old and then leaves.
I'm not going to defend what Logan Paul did. It was disrespectful and entitled and completely disconnected with the realities of depression and mental illness. He should should wear a donkey hat with his face on it for the rest of his life.
What interests me is what in the fucking world brought a handsome, successful and seemingly smart 22 year old entrepreneur to do something so fucking stupid that it's going to make him more famous than he already is. We live in a weird world. A world that has become weird way before Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, but after Barack Obama began his first time. I believe Logan Paul is just a symptom of a world that changes faster than our capacity to understand what these changes mean **.
Who am I kidding? This is about social media
Internet and more recently social media, are reshaping the way we perceive and understand the world around us.
As disturbing and disrespectful as I thought Logan Paul's Aokigahara forest video was, I can't say that 22 years old me would've been above what's portrayed in it. The younger me was brash, stupid and insensitive. He wanted to experience extreme emotions and understand the nature of his own mortality at all cost. I might've not reacted this childishly (or maybe I might've), but thirteen years ago I was not above walking in the Aokigahara forest, had I have the opportunity.
The main difference between Logan Paul and I is that he has an audience of 15 million people and a multimillion dollars business. So, there were two socially reprehensible behaviors at play, here : walking into the Aokigahara forest to find a person that committed suicide (immature and disrespectful)and broadcasting it to what eventually amounted to 7 million people (even more disrespectful and straight up irresponsible). But could he have acted any other way? Was this shameful video inevitable?
Being Logan Paul
Logan Paul is 22 years old and, most likely the most successful and accomplished member of his family already. His father is a realtor, his mother is his biggest fan and while his brother Jake is almost as successful as he is, he's 16 months younger than him and follows this footsteps. That is not exactly uncharted territory to be the richest and most successful person in your family at 22 years of age. Every professional athlete has been in this position. What is 100% new, though is being the richest and most successful person in your family at 22 years of age from publishing vlogs about everything and nothing you can think about.
It does not excuse what he has done, but there is no precedent for what he's living and it would put anybody in a weird fucking headspace. Especially a cliché All-American surferboy who would probably be waiting tables and trying to hustle his way on to a reality show if it wasn't for the YouTubes. Everything he does it successful and makes money. So the line between good and bad ideas become blurred. Logan Paul probably knew he would get some flack for posting his Aokigahara forest video, but what he miscalculated was how many influent people and media would use this against him to create news or simply reinsert themselves in the cultural discourse.
The Aokigahara forest video was an irresponsible and morally reprehensible idea, but was it a bad one, marketing-wise? No. Of course it wasn't. I hadn't even heard of Logan Paul before it happened and I consider myself an avid YouTube watcher. It opened him up to a whole new audience that is eagerly awaiting to analyze what's his next move's going to be. He made himself the low-hanging fruit for whoever feels like their popularity has been dwindling over the last couple years, but it turned everybody's attention to him.
It's unclear whether it was planned, but this kind of situation is entirely new, guys. This kind of controversy did not exist ten years ago, when public personalities could not succeed without a label, a studio or a management team behind them. Does Logan Paul has a management team working for him? Probably, but he found success and fame on his own terms and as a 22 year old kid in uncharted moral territory, he probably trusted his own instinct and didn't consult anybody. That's what's great and terrible about the social media era, not much goes through a review board.
It trended on YouTube
The real drama behind the Logan Paul suicide forest video is that it was inevitable. Paul knew it would trend on YouTube and that it was a gold mine waiting to happen. That's why I believe he's ultimately guilty of being an asshole : he knew you would watch. He knew his name would fly around the internet and that it would create a buzz (good or bad) around his channel. He knew shittier vloggers would take it apart and give him a free access to their platform. Logan Paul had 15 million subscribers before the Aokigahara forest video, he still has 15 million subscribers today and it can only go up from there
Logan Paul doesn't deserve a plea, because he doesn't need it. He'll be OK. The judgement and contempt of his peers are only fuel to his success, like they were to reality stars before him. It might be uncomfortable and hurtful because he's putting so much of himself out there, but it will ultimately not play against him. The only thing that would play against him would be to stop making videos and he's not going to do that. Feed the algorithm, surf your crowd and let YouTube and human nature do the rest. You're going to tune-in to his next video. So will I.
We're living in a brand new world where Logan Paul isn't the problem, but a product of the problem.
* 15 million subscribers are enough to warrant this title, in my book.
** I stole that idea from Chuck Klosterman. From Eating the Dinosaur, I believe.