Around this time last year, I wrote about why I don’t believe that anybody should visit North Korea as a tourist, and touched on how travel bloggers have a responsibility not to promote destinations with such horrific human rights abuses. The example I used was that of popular YouTuber Louis Cole, who visited North Korea and made a series of videos showing how much fun he was having and talking about how he wanted to show the ‘positive side’ of North Korea.
However, as much as I disagreed with Louis’ decision to promote North Korea as a viable holiday destination, I don’t believe that he went with any malintent. I think that he was naive for sure, but I believe that he genuinely thought that he was doing a good thing when he uploaded his vlogs to YouTube.
The same cannot be said for Logan Paul.
Until yesterday, I’d never heard of Logan Paul. To be quite frank, I don’t feel like I’ve been missing out. You only have to watch a few seconds of any of his videos to see that he’s loud, obnoxious, and tactless.
But I digress.
Logan Paul, 22, is an American vlogger with 15.3 million subscribers on YouTube. That’s not even counting his 16.1 million Instagram followers, 16 million Facebook followers and 3.9 million Twitter followers.
It’s safe to say that the guy’s got a pretty big reach.
So, why am I writing about him? Well, on New Year’s Eve, Paul uploaded a video to YouTube titled ‘We Found a Dead Body in the Japanese Suicide Forest…’ in which he films himself and his friends exploring Aokigahara Forest (also known as ‘Suicide Forest’), before discovering the body of an apparent suicide victim.
Aokigahara Forest is a sprawling woodland less than 100 miles from Tokyo, that has become known as one of the world’s most popular suicide sites, earning it the nickname, ‘Suicide Forest.’ Although Japan’s suicide rate has dropped in recent years, it still has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. In 2010 alone, police records show that 247 people attempted suicide in Aokigahara Forest, with 54 succeeding, according to The Japan Times (authorities have since stopped releasing numbers).
I’ve written before about dark tourism, and how I believe that we should visit sites of mass tragedy as a way of educating ourselves and paying our respects. However, Logan Paul’s vlog was neither educational nor respectful.
He begins by telling his viewers that ‘this is not clickbait,’ seemingly in reference to the content creators that give their videos misleading titles in an attempt to gain views. Clickbait, though, does not necessarily have to involve misleading one’s audience. The definition of ‘clickbait‘ is ‘content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular webpage,’ and it is clear that in titling his video ‘We Found a Dead Body in the Japanese Suicide Forest,’ Logan Paul is doing exactly that.
I mean, if you want to sensationalise suicide in an attempt to gain views then this title, complete with A PICTURE OF THE DEAD BODY in the thumbnail, is the way to do it. Just don’t pretend that that’s not what you were doing as a way of making yourself look less morally questionable, hey?
Logan Paul and his idiot friends then begin their descent into Aokigahara, joking about how ‘we got our binoculars, so we can see the ghosts – hey ghosts!’ and ‘If I’m getting haunted by a f-cking ghost, I’ma do it in my f-cking Gucci jacket, I wanna look good.’
Now, I’m not someone who believes that dark topics should never be joked about. HOWEVER, there is a time and a place, and joking about death to your millions of teenage followers AS YOU’RE ENTERING THE JAPANESE SUICIDE FOREST is clearly not okay. It’d be like making a joke about Nazis while wandering around Auschwitz. You just don’t do it (well, some people do). Knowing what is to come, the jokes seem to be in even poorer taste. Why on earth did Paul leave these jokes in when editing what turns into such a tragic video?
Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come. Around the 5 minute mark, Logan says ‘I think there’s someone hanging right there,’ before the camera cuts to shots of his friends smiling and suppressing their laughter, saying ‘I think you’re f-cking right dude,’ and Logan apologising to the viewer because ‘this was supposed to be a fun vlog.’
A fun vlog? In the suicide forest? Okay bro.
After a brief, pseudoserious speech about how suicide is not a joke, Logan Paul then reverts to type and addresses his friend, saying ‘What, you never stand [sic] next to a dead guy?’ before bursting out laughing at his own hilarity. All this, while the victim (who is referred to as ‘it’ at one point), is still hanging from a tree just yards away. As if that weren’t enough, the crew then go on to film the body up-close (with the victim’s face blurred), before leaving the forest laughing about how ‘that’s the life, daily vlog life,’ lamenting the fact that his video will likely be demonetised due to his bad language (because that’s what matters right, Logan?) and reminding viewers to subscribe to his channel.
I honestly don’t know where to begin.
What’s worse – the fact that Logan Paul disrespected the victim, his family, and Japan as a whole, or the fact that he used somebody’s tragic suicide for his own gain? Should we talk about how such detailed, sensationalised coverage of suicide can provoke copycat behaviour? Shall we draw attention to the fact that copycat behaviour is increased when suicide is glamourised and headlines contain the word suicide? Shall we talk about how this phenomenon, known as suicide contagion, primarily affects adolescents and young adults, who happen to make up the bulk of Logan Paul’s audience?
A report by the World Health Organisation titled ‘Preventing Suicide: A Guide for Media Professionals,’ says that ‘Particular care should be taken by media professionals not to promote such locations as suicide sites by, for example, using sensationalist language to describe them or overplaying the number of incidents occurring at them.’
I think it’s clear that as far as protecting his young audience goes, Logan Paul has failed dramatically on all counts.
It’s also worth mentioning that, although the video clearly violated YouTube’s community guidelines, it was Logan Paul himself who actually removed it from the site after receiving a huge amount of backlash. Sarah T. Roberts, an assistant professor of information studies at UCLA and an expert in internet culture and content moderation, says ‘YouTube is absolutely complicit in these kinds of things, in the sense that their entire economic model, their entire model for revenue creation is created fundamentally on people like Logan Paul.’
An article on Wired states that ‘YouTube takes 45 percent of the advertising money generated via Paul and every other creator’s videos. According to SocialBlade, an analytics company that tracks the estimated revenue of YouTube channels, Paul could make as much as 14 million dollars per year.’ With so much to gain from Logan Paul, it is of no surprise that YouTube did not remove such an offensive video. After all, isn’t it in their best interests for him to garner as many views and subscribers as possible?
Since the video was uploaded, Logan Paul has apologised, both on Twitter, and in a short YouTube video. In the former, he says that ‘[I] believe I make good decisions, but I’m still a human being. I can still be wrong.’
To me, this smacks of the whole ‘sorry but nobody’s perfect’ rhetoric that I hate so much. It’s a non-apology, aimed at explaining, justifying, and saving face. I hope, however, that even if the only reason that Paul apologised was to try and save his career, that he has at least learnt that with great influence comes great responsibility, and that not everything is one big joke.
If you are struggling with depression and/or suicidal thoughts, please call the Samaritans on 116-123 or visit their website at https://www.samaritans.org/
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