“I think this definitely marks a moment in YouTube history because I’m pretty sure this has never hopefully happened to anyone on YouTube ever. Now with that said: Buckle the fuck up, because you’re never gonna see a video like this again!”
So said Logan Paul, 22-year old vlogger, on his infamous New Year’s Eve ‘Suicide Forest’ video. For those of you who haven’t seen it, or missed the whole controversy entirely, Paul entered Aokigahara Jukai, a forest abutting Mt. Fuji, Japan, to wrap up his three-day stint in Tokyo. Aokigahara Jukai roughly translates to ‘Sea of Trees,’ but is perhaps more infamously known both locally and internationally as the ‘Suicide Forest.’ According to a 2009 CNN.com article, Aokigahara Jukai is “home to the highest number of suicides” in Japan, a country already topping the list for suicide rates worldwide.
So, Paul goes in with his crew, filming all the while, no doubt looking for spooky footage (the forest is widely believed to be inhabited by ghosts) when they stumble upon a body hanging from the branches. The camera, of course, doesn’t stop rolling, but rather showcases the body, and the video from here on out ceases to be a “Logan Paul Enters the Spooky Suicide Forest” and becomes more of a “Watch Logan Paul React to a Suicide.”
Words like crass, tasteless, and disrespectful all come to mind, and many more colorful phrases were unleashed in the comments section shortly before Paul decided to pull the video within 24 hours after posting it, and the responders have every right. He made a stupid, insensitive film, showcasing a person taking their own life, and for what? For entertainment value? For artistic commentary on today’s society? For views?
Probably for views. Paul has a huge following, with over 15 million YouTube subscribers and made – I’m not kidding – $12.5 million last year. This guy doesn’t just make a living, he makes an absolute killing. If he invested properly, he could easily retire right now and be set for the rest of his life.
But at a certain point, you have to wonder if it’s about the money. In his tweeted apology, Paul writes, “…I didn’t do it for views. I get views.” Oh, the humility. “I did it because I thought I could make a positive ripple on the internet, not cause a monsoon of negativity. That’s never the intention. I intended to raise awareness for suicide and suicide prevention, and… thought ‘if this video saves just ONE life, it’ll be worth it.’ ”
Hear that, everyone? Logan Paul’s not doing this for him – he’s doing it for you.
All right, so obviously he’s a kid, a kid who got caught up in his own fame, decided to push the envelope, and had it blow up in his face. YouTube cut his Google Preferred deal and several in-the-works pictures have now stalled, plus he’s facing the collective wrath of the internet. It seems as though he’s truly experiencing some regret, though one has to wonder if it’s over his actions, or mostly over being judged harshly. Justice, it seems, will be served in this case.
But what are we really upset about in this whole debacle? Is it the fact that Paul was exploiting someone’s death for financial gain? Because you could level the same accusation at any filmmaker who’s ever made a war movie. While there’s a big difference between, say, Christopher Nolan’s artistic intent vs. Paul’s, the fact remains that Paul is first and foremost a performer, and is creating this content to be consumed as entertainment in the same way many movie executives are.
Is it because the content was exceptionally shocking? If you’re clicking on videos about a ‘Suicide Forest,’ it’s reasonable to expect graphic and/or mature content not suitable for minors. Many people, however, have pointed out Paul’s target demographic skews toward younger viewers, and that’s a fair point – if the majority of your viewers are pre-teens, producing content that’s not appropriate for that audience is definitely a questionable move, and his sponsors’ reaction to the video reflects that.
But isn’t that shocking content why we watch vloggers like Paul in the first place? Aren’t we, as consumers, looking for content that’s going to move us, that’s going to elicit a reaction? This guy’s been uploading 10-15 minute videos every day for over a year, with 15 million subscribers telling him that in an oversaturated medium, in a time when information overload is the norm, that his content is worth watching, and advertising revenue has indicated the same. Up until now, collectively, we’ve been telling Paul that his content is worth it, and as with any sort of commoditization, you need to justify your value to your shareholders. It’s no wonder he’s felt the need to push the limit; as with any entertainment product, you need to constantly outdo yourself or risk the nail-in-the-coffin label of irrelevance.
So does that make a suicide video okay to release? No. Should we collectively let Logan Paul off the hook? Hardly. The consequences that are coming out of this whole thing are to be expected. But before we jump on the castigation-bandwagon, let’s examine our own motives, and ask ourselves if we’re expressing outrage because we’re actually outraged, or if it just plain feels good to do so.