Why We Shouldn’t Ignore the Cultural Context of the Logan Paul Scandal

By Catelyn Clark

     “Tokyo is a real life cartoon!” Paul exclaims into his vlogging camera, sporting a rice paddy hat and a blue silk kimono over a hooded sweatshirt. This quote, nestled between over 30 minutes of footage divided into three separate vlogs chronicling his travels in Japan, is a clear display of how Paul sees Japanese culture and how it led him to make the worst decision of his career.

     In case you haven’t checked your Twitter account for the past three days, or you’ve been avoiding the new wave of YouTube “prank” culture.  On January 1st, 2018, the former Vine star and current YouTube sensation, Logan Paul,  uploaded a video to his vlogging channel titled “We Found a Dead Body in the Japanese Suicide Forest…” in which Paul and his entourage discover and proceed to film a man who had recently hung himself in the famous Aokigahara forest at the base of Mt. Fuji, Japan.

     Paul has since met a flurry of online backlash, from reaction videos with titles such as “Logan Paul Just Ended His Career” from Kavos, which has racked up over 14 million views in just three days, to one uploaded by gaming YouTube personality PewDiePie, owner of the most subscribed YouTube channel of all time, simply titled “LOGAN PAUL”. Even those outside of the YouTube community have gotten involved, bursting the oftentimes impenetrable bubble of internet celebrity. Breaking Bad and Bojack Horseman star Aaron Paul tweeted Monday, “Dear @LoganPaul, How dare you! You disgust me. I can’t believe that so many young people look up to you. So sad. Hopefully this latest video woke them up. You are pure trash. Plain and simple. Suicide is not a joke. Go rot in hell.
Although many have used the Logan Paul scandal as an opportunity to attempt to spread awareness about suicide prevention, there has been one component of the controversy that has been glaringly absent: cultural context. Paul’s vlogs following his experience travelling in Japan show his blatant disregard for Japanese culture. “Japan is all about the respect,” Paul croons in one of his videos, throwing up a hand sign and narrowing his eyes.

     However, much to absolutely no one’s surprise, Paul continues to wreak havoc across Japan, harassing elderly street vendors, slapping dead fish on shop windows and taxi cabs, and pretending to catch Japanese people like Pokemon by throwing oversized plush toys at them. In one particularly disturbing incident, Paul purchases a Gameboy Color from a small electronics shop, demolishes it, and returns to the store clerk asking for a refund. When attempting to explain the situation to the cashier, Paul makes a deliberately horrid attempt to speak what can only be assumed as his personal interpretation of Japanese, exclaiming, “The game seems to be broken. Mucho…broken-o.”

     Paul’s ignorance served as an incubator for his now-infamous video. While many critics have, albeit accurately, named the vlog as disrespectful of human life, it is specifically disrespectful towards Asian life, culture, and tradition. Outside of Japan, Aokigahara is known as the “suicide forest”. Hollywood exploitation, such as the 2016 film The Forest, has exoticized the idea of a location where approximately 100 people a year commit suicide. Suicide in Aokigahara became such a problem that Japanese police have stopped publicizing deaths in the forest since 2004, for fear of glamorization and cluster suicides. A sign put up by local police at an entry point to the forest states, “Life is a precious gift from your parents. Please do not worry on your own. Talk to us.”

     Japan’s suicide rate ranks third in the world–partially due to the stigma around open discussion of mental health coupled with the lack of stigma around suicide itself. The cultural context that surrounds Logan Paul’s mishap provides a key insight into why Paul may have convinced himself that this video was appropriate. Aokigahara’s  reputation in the West, glamorized and orientalized by media exposure and conspiracy, consequently enticed Paul to explore.

     Upon discovering the body, Paul’s first response is to turn the camera on himself and state, “This is a first for me.” He goes on to say, “This was supposed to be a fun vlog,” and apologizes to his fans for disappointing them. His reaction reveals an ugly truth about the clash of cultures that birthed this harrowing video in the first place. If you’re shocked by the fact that a young, white male who became an overnight sensation via social media at age 17 and uprooted his life from Ohio to West Hollywood could be a racially insensitive narcissist who would exploit strangers for views, you simply haven’t been paying attention.

     Logan Paul is teaching his young, impressionable fans that other cultures are the butt of a joke. He is encouraging them to spend thousands of dollars travelling to another country for the sole purpose of mocking their customs. He is profiting off of a long-standing legacy of orientalism and the commodification of Asian bodies as props–background noise to promote his greater scheme of social media “influencing”. Furthermore, Logan Paul is making money off of this controversy. He monetized his apology video, which follows the all-too-familiar pattern of staring directly to camera in a lo-fi production format under the guise of authenticity and genuine regretfulness, chalking his “mistake” up to a lack of thought and intention. He has reportedly made over $12,000 from that video alone. To Paul, Asian life is dispensable, just as the rest of Asian culture. But unfortunately for him, Tokyo is not “a real life cartoon”. It is not a manifestation of the stereotypes Paul and those like him have perpetuated for years. It is a country with centuries worth of tradition and 127 million citizens. It is a tangible place. Logan Paul: it is not your playground to capitalize upon.

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