Ah, a new year, a fresh start —no wait, already a celebrity scandal, albeit featuring a name that only younger generations will likely recognize. For those of you who aren’t familiar (or have missed the rather high-profile story), Youtuber and actor Logan Paul —know for producing comedy videos online after his rise to fame on the now-defunct Vine and featuring in films that might be played at pre-teen sleepovers —went under fire on Jan. 2 for a video he posted of himself and friends in the Japanese forest Aokigahara, also known as “Sea of Trees” and the “Suicide Forest” due to the high number of lost souls that flock to the forest to claim their lives.
While in the forest, Logan and his friends strayed off the path and are seemingly shocked when they find the body of a recently deceased suicide victim. At this point Logan —who is 22, not 15 —makes the choice to continue recording. The body of the deceased is shown with a blurred out face, though this content is certainly considered graphic, especially to young viewers. With a demographic consisting mostly of children, preteens and teenagers, Logan did put a warning at the beginning of the video, and he does discuss in the video why suicide is never the right option. However, Logan and his friends appear to laugh at the body at several points in a show of apparent disrespect. And, of course, there is the blatant distastefulness of filming the body in the first place.
Visitors to Aokigahara are not supposed to leave the path in order to allow souls the chance to find their peace. This is a place people who are in deep pain seek out, so exploiting the forest for its spooky content (as Logan originally intended to do) already does not seem like a wise idea. Furthermore, it is an offense to traditional Japanese culture to film or photograph the deceased. And this wasn’t a mistake. Logan chose to not only film the incident, but edit the video, upload it and then use an image of the encounter in the thumbnail of his video in order to garner more views.
Despite any intended takeaways, Logan ultimately exploited a tragic death in order to gain views, and thus earn more money in his career by building up notoriety and attention. With Youtubers getting paid per view —with more money rolling in with advertisements —the concept of “clickbait” is not unusual. It is a hallmark of popular vloggers (video bloggers) to sensationalize a part of their video and tease at it in the headline, to goad their viewers into clicking their link for something that is often purposely misleading. It doesn’t matter if a viewer is disappointed —the vlogger is still making money off the view. But at what price are we paying for such mindless exploitation?
We cannot shield youth from the horrors of the world. In fact, it would be unfair and unwise to insulate them from reality. But we need to be mindful of what stars the younger generation is crowing, what messages the stars are glorifying, what values they are championing and what they are exploiting.
In response to a fan video “Logan, You’re My Hero,” Logan Paul flew a young fan out to his home in Los Angeles several months back to duet on a song (that Logan Paul wrote), with the young boy singing lines such as “Everyone has a hero,” “Logan is my hero, he is really nice,” “Everyone needs someone to idolize.” Logan Paul’s ego aside, this kind of mentality is unhealthy to instill in children. Rather than idolize such popular Youtubers —who spend a large deal of time selling merchandise (as Logan does repeatedly in the mentioned music video) and flexing (a.k.a. bragging about their designer labels and excessive sums of money spent) —if children feel the need to be like people, they should focus on truly impactful and worthwhile individuals.
There is nothing wrong with making comedy videos. There is nothing wrong with creating a brand for yourself, realizing that people respond to it and capitalizing off that brand to make money. Not all content produced has to be deep or meaningful. But I do believe that these social media influencers, as they are called, have a degree of responsibility —especially those with younger audiences. As social media continues to rise —crowning new stars on a daily basis —many young stars now pick up thousands to millions of followers. Among the sea of selfies, clickbaiting and yearning for views and likes, I hope we give credit to the influencers who serve a more meaningful goal — and end the reign of those, such as Logan Paul, who have misused their position of power.
Emma Polini is the managing editor of the Van Alstyne Leader, Anna-Melissa Tribune and Prosper Press. What do you want in your paper? Email her at email@example.com to let her know.