Logan Paul, a YouTuber and occasional musician in the loosest sense of the word, rang in the New Year like any other—by posting online. But this time was different, “a first for me,” as he wrote on Twitter last night. The criticism went beyond “this is extremely dumb” to “this is an extremely toxic, dangerously dumb thing that never should have made it online,” and people who had never heard Paul or his probably more famous brother/YouTuber, Jake, profoundly dragged him through the well-earned backlash circuit.
Paul was on what he might consider a working vacation, vlogging and playing “real life Pokémon Go” throughout Japan. One of his most recent videos featured Paul and his entourage walking at the base of Mount Fuji through the Aokigahara forest, which is a known destination for those planning to kill themselves. At one point during the video, Paul and his friends come across the dead body of an apparent victim hanging from a tree, whose face they blurred out for the finished product.
It’s since been deleted from his YouTube (and exists on certain corners of the internet, should you choose to seek it out—we don’t recommend it). In the video, Paul says: “It was gonna be a joke. This was all a joke. Why did it become so real?” He’s laughing at this point, but tries to recover by painting it as a misunderstanding that they stumbled into. “Depression and mental illnesses is not a joke,” he says. “We came here with the intent to focus on the haunted aspect of the forest. This just became very real.”
These sorts of stories happen so fast, it’s hard to say if the backlash really set in before or after the video was removed and Paul apologized. He posted a note to Twitter late last night claiming that he posted the video to “make a positive ripple on the internet” and “raise awareness for suicide and suicide prevention.” Anyone who knows someone struggling with depression, a victim of suicide, or possesses general common sense would know that a 22-year-old artist behind “Santa Diss Track” might not be the most responsible spokesperson for mental health awareness, and that this might not be the most effective means of doing so. Exposing his more than 15 million YouTube subscribers—many of whom are teenagers, or even younger—to a graphic, disturbing image surrounded by guffaws isn’t the action of someone looking to raise awareness.
Many on Twitter, at least in the music media version I’m ensconced in, seem to think this could be the end of Logan Paul. It’s hard to believe this. Maybe he’ll lose out on future opportunities over the Aokigahara forest stunt, but as we’ve seen with artists who’ve been accused of even more sinister abuses of power who still retain large portions of their fanbase, it’s unlikely this misstep will really crush the Logan Paul empire. As long as a majority of his 15 million YouTube subscribers hang on for the ride, it won’t matter what his not-brother Aaron Paul, or any other handwringing Twitter users think if there’s still advertising money in the game. The headline mad libs and remarkably bad decisions with little consequence won’t be left behind in 2017.
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.