“I finally see how deeply my actions have affected other people emotionally since they are now affecting me financially.”
— Paul F. Tompkins (@PFTompkins) November 10, 2017
The above tweet was posted by comedian Paul F. Tompkins in response to the swathe of sexual harassment allegations that punctured the long-swelling bubble of lascivious behaviour within Hollywood. Sarcastic in tone, it highlights the pertinent and curious issue that seems to affect every celebrity who comes under fire for their behaviour once it is revealed publicly: If they’re so sorry about it, why didn’t they realise they should apologise for this before? Or perhaps more obviously, why did they do it in the first place?
On the 31st of December, YouTube vlogging sensation Logan Paul uploaded a video as part of his travels around Japan in which he visited the Aokigahara Suicide Forest. In this vlog he encounters the corpse of a man who has recently hung himself. In the now deleted video, the 22-year-old vlogger is initially shocked by the discovery but continues to film as he approaches the dead body with his friends and camera crew. Although in Logan’s video the face is blurred, the body is captured in intimate detail with the discolouration of the skin even being commented on by Paul himself.
The video continues even after this point as Logan begins to make jokes, quipping “What, have you never stood next to a dead guy?” Whilst it is possible this is a shock response, the decision to keep filming and then to keep this joke in whilst editing (including the scoffed laughter and friendly discouraging arm punches) suggests otherwise.
In this video, Logan states that “it was all going to be a joke”, assumedly relying on the audience laughing at the presumed corpses found in the forest rather than actual ones.
In this video, Logan states that “it was all going to be a joke”, assumedly relying on the audience laughing at the presumed corpses found in the forest rather than actual ones. After all, it is important to note that the existence of the Aokigahara Suicide Forest is not perpetuated by myths and there is no doubt that hundreds of people have killed themselves in that forest. One wonders what jokes Logan Paul intended to make while there before real life intervened.
The next step in this all-too-familiar saga is the apology. The first of two was posted on Twitter on the morning of New Years Day. The apology is still online and can be found here.
This was followed by a second apology the following day, this time in the form of another of Logan Paul’s YouTube entries. This can be found here. Neither of these apologies reads as particularly insincere. His Twitter post definitely features streaks of the arrogance which is commonplace in popular vloggers, making sure to take the time to state that he “does this sh*t every day” and that he is “often reminded of how big a reach he truly has”, but nevertheless the YouTube apology in particular doesn’t seem as though it comes from a negative place. However, why did he need to make it? In particular, why did he need to make two?
Logan Paul decided to shoot an intentionally humorous vlog in the Aokigahara Suicide Forest. Upon finding a dead body, Logan Paul did not choose to stop filming but instead chose to film himself describing the body in detail and then making jokes about it. Upon recovering from the initial shock of the incident, Logan Paul did not choose to scrap this video and perhaps explain why there would not be a vlog that day (thereby not sacrificing his indentured servitude to his masses and his promise to “do this sh*t every day”). Instead he chose to edit the video, post the video and include the image of the hanging dead body in the thumbnail.
Logan Paul is not sorry he filmed a dead body.
Logan Paul is sorry people are angry at him for filming a dead body.
Taking this apology and neatly filing it away in the bulging folder marked “disingenuous apologies from cultural figures”, what consequences can we derive from these incidents? Perhaps the most worrying is the divided response from those unfamiliar and how it interacts with the fervid response of Logan Paul’s fans. With the exception of the ever-contrarian zombie version of The Independent, one may struggle to find credible sources defending Logan Paul, but look at the responses to any of his apologies and, more importantly, any videos criticising him, and you will find those leaping to his defense. To argue with these people is largely ineffective and there are many who are better-equipped to make said arguments. The truly worrying effect that this response may have though is how it speaks to YouTube vloggers and their place in the larger political debate.
The right wing’s current standpoint is one supposedly battling the censorship of the left. The inspiration for this article came from Logan Paul’s controversy swelling up at the same time as Virgin Trains posted this patronising response to a complaint about sexism on one of their services. Looking at the comments under this tweet calling out the response is a depressing experience as people with Union Jack avatars hoot and heckle at a woman being upset that she has been objectified and then mocked for calling it out. So when a YouTube vlogger is criticised for mocking the death of a man for the sake of his YouTube channel, it becomes easy for the more fevered arm of the right wing’s generalized, misguided complaints about “censorship” to position themselves as on the side of free speech and, as a result, the young, impressionable fans of popular YouTube vloggers.
A comment often made in regards to people like Logan Paul, or Pewdiepie when he makes racist comments or Sam Pepper when he is accused of sexual harassment in his videos, is that these people are only aiming to make entertainment. However, when one creates content there is always going to be a degree of artistic interpretation made of that content. Discussions on the opinions of the artist, even if they are a vlogger, are inherent in the creation of art. People like Logan Paul, as well as anyone else who has a prominent voice in culture, has a responsibility to be aware that what they create is being judged and politicised by those watching. If they don’t make clear what their beliefs are then their views are in danger of being presumed and their message is at risk of being perverted to fit any number of political beliefs. If that happens, the onus is on the artist to respond to the politicisation with views of their own. On that note, these are the current results for a Twitter search of “Logan Paul The Left”.
People like Logan Paul, as well as anyone else who has a prominent voice in culture, have a responsibility to be aware that what they create is being judged and politicised by those watching.
There is no way that Logan Paul will ever convince some people of the innocent intentions he claims he had or the belief that he has “learned from his mistakes”. But on the other hand, there is always going to be millions of people willing to accept people like Logan Paul and Pewdiepie and anyone else who does something controversial and all it takes is for one political group or another to side with their message of “free speech” regardless of consequence before all of a sudden content supposedly created “just for harmless entertainment” ends up being more politicized than any radical art piece.