Crixeo: Logan Paul
Logan Paul Apologized, But We All Feed the Machine
Now, now, I know everyone is up in arms over how he started 2018, and I’m certainly not saying his recent video in Japan was tasteful or even artful. But Logan Paul is an artist. And as a society, we need to learn from his experience, especially as more and more bright teens aspire to become famous YouTubers. Of course, disrespecting the dead is offensive; but it is important to note that Paul did not commit murder or rape or worse. He simply exhibited verypoor judgment based on a certain brand of ignorance that online culture has actively encouraged. And that’s what I’d like to discuss here.
First, what did Logan Paul do exactly? He traveled with friends to the Aokigahara forest beneath Japan’s Mount Fuji to go “ghost hunting.” Upon arrival, he and his seemingly vapid, hapless posse came across a man who had recently died by suicide in what is known as the “suicide forest,” which sees 50-200 deaths by suicide each year. Apparently the roots of America’s obsession with Japanese suicide go rather deep, but it seems Paul’s expectations for this visit were quite shallow in nature and his group did not anticipate discovering a corpse.
Instead of discussing why people die by suicide there, which could have been an enlightening endeavor, Logan Paul & Co. joked while trying to displace their discomfort and then, like well-programmed YouTubers, decided to keep the cameras rolling.
As Paul stated in a recent apology for the subsequent video, “The goal with my content is always to entertain, to push the boundaries, to be all-inclusive. And the world I live in, I share almost everything I do. And the intent is never to be heartless, cruel or malicious. Like I said, I’ve made a huge mistake.”
Personally, I believe he wasn’t intending to be hurtful. Based on the footage, it genuinely feels like a 22-year-old and his friends, who live in a very decadent bubble, coming across a dead body for the first time and desperately trying to maintain their particular “status quo.”
Moreover, it feels like someone whose greatest fear is irrelevancy coming across the very real death of someone who might have felt irrelevant too. The giggling and over-the-top performance only further indicate Paul’s immaturity and, ultimately, his inability to properly deal with heavy themes such as life and death. His reaction was woefully innocent while, at the same time, achingly stupid. However, this is hardly surprising given the circumstances.
Back in 2015 Caroline Moss, writing for Business Insider, described similar behavior in her profile of the internet sensation. One memorable activity shared was a four-hour acting workshop where Paul was expected to act out a dramatic scene. The situation: his scene partner just announced she’s pregnant and considering an abortion. Heavy stuff, right? According to Moss, even though Paul was expected to play the scene straight — to be real — he reverted to his broad comedy roots, the very same roots that have garnered over 15 million followers for his YouTube channel and helped him pocket $12.5 million in recent years. Why wouldn’t he revert to his honey pot comfort zone?
Of course, during the same interview, Paul repeatedly shared insights into this financially-reinforced, and at times sophomoric, worldview. He actively rebelled against his “good boy” image by saying: “The comedy you see me doing is like, the clean stuff. But hey, sorry, I do like the dirty stuff as well. I want to be in R-rated movies. It’s time for me to grow up and expand my brand of comedy because the dirty stuff is the fun stuff. That’s the stuff that gets the college people laughing. Some of my Vines, the young girls love them. But college students will watch them and be like, yo, this is dumb.”
In other words, to Logan Paul, obtaining a larger audience, advancing his career and even reaching a certain level of maturity equates to having college students view him as an “adult” with less-than-wholesome material. Then again, with “golden boy” YouTubers like Paul having such influence and sway over teenage consumers (63% of U.S. teenagers in 2015 declared their eagerness to try a product or brand suggested by a preferred YouTuber), it appears that dirty stuff, or even reality, is not in Paul’s best financial interest.
Then again, when teenagers declare that their dream job is to become a famous YouTuber, they cite reasons such as creative control and self-expression. Perhaps these were noble aspirations during the early days of YouTube, shortly after their launch in 2005. However, once Google purchased the company for a staggering $1.65 billion in early 2006, this “next step in the evolution of the internet” took on a very corporate stink. Some had hoped that the platform would become a creative utopia, independent from mainstream market gatekeepers; instead, it’s proven to be a cash cow for artists like Paul who generate content that mostly aligns with the needs of advertisers.
This relationship between content creators and mainstream businesses can be traced back to May 2007 when YouTube launched its Partner Program, offering top talent ways to generate income through ad revenue sharing. In exchange for building a large audience and promoting sales through banner ads and the like, creators could earn 55% of advertising revenue generated — but only if someone clicked on the ad. According to longtime YouTuber Hank Green, this was how YouTube/Google’s economic ecosystem was born, mostly out of necessity. The platform didn’t want to lose their talent to other up-and-coming competitors who might lure audiences, and thus advertising profits, away by tempting content creators with promises of revenue.
However, having money on the line changed the behavior of content creators by placing more emphasis on gaming the system to acquire greater returns. And with YouTube allowing copyright-infringing videos from popular mainstream sources, such as The Daily Show or Family Guy, to boost overall traffic to the platform, it seemed the company was actively encouraging their “independent” content creators to harness that traffic — not for the sake of art or creativity, but in the name of advertising dollars, which YouTube happened to share with their creators. But then, the platform’s talent discovered that advertisers needed them and their audiences far more than YouTube itself. Moreover, they realized the amount of money earned through click-through rates was minuscule compared to the sums of money they could acquire through endorsement deals, product placements and influencer marketing campaigns. The best part? Creators didn’t have to share that revenue with YouTube, despite using the platform to establish value through audience loyalty. And for YouTubers like Logan Paul, who has been able to influence teenagers and their purchasing power more than most, small fortunes were quickly acquired.
Yet not everyone has been thrilled with these changes to YouTube’s “monetization.” You see, as advertisers gained more power over the platform itself — as well as the talent it preferred — other artists, creatives and journalists using YouTube to build their own channels offering alternative viewpoints lost their steady revenue source, with waves of policy changes dictating what would be considered profitable content. Caught in the snares of these changes made under the guise of combating “hate speech” and “fake news,” comedians such as Jimmy Dore and independent journalists like H.A. Goodman found their own channels demonetized for discussing issues as important as war crimes and corruption, while other longtime YouTubers found their channels demonetized for even lesser “crimes.”
The issue appeared to be that companies simply didn’t want to be associated with those kinds of messages. Instead, they preferred a more traditional business model in which companies dictated what was acceptable media. Unfortunately, this shift was in direct conflict with how many content creators initially viewed their role in relation to YouTube. Thus was born an interesting conundrum: YouTubers needed the audience to attract the money, but their audience might prefer content that simultaneously repelled that money. And as a result of new policy changes, if you desired to make content with YouTube, you could only expect revenue if your content was clean, wholesome and acceptable for mass markets. If you decided to make alternative content instead, well, in the words of Willy Wonka, “You get nothing!”
Reenter Logan Paul, that Vine and YouTube darling with millions of teenage girls clamoring for his content. Based on the small fortune he’s amassed over the years, it appears he knows very well how to play this game. In fact, at the very beginning of his “suicide forest” content, he clearly stated that he would not “monetize this video for obvious reasons.” Effectively, he was saying, “I know this will not align with the goals of my financial backers.” It wasn’t so much a declaration of respect for the recently deceased, as it was a bowing of the head to the companies which have helped to make him millions. Still, does this awareness of how YouTube, and dare I say the internet, works make him “disgusting”?
After all, Paul has stated in the past that he aspires to be “the biggest entertainer in the world” and that he’s willing to “do whatever it takes to get that…as many hours as needed.” Surely, for all his immature antics, he’s displayed a certain level of work ethic that’s commendable. And whether or not you like his content, it’s clear he takes his work very, very seriously. In fact, he’s shown great artistry and skill through his Vines and videos, pairing clever editing with strong comedic timing. And unlike others in his circle, he’s at least striving for self-improvement by way of acting classes, diversifying his business through his Maverick clothing line, and trying to move on from his gimmicky foundation. And as he stated in a recent apology, he had spent the past 460+ days creating a daily 15-minute TV show for YouTube. That’s not nothing.
Yet, despite his many skills and determination, Paul is still living a life that wouldn’t have even been possible before 2005, and sadly there is no handbook for what is or is not acceptable behavior online. In addition, he’s constantly surrounded by individuals who measure their self-worth in advertising dollars, views and clicks, and has a manager who once instructed him to watch Entourage for an education in show business. In all honesty, what could this 22-year-old YouTube star possibly know of death, suicide, shame or a corpse in a Japanese forest? Perhaps our expectations have simply been too high.
But I suppose what bothers me most about this story is the intense backlash Paul experienced over his mistake. I doubt he anticipated that Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad, which had the darkest final season I’ve ever seen in my life, would tell him that he was “pure trash” who should “go rot in hell.” Others called for his social media to be wiped clean off the internet, for his channel to be demonetized, and for YouTube to take serious action, which the company acknowledged through Twitter on January 9, 2018. The next day, YouTube released a statement: “In light of recent events, we have decided to remove Logan Paul’s channels from Google Preferred. Additionally, we will not feature Logan in season four of Foursome and his new Originals are on hold.” However, YouTube itself had promoted the offending video to “trending” status before Paul felt forced to remove it from the platform entirely.
If you’re arguing that Logan Paul made YouTube unsafe for children, then you may be unfamiliar with #ElsaGate. If you’re arguing that the #Logang, mostly made up of teenage girls, is disgusting and to blame for encouraging bad behavior, then you may be unaware of how the internet works (or worse, you may be sexist and shaming them). And if you’re begging YouTube to control free expression or even stupidity, then you may be willing to risk sacred freedoms for creature comforts.
You see, the problem has never been Logan Paul. He played YouTube’s game to his advantage using the rules that they set. The problem has always been us, trapped in a system outside of our control and, often, our understanding. And instead of seeing things as they really are, all too often we choose to destroy and eat our own, all while claiming moral superiority in the face of a system that actively feeds off of our confused rage and blistering insecurities — for profit.
And I don’t know about you, but that bleak reality is a lot harder to stomach.