We’ve probably all seen it by now. YouTube sensation Logan Paul took an ill fated trip to Japan to round out his 2017 and found a suicide victim in the Aokigahara Forest. And, in his infinite, alien hat wearing wisdom, he vlogged the whole thing and uploaded it to YouTube, showing his legion of 8-13 year old fans the reality of a corpse in the final act of completed suicide.
The video went viral almost immediately. Comments ranged, but most were negative. When the story hit the news, the video had been taken down. For those who wish to see the original video it is available on LiveLeak, and I will pop a trigger warning onto it that as it contains a graphic depiction of a corpse, and more horrifyingly, a stark reminder that growing up in our North American culture appears to be a one way road down an ugly path of narcissism and pseudo-sociopathy.
Now, as some background, I realize that running my mouth about this situation is a little bit hypocritical. I run a horror based website. I would take a trip to the Aokigahara Forest in a second if I had even a fraction of the wealth that Logan Paul does. But I wouldn’t film it. I might talk about it. I might journal about it, but filming things has a strange way of cheapening them, turning them exploitative. My thoughts on this subject are complex, and like most things, dance in a grey area rather than a solid black and white because I don’t see Logan Paul in black and white terms. He is not just a boy being a boy, and he is not (as is thrown around careless on social media) a heartless sociopath.
Logan Paul represents everything repulsive about the culture I currently exist in. He is white, male, intensely privileged, wealthy for no reason, famous for being famous, famous for being an asshole on the internet, famous for all the wrong reasons. His prank culture videos are produced daily, his life always on display to his millions of social media fans and followers. I don’t think there is an “off” button for him anymore, or if there ever was. The new models don’t seem to be equipped with them. He takes uncontrollably. The world is his, and anyone who might ask for him to respect their space as he “does his thing” is just another hater, just another person who isn’t “on his level”. He and his brother have both terrorized their neighbors in the LA neighborhood they live in, burning furniture on their front lawns and pulling stunts. Party central.
Reading disgruntled comments from community members, I am reminded of a couple years ago when I lived above party central, the tenant beneath me ten years younger, loud, male, privileged – the world existing for him. I remember the role that was forced upon me when I would suggest, gently at first, that he stop partying til 7am, because I had school to go to. And I was just another hater. I was the man.
This is how I feel about Logan Paul’s subsequent half hearted apologies for uploading a video of a suicide victim. He expected many things from posting the original video – maybe not money, as the video was demonitized, but fame, notoriety, infamy as that person who stared death in the face and came out unscarred, unafraid. We must remember, Logan Paul is only 21. He might be able to vote and drink in the USA, and may be able to call himself an adult, but biologically, the frontal cortex of his brain is still developing. It will not stop developing for another 5-6 years. The frontal cortex determines who we are, our identity, our sense of self, impulse control, and is also responsible for predictive behaviour and reasoning – our senses of “if I do this, then that will happen”. There’s some reasoning behind the trope of teenagers and youth believing themselves to be invincible, at least, biologically speaking, because to them, they are. Part of this trope, however, comes from a lack of experience. While I certainly won’t stand on this soapbox to say that everyone gets out of youth a happy camper, generally speaking, adverse experiences around death, mental illness, substance use, heartbreak, and loss don’t start happening until we become adults. Obviously lives can be touched by these pieces before then, so please bear with me on this one.
If you’ve never seen or experienced something firsthand, something like substance use, mental illness, death, or suicide, and if you live in a privileged bubble like Logan Paul (who is worth something like $12 million dollars?), these concepts can seem lofty, foreign, not really tangible. Party guys don’t stop to ponder the ramifications of suicide or being mentally ill. No one wants to talk about the meaning of life when there’s Gucci jackets to buy and Molly to do. It would be a real bring down at Coachella to talk about death while Drake plays and you’re wearing pastel pants fucked off your mind on ketamine. And yet, the opioid crisis keeps claiming victims. Kids. Everyone I know who partied back in the good old days, sure doesn’t party like the good old days anymore. My brain is old. It understands that the risk is simply too great. It understands what going to a funeral for someone who died from fentanyl is like. My party days are over.
But for those ten years my junior, for the Logan Pauls of the world, those days have only just begun. Like with everything else he endeavours to take and make his, Logan Paul uploaded videos of himself tearing his way through Japan, a symptom of his youth, his American culture, his whiteness, and his privilege. As he fights through the streets of Tokyo and brandishes an Octopus tentacle in a vulgar gesture of pseudo-racism, he never once is able to read the uncomfortable body language of those around him. Like that Weeknd song, he never sees the shade.
So I don’t know why I was surprised when he pulls into the parking lot of the Aokigahara Forest, promptly dons a Toy Story alien hat as if he is on his way to Burning Man and starts screaming. It’s one thing I’ve noticed with YouTubers – constantly shrieking. Grav3yardGirl does it. PewDiePie. Jeffree Star. Are they loud because what they say lacks substance, so they turn up the volume to make up for the lack of content? Are we really so fucking buried in this episode of Black Mirror that poses for reality? Apparently.
As Logan Paul and his dopey eyed crew enter the forest, Logan puts on a goofy Gucci jacket, the juxtaposition of which is garish against the dreary forest and it struck me so powerfully that this is the core of who he is. Technicolor in a grey world, and this is who he wants to be, how he sees himself. Too real, too rad, everyone else just a grey faced hater and disposable.
Logan Paul knew what he was going to find in the forest. Whitewashed Hollywood trash like The Forest (click through for Rigby’s review) have blasted the forest into infamy as a haunted place, something foreign, a place where suicide doesn’t hold the same meaning. Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world. Suicide is often seen as honorable, a way to accept responsibility, a way to end the suffering with dignity, on your own terms. But suicide remains taboo. Maybe Logan Paul didn’t know he was going to find a body almost as soon as he entered the forest. But he sure fucking hoped he would find something. Maybe a bleached bone, sticking vulgar out of the mossy forest floor. Maybe the scraps of a suicide note scribbled in a language that he cannot read, or an empty tent, abandoned like the life the owner had come to cast off. Anything for the views, right? When someone has made a name for themselves on pushing the limits, the very edges of good taste, why would we expect anything more from him in this moment?
For what it’s worth, when the corpse is discovered, barely hanging, stiff, recent, and fresh.. Logan calls out to the deceased man. In his face, in the unedited video, there is a moment of pure fear, before he realigns himself and the party boy takes over and armed with a camera he goes in for a closer look. The hands of the victim are curled into purple claws. Across the color wheel from purple sits green, and in this way, the corpse complements the atmosphere of the forest, a horrifying but beautiful dichotomy. But then, Logan laughs.
His laugh is brief, s smile twisting his face, no doubt similar to the twisted mask worn by those who elect death by hanging.
The crew call the police. Emergency crews arrive and it’s business as usual for Logan and his friends who laugh their way back to their car, like people who had just exited a mass consumption haunted house, something available for their pleasure. That was the grotesquerie for me. Not the corpse. Not the laughter, but how easily they shook it off and returned to the world unscathed. Back to the land of iPads and dating apps, and back to a high priced hotel room to upload the video to the consumption of those millions of followers. Someone’s death, just another punchline, or piece of clickbait. The coldness of it.
I’ve read a lot of pieces in reaction to this, many news articles and reactions and comments and of course, being social media, they run the gamut from staunch defenders who don’t see the big deal, to horrified members of suicide awareness and advocacy groups. I’ve seen the word sociopath thrown around. More extreme reactions. I’ve seen calls for Logan’s ban, calls for his head, and more than anything else, a whole lot of silence from many people I know.
These people are the ones who have found someone in the act of completed suicide. I’ve found two people in this way. Both of them by hanging. Their faces that I had known were rendered into purple masks. I don’t need to tell you, but, my first reaction was not to get a camera. But I have journalled about these experiences extensively. I talk about them. Not all of the time, of course.
I’ve seen a lot of people die. Working in healthcare has afforded me this dark blessing. How can you be present in another’s death? How can you not be? I’ve zipped up enough body bags and signed enough forms, I’ve held enough hands, given enough hugs, shed enough tears to know that not everyone processes the first time they see a corpse in the same way. I’ve been in the room when people like Logan Paul have laughed, or cried, or both – tears giving way to laughter tinged with hysteria. A wise man told me once that because we are human, we have evolved in many ways beyond fight, flight or freeze, but yet, in many ways we have not – and that laughter can often leak out, when we do not mean for it to, as a kind of bodily reaction to disperse anxious energy. I’ve seen many people behave in many different ways in response to this experience, in response to grief, in response to simply being in the presence of death.
Death strips it all away. All the Gucci jackets and bitches named Jennifer or Jessica do not matter when you stare at the grim reality of your own mortality and it stares right back into you.
And for all of these reasons, I don’t fault him for laughing. That moment, was the one human piece of this whole grotesque charade.
But I do fault him for uploading the footage and then lamely protesting his own supposed good intentions by creating dialogue around “suicide awareness”.
Do you know how someone like him could create that dialogue without exploiting a corpse? Stop the madness for a moment on his channel and sit down and talk. When people look up to someone, they idealize pieces of that person – little aspects that they wish they could be, or attributes they wish they had. When we become familiar with someone in one role and they stop and take on another, we are more apt to listen. If something could rattle the cage of someone who has made his living by being unrattleable, then I can guarantee you that his fans would stop for a moment and pay attention.
But that didn’t happen.
And in truth, nothing really will happen to Logan Paul. In a week or two he will forget this experience. He may release another apology or two or three. But he’s not sorry, not really. He’s sorry he got called out, but not sorry that he did what he did. And there’s a difference.
I know people like him, I know his kind.
This story will go around in infamy, be bandied about in intoxicated late night retellings in his friendgroup. Everyone loves to hear about brushes with death and the “supernatural”. This person’s death reduced to just another ghost story for their consumption.
Logan Paul is NOT sorry. Make no bones about it. He isn’t.
And he probably won’t ever be sorry. Sorry he got caught of course, sorry he got called out, but not really sorry. It will take another 5-10 years for him to truly realize what he did, right around that prefrontal cortex development completing. He might realize how truly sad and horrific this act was when he’s 30+ and seated in a therapist’s or counsellor’s chair somewhere trying to piece together where it all went wrong. He might realize the gravity of what he did when he’s hung over or high and gets that anxiety that likes to creep in, known only as “the fear”.
But really. I doubt it.
And I do believe people can change. People can be assholes and change their behaviour. They can. It’s a part of the recreational outrage culture that says that people can’t, that we should hold them accountable forever and ever for anything and everything, every misdeed. Recreational outrage and call out culture are also a symptom of the world we live in. Where nothing is ever forgotten, thanks to the internet. Everything is a screenshot. Nothing can be deleted. In some ways, this is a great good. In others, only a great evil.
But I don’t have a solution for all this. Even if Logan Paul lost it all over this (he won’t, so don’t get excited), there’s a million others just like him or worse who will take his place – vapid avatars of this generation, people who live and die on social media, their every move curated to please a faceless following. And yet, I don’t hate him, or anyone who is to come, for it. Are they not evolving to an environment? Of course they are. Maybe that’s just the way of things. Emotions and empathy are more and more just seen as baggage now. Falling in love is called “catching feelings”, and we turn love into the most fearsome of STDs.
Famous Mortician and founder of The Order of The Good Death, Caitlin Doughty said it about right when she tweeted about Logan Paul:
Caitlin’s comparison of Logan Paul to rotten.com was striking to me. I’m reminded of Faces of Death/Traces of Death, the shockumentary video series, the stuff of VHS legend when I was a kid. And then I get to thinking.. was I any different? Am I any different?
Are any of us?
And really, who am I to judge? Why do I care? I don’t have kids that would tune into this asshole’s channel. I couldn’t give a toss which racial epithet PewDiePie is using this week. I guess maybe I care because all of these moments just serve as reminders of how fast the ship we are on is going down and how disconnected we all are from anything anymore. How human decency and kindness are commodities, things to be sold, specific channels in your pay per view packages.
And in an ugly world, who the fuck needs kindness?
Oddly enough, I do.
And I don’t know how to feel about that anymore.
Happy New Year!!