I’d like to put my wish for 2018 out into the universe, or at least the Internet, same thing. I would like this to be the year YouTube celebrities take a dive in popularity and profit.
I get it, I’m not necessarily the target audience for these celebs. I have a 16-year-old little sister and my friends have kiddos that are all about YouTubers that post videos of makeup tutorials or videos of themselves in a bathtub pouring creamed corn on their heads. I can see why these folks have fans. There’s something awesome about being able to share and receive knowledge for free (for now, but I won’t get into net neutrality on this one). I’m very thankful to the videos that taught me how to contour (even though I look absurd, it’s a great way to spend a hour) and how to make a French toast bread pudding.
I also understand that a 10-year-old boy loves a video of a dude swimming in a canned food product. When I was eight, my older sister used to make concoctions out of items in our fridge and make me drink them. I may be “an old” but I get the appeal of seeing humor that speaks to you. But when those goofy videos hit millions of followers there’s a level of responsibility that’s not being acknowledged.
I’m not just talking about certain one’s, cough Logan Paul cough, platform taking a hit in the media, but a realization that these hits are the symptom, not the illness themselves. The problem with these influential vloggers isn’t that one video, that while heartless and dangerous, but that that video and its horrors shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
“That video,” for those still sleeping off New Year’s Eve, was posted by Internet celebrity Logan Paul and is his trip through Aokigahara, Japanese “suicide forest” where he stumbled upon AND KEPT FILMING a dead body. The Internet at large is in a rightful uproar about the video and Paul has since taken it down and issued two separate apologies. A zillion think pieces are in the media about this awful video, but in my opinion, this video should surprise no one. This recklessness with his influence is complete on brand for Paul and many other YouTube celebrities. Just Google “YouTube celebrity child endangerment” and stories pop up about multiple vloggers. Even when those people get their reckoning, they still retain subscribers and eyeballs on their moves. Take DaddyOFive, a Maryland couple who produce prank videos with their own children, just got slapped last year with five years probation still has over 700,000 subscribers. Punishment doesn’t seem to deter viewers from tuning in – the acts are what hooked them in the first place.
But back to the Paul of it all. Logan Paul, a 22-year-old Owen Wilson knockoff, is worth an estimated 13 million dollars and has 15 million subscribers to his YouTube channel. I’ll admit to being slightly out of touch because I hadn’t heard of this guy until New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t the news of the suicide video that got my attention and subsequent disgust, but his appearance on this season of Top Chef.
Paul was a “guest judge” on a recent food truck challenge of the Bravo show. Top Chef regularly features celebrities that don’t work in the food industry but are fans of the show and can speak pretty intelligently about food. Logan, on the other hand, was shown briefly goofing off with CU Boulder students and his only contribution to the culinary discussion was to repeatedly talk about how much he loved waffles. It wasn’t his appearance (though annoying) that truly offended me, it was the announcement during the show that he had 15 million followers. Even Tom Colicchio, head judge on the show, could barely contain his disgust that his show provided Paul with yet another platform. This is confirmed by Colicchio’s subtle confirmation on Twitter of a thread slamming the show for featuring Paul at all.
— Tom Colicchio (@tomcolicchio) January 2, 2018
Why? Why does THIS doofus who seems to revel in his own airhead nature have that many fans? That’s an extraordinary amount of people watching this guy’s every move. And with further investigation he does seem to video document his every move. He claims on a Jimmy Kimmel appearance he made recently to have been doing their since he was 8. I applaud him for persistence, but with all that experience should come an appreciation and realization of the impact his presence has on a sizable population, mostly of impressionable young people. It doesn’t matter that Paul claims his offensive video was non-monetized. Every move this guy makes is monetized.
I barely stomached watching his year-end, self-congratulatory, “2017 Best Year of My Life” video documenting all his victories and it’s an advertisement for how brazenly he misunderstands and abuses his role model status. The video starts with him jumping off the balcony of his 6 million dollar mansion into his swimming pool. No “don’t try this at home” advisory. Everything he does seems to be cribbed from MTV’s Jackass but without the disclaimer. He later goes on to brag about how his clothing store Maverick’s opening in SOHO cost NYC police a quarter of a million dollars because of the crowds. His response to that is a Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes-esque “oops” face. Talking about his year of triumphs he boasts that he faked his own death. He shows a clip of a young boy, around eleven, watching him commit this act. The child’s face is of unrehearsed fear and horror. Super cool accomplishment, bro. He does understand somewhat he has impact because he ends the video spouting off platitudes about appreciating what you get to do, whether that’s going to school or buying a 2 million dollar tricked out school bus, because others aren’t so fortunate. I think he just had zero clue what do with his privilege.
His Kimmel appearance, on October 3rd of 2017, is a shining example of his arrogant stupidity and why vloggers like him pose such a big problem for viewers. He discusses flippantly a stunt where he wrestled a bear. There’s no discussion of animal cruelty or safety for the animal, but he does say, laughing, that he thought briefly during lunch that he could die. Kimmel asks him if he would have posted the video of him wrestling a bear if the bear subsequently killed him. Paul, without a second thought, answers that he definitely would post that video of his own death and he said that during the taping because it would, in his words, “go viral.” Is it any surprise that he didn’t take a moment to think about posting a video with a dead body when his priority is going viral at all costs?
Kimmel, whether he intended to or not, summed up the problem of Logan Paul and many other celebrity vloggers when he said that Paul’s, “accumulation of dumb things turned out to be a smart thing.” Stupidity begets power and influence. With Paul professing in his year-end video that his goal is to be “the biggest entertainer in the world” who’s to say that one video, which even negatively equates to more views, will stop this freight train towards his dream destination? Someone who similarly posts his point of view online without a thought to how it will endanger others holds our highest political position in the country. If we want real change in 2018, let’s start with turning our eyeballs elsewhere this year; it’s not as if there’s a dearth of things to watch on our screens.