CN: suicide (mention of method),
death, white privilege
Logan Paul is an American vlogger and actor with over 15 million subscribers on YouTube. On December 31st, 2017, Paul uploaded a video to his account which contained footage of a real suicide victim. The video in question featured him and his friends exploring Aokigahara – aka the Sea of Trees – located at the base of the beautiful Mount Fuji. However, Aokigahara is also more known as suicide forest as it remains one the most popular suicide sites in the world.
“By walking into that forest, Paul knew he had a high chance of encountering a body”
As Japan has one of the highest suicide rates, officials stopped publishing the number of deaths that occur in Aokigahara in an attempt to reduce the number of suicides and the overall association the forest has with suicide. Before stopping official recording, it’s clear that the numbers of suicides have been increasing. In 2003, 105 bodies were found in the forest, rising above the previous 78 suicides in 2002. In 2010, more than 200 people attempted suicide in the forest, 54 of whom died. In the hope of preventing further suicides, there are signs at the head of various trails, pleading visitors to think of their families and contact a suicide prevention association. Annual body searches are conducted; it’s a well established fact that people enter Aokigahara purely to take their own life. By walking into that forest, Paul knew he had a high chance of encountering a body.
Paul’s video featured an introduction where he stated “this is not clickbait”, adding that this video is “the most real vlog” he’s ever posted, under the guise of mental health awareness. Paul and his friends introduce Mount Fuji before departing with their tour guide into the forest. It’s not long before they encounter a real person who died by suicide. Upon the discovery, the cameras keep rolling. Paul and his friends appeared to be shocked, but their laughter and jokes suggest otherwise. One of his friend’s even says “bring the camera, let’s go.” Paul then teases the deceased – whose face has been blurred – with “yo, are you alive? Are you fucking with us?”. Paul goes on to ask “did we just find a dead person […] in the suicide forest? Do you think that’s real?” When walking into a world’s second most popular suicide site, it’s mocking to question whether or not any bodies they find are “real” ones. Further into the video, however, someone says he doesn’t feel good, and Paul replies “you never stand next to a dead guy before?”, right before he bursts into laughter. This display from Paul and his friends is disgusting to watch, and is fundamentally harrowing.
“Paul and his friends appeared to be shocked, but their laughter and jokes suggest otherwise”
Despicably, Paul tries to play the victim himself. He adds that his smiling and laughing is purely a coping mechanism and “not a portrayal of how [he feels] about the circumstance.” Whilst this might be true, continuing to roll the camera and publicly upload the video cannot be passed off as a coping mechanism. Since the media onslaught, Paul has issued two apologies, neither of which show remorse about anything other than the harm to his career. Paul takes it as an opportunity to humble brag about his viewing rates: “I didn’t do it for the views. I get views.” Any apology which highlights someone’s success is not an apology; it’s a carefully crafted defence. Plus, putting the body of the deceased in his video speaks high volumes of whether or not this statement is true. Paul then ended his apology with #Logang4Life, Logang being the collective name for his fans. This, straight away, removes any remorse he’s pushing out, as his main focus is still trying to save and maintain his reputation.
In his second apology, posted on Tuesday 2nd, Paul uploaded the same video to both his Twitter and YouTube accounts. He opens by saying “I’ve made a severe and continuous lapse in my judgement, and I don’t expect to be forgiven.” Paul appears to be reading from something which, again, seems like another carefully crafted apology, one designed to save his career. He continues, stating “what we came across in the woods that day was obviously unplanned. The reactions you saw on tape were raw, they were unfiltered. None of us knew how to react or how to feel. Whilst it will have been incredibly difficult for them to know how to react, especially on camera, he fails to acknowledge that they should not have even been filming it in the first place. He also does not acknowledge knowing the high chances of finding a dead body in a notorious suicide site; one in which he entered the restricted area of. Instead, Paul says “I should have never posted the video,” which only adds to the fact that is not sorry he filmed it, but he’s sorry that it backfired.
This isn’t just an issue of disrespecting people who have died by suicide; it’s an issue of white privilege. Paul is an incredibly wealthy white man – he could retire today purely off the earnings from his YouTube videos. His lifestyle is a stark contrast to many of the Japanese people who took their lives in desperation. When unemployment in Japan skyrocketed, so did the number of bodies – the pressure to earn money for their families can push people to suicide. As a rich white man, Paul will never know these struggles. Not only does he disrespect the spiritual weight of the forest and the man who was suffering so greatly he ended his own life, he also disrespects the families whose suffering is made unimaginably worse by knowing their loved one is being mocked in death. Paul also disrespects people of colour with hardships that Paul will, again, never know.
“This isn’t just an issue of disrespecting people who have died by suicide; it’s an issue of white privilege”
According to Paul, the purpose of the video was to raise awareness for mental illness and capture the “haunted aspect” of the forest. Aokigahara is not a playground for arrogant stars to exploit for views and attention. Paul saying he was trying to “raise awareness” seems to be the ultimate excuse in an attempt to pardon his ludicrous behaviour, which shows he has a complete disregard for those do struggle with mental illness and suicidal thoughts and feelings. All he raises awareness for is how little empathy people can have for suicide victims, and how little empathy white people can have for PoC.
There are far safer more and effective ways to raise awareness for mental illness, as opposed to laughing over the remains of a suicide victim. With a subscriber count in the millions, Paul will have an incredibly high number of teenagers watching his videos, and of these teenagers there will be an equally high percentage who suffer with mental illness themselves, which may or may not include a predisposition to suicidal ideation. The thumbnail itself pictured the Japanese man hanging, and whilst his face was blurred, the noose and his body were still clearly visible to 15 million followers. Paul’s video isn’t just harmful to families of the deceased and Japanese people – it also poses a very real danger to pushing vulnerable teenagers even closer to suicide. Whilst we are the most desensitised generation there has ever been, it is never morally permissible for someone to film in suicide victim’s dead body, nor is it right to have this material so easily accessible to impressionable young teenagers. Paul’s video sensationalised and trivialised the pain that the deceased felt, which will always be the wrong kind of awareness for mental illness.
“It is never morally permissible for someone to film a suicide victim’s dead body, nor is it right to have this material so easily accessible to impressionable young teenagers”
Even though Paul’s reputation will be forever tainted, it’s questionable as to whether or not his unforgiving actions will ruin his career. Before this story broke into mainstream media, the video already had an incredible 550-600,000 likes, which indicates that his main audience are not affected – nor do they care – about the contents of the video. Not all of Paul’s 15 million followers, who last year helped him become the fourth highest earner on YouTube, are unlikely to stop subscribing. This means we must not only criticise Paul and his actions, but what they stand for in our modern social media fuelled society. We live in a world where someone like Paul can think, even for a second, that it is ok to upload footage of a dead person online, especially to an audience in its millions, and claim “awareness” as a scapegoat.
Whilst Paul is currently struggling to deal with the criticism he’s facing, his massive audience allows him to create and maintain his own stream of revenue, and he will likely continue getting the views he needs to stay relevant and continue earning enough to make a wealthy living. Whilst many people, including celebrities, have voiced their rightfully unfriendly opinions of Paul, it’s unclear if he will ever truly learn his lesson unless a harsher punishment is provided by those with more authority.
“We must not only criticise Paul and his actions, but what they stand for in our modern social media fuelled society”
YouTube issued a statement which read: “Our hearts go out to the family of the person featured in the video. YouTube prohibits violent or gory content posted in a shocking, sensational or disrespectful manner.” Even though Paul was the one to remove the video in the end, YouTube themselves have a duty to uphold its standards, and prevent videos like this from being posted. For Paul to truly understand the repercussions of his actions, YouTube should ban him from their platform either temporarily or permanently.
Sometimes people make mistakes and say things they don’t mean, but it’s hard to excuse what Paul did considering his apparent immoral motivations to profit off someone’s suicide, particularly with the subtext of white privilege. Remember that Paul is a privileged white man who took the time to film, edit and upload the footage of a POC who died by suicide. Paul is incredibly mistaken if he thinks we will soon forget what he did, because we will not.