Logan Paul, a YouTube celebrity with a whopping 15 million followers, found himself in hot water earlier this week for making light of suicide victims. He filmed one such victim in Japan’s “suicide forest,” where he performed a “stand-up comedy routine” next to a body. He retracted the video after the backlash, and posted an apology video (with 16.2 million views, his 16th most popular), titled “So sorry.”
While most critics pointed out the obvious, that Paul is an idiot and it’s regrettable that YouTube pays him to be one, Vanity Fair columnist Richard Lawson took it a step too far.
Are bros taking over the Internet? Well, watching any of the Paul brothers’ videos, you might be inclined to think that . . . But there are also all those Nazi dweebs and men’s-rights toads racking up views and swaying people to their terrible causes, and I wouldn’t exactly call them bros. We should still resist most bro culture where we can, absolutely. But it’s only one head of the hydra.
The hydra, Lawson goes on to explain, is a product of YouTube’s incentive structure, whereby content creators are paid for high traffic and a high number of subscribers, regardless of the quality of the content. As this enables an infinite number of Logan Pauls to emerge after the current one falls, attacking the one standing today is a pointless strategy.
While he’s correct that Paul’s video could have been avoided if the incentive structure factored in quality instead of just popularity, he’s missing the point by claiming it happened because we as a society failed to eliminate “bro culture” altogether. In fact, throughout the whole piece he offers no solution to the YouTube hydra other than killing heads with which he disagrees. He seems to see himself as a cultural guardian, protecting us from exposure to morons like Paul, Nazi dweebs, and men’s-rights toads on an unregulated Cormac McCarthy-esque wasteland.
Yet herein lies the problem with the Lawson solution: He’s transparently only intending to protect us from issues he thinks are dangerous. Would he support a YouTube ban on liberal videos? Would he criticize YouTube for deleting videos of Trump speeches? Would he support banning all idiots?
The answer to all three seems to be no, given a laudable piece Lawson wrote in 2016 about the YouTube activism of Paul’s female counterpart, GloZell. She is known for three things: Wearing green lipstick, attempting to eat an entire ladle of cinnamon in 2012, and interviewing President Barack Obama in 2015. She’s the definition of a YouTube idiot, but Lawson is a rare fan. In 2016, she stumped for Hillary Clinton, and Lawson himself celebrated her use of YouTube to reach out to millennial voters.
Yes, YouTube is flawed, but let’s stay focused: Its failure is that it pays idiots to be idiots. If you want to rein in an idiot you dislike, you must explain why your preferred idiots deserve to be exempted from the rule.