Popular YouTuber Logan Paul is currently the target of a massive internet backlash after he posted a video on New Year’s Eve featuring footage of a man who had killed himself.
Paul was “vlogging” his trip to Japan’s infamous Suicide Forest when he and his crew happened upon a man who had hung himself. The face of the suicider was blurred out, but there was little left to the imagination besides that. (RELATED: YouTube Star Under Fire For Video Featuring Suicide Victim’s Body)
What really upset people was the 22-year-old YouTuber’s reaction to the dead man, which many deemed to be incredibly insensitive, and how it appeared the video star was milking the tragedy for views.
“I’m so sorry about this, Logang [the term for his fanbase],” a distraught Paul says in the video after discovering the body. “This was supposed to be a fun vlog. Suicide is not a joke, depression and mental illness is not a joke, we came here with an intent to focus on the haunted aspect of the forest, but this just became very real. Obviously a lot of people are going through a lot of shit in their lives. … Suicide is not the answer, guys. There are people that love you and care for you.”
But after getting away from the scene of death, Paul and his crew laugh and drink over the incident. That may just have been Paul and his friends coping with the morbid situation, or it could show how callous he was toward the loss of life. Either way, the YouTuber’s many detractors went with the latter interpretation and were up in arms over the apparent exploitation of suicide for clicks.
Paul’s effusive apologies in response to the outrage has done little to stem the waves of anger. It is true that the young YouTuber didn’t demonstrate the most sensitivity to the suicide in the video, and the publication of it does strike one as a heartless grab for clicks.
However, Paul is not unique in that regard. In fact, the entire media establishment has long had a penchant for blood and gore. Cable news routinely shows us graphic footage of cops fatally shooting civilians, military aircraft blowing up targets, the mangled bodies of children in war zones and other gruesome images.
It may be news, but that doesn’t diminish the real reason news outlets broadcast the carnage: drawing in viewers. Sometimes they even exploit brutal images of death for political points. For instance, the picture of a drowned Syrian boy was shown all over the world in 2015 in order to drum up support for the West taking in more refugees from the Middle East.
Other than that, the scenes of violence and misery just serve to sell the news better.
That doesn’t necessarily absolve Paul’s vlog, but it does put it into perpsective. Furthermore, the YouTuber was certainly not trying to push a pro-suicide message to his young audience with his numerous warnings about taking one’s life.
So why is there still so much anger at Paul over this video?
It seems the best answer to that question is what Paul represents: the danger of YouTube allowing personalities unvetted by the old media establishment to gain a large audience.
Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson offered this reason for “why Logan Paul should really worry us” in an article with the same title Tuesday.
Conflating the blonde-haired bro with the alt-right, Lawson says YouTube has created an environment where “a kind of ethical relativism that, even in the intense glare of mass criticism like Paul got yesterday, seems almost invincible to any outside influence.”
In other words, bro culture — which Lawson believes we must combat — and right-wing personalities are able to flourish on YouTube without any say from the outside.
The Vanity Fair writer bemoans how “there hasn’t actually been much done to guide or, frankly, police YouTube by anyone who might have once had the power to do so.”
This reasoning may explain why so many journalists became obsessed with the Logan Paul story, as they have with controversies surrounding other YouTube stars like PewDiePie and Jake Paul, Logan’s brother.
YouTube represents a wild frontier where personalities can forego the old standards of media and survive violating various taboos without losing their fans. This has led many liberal journalists to view the video service as a hotbed for Nazis and other noxious forces.
“I don’t think liberals are ready for the crop of hard-right white youths born in the 21st century and receiving most of their political information from YouTube Nazis who are coming up behind the Millennials,” Vox’s Matt Yglesias wrote in a post that earned over 2000 retweets.
It’s not really true that YouTube is a hub for racism and toxic right-wing views. In the real world, YouTube censors a host of political views from the Right, including standard conservatives like Prager University.
But what upsets liberals is that they don’t have control over what goes on YouTube, and that infuriates them. That lack of control may mean evil Nazis get to spread their views, or at the very least obnoxious bros continue to make a lot of money off their videos.
While Logan Paul has absolutely no connection with the alt-right, the fact that a blonde-haired, blue-eyed bro has a lot of influence over young people is still an uncomfortable thought for the liberal critics.
They would rather have someone who is more obviously politically correct.
While more and more demand YouTube kick Paul off its platform for good over the suicide clip, it should be remembered that isn’t solely driven by anger over the exploitation of death. It’s the desire to make new media conform to the control of old media.