Did you honestly expect a camera-toting Logan Paul to stumble across a dead body in a forest and … not post the footage he took? That isn’t how YouTube — at least the YouTube built and inhabited by superstar vloggers like Paul, who’ve built small empires on posting, and dramatically overreacting, to every little thing that happens in their day-to-day lives — works.
In Paul’s world, Vlog World, the more outrageous a video — the crazier the title, the clickier the headline, the thirstier the thumbnail image — the better. Paul’s legions of fans watch his videos because they want to see the 22-year-old’s reactions. They want to know exactly what he’s thinking and feeling in the face of dramatic situations. (Situations that, of course, set him up to constantly be one-upping his previous pranks, stunts, and videos.)
Over the weekend, Paul — a Vine star turned YouTuber with 15 millions subscribers, in case you’re not familiar with his work — posted a video from Aokigahara near Mt. Fuji in Japan, known as the “suicide forest,” a name derived from the high number of people who have taken their lives there. “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,” he says in the introduction to his video. So much of YouTube’s most popular content is built on outrage and doing things deemed more “insane” than the next blond guy with a video camera. In Paul’s mind, he was boldly, and grossly, going where no YouTuber had gone before — just raising the stakes slightly.
Paul, as he would from any location, filmed and narrated his group’s visit, including his discovery of the body of a person who appeared to have recently hung himself from a tree. The face of the apparent dead person was pixelated in the video, but Paul’s vlog showed the body suspended from the tree in the now-deleted video. “Are you fucking with us?” Paul called out to the body before turning the camera back to himself. “So, a lot of things are going through my mind. This is a first for me,” Paul said. “His hands are purple. He did this this morning.”
That Paul’s first reaction is to start telling the camera what things are going through his mind at the moment the group discovers the body is incredibly telling. It’s not that Paul is incapable of feeling empathy; it’s that being empathetic would require Paul to center his video on something other than himself and his own feelings and reactions. That wouldn’t be good vlogging, after all. There’s no discussion of turning the cameras off. And while Paul and his crew seem genuinely shocked at their discovery — shocked enough that it would appear that this isn’t all some elaborate stunt they cooked up for clicks — their moment of reflection isn’t long. That’s not what the YouTube-watchers of the world crave.
“This was supposed to be a fun vlog. Suicide is not a joke, depression and mental illness is not a joke; we came here with an intent to focus on the haunted aspect of the forest, but this just became very real,” Paul says to the camera. “Obviously, a lot of people are going through a lot of shit in their lives … Suicide is not the answer guys; there are people that love you and care for you.” That’s as close to emotional understanding as Paul gets. Later in the video, Paul calls discovering the body among the “top-five craziest things I’ve ever experienced in my life.” He pulls a bottle of sake from his backpack and takes a drink, “I’m already getting flagged for demonetization, bro, fuck it.” He also ponders whether or not he should ask people to subscribe to his channel — a ubiquitous YouTube sign-off — given the nature of the vlog, before deciding that it’s kosher and asking viewers to join the Logang, Paul’s fandom.
That’s telling, too. That Paul knew this video, likely because of its content, wasn’t going to make him any money. He clearly had some, if small, qualms if he was concerned about asking people to subscribe to his channel. But he went ahead and posted it anyway. (Likely knowing that angry responses online would only mean more coverage for him and his channel. Given YouTube’s nonresponse to Paul’s graphic video it seems his business model likely won’t be affected.) When the backlash came for him, Paul claimed in an apology posted to Twitter that he’d posted the video to “raise awareness for suicide and suicide prevention.”
Most people wouldn’t have posted footage of an unnamed, lifeless person for millions to see. But most people aren’t YouTubers. Most people aren’t conditioned to view their experiences — or the experiences of others — through the lens of minutes watched, likes recorded, or subscribers added. Yet. Logan Paul found a dead body hanging from a tree in a forest. There was no way in YouTube hell that he wasn’t going to vlog about it.