Logan Paul has returned to the internet. The YouTuber, who started 2018 with an insensitive video featuring jokes about a dead body he and others found in Japan’s Aokigahara forest, had been on a self-imposed three-week sabbatical; his first update after his return came Wednesday in the form of a video about suicide prevention.
The video, titled “Suicide: Be Here Tomorrow,” opens with majestic aerial drone footage of the Golden Gate Bridge and light piano music. Suicide statistics flash on the screen, as survivor Kevin Hines tells the story about the day he jumped off of that very bridge. Exactly 41 seconds into Hines’s telling, the camera pans to Paul, who’s wearing a plain black T-shirt and a petrified expression. And then comes his voice-over: “Kevin Hines was 19 when he jumped off of the Golden Gate Bridge. He is one of the many incredible people I’ve been grateful to meet over the past three weeks as I aim to further understand the complexity surrounding suicide. And I know I’ve made mistakes, and I know I’ve let people down. But what happens when you’re given an opportunity to help make a difference in the world?”
In other words, Paul managed to make it about him. His seven-minute video continues like this, a mix between PSA and self-redeeming vlog. This hybrid format appears designed to address both the realities of suicide and the recent criticism of Paul’s personal character. The former comes through in his straight-faced one-on-one interviews with Hines and two other prevention specialists, alongside his pledge to donate $1 million to suicide prevention centers. The former is illustrated by the moments in which Paul is filmed experiencing all sorts of supposedly transformative moments: sitting alone in an airport waiting area, washing his face in a sink, fondling a rock next to a creek. And from his vetted-by-a-publicist lines, including: “It’s time to learn from the past as I get better and grow as a human being. I’m here to have a hard conversation, so that those who are suffering can have easier ones.”
All of it feels weird and more than a little craven, especially when you’re reminded that Paul would have never recorded a video like this before his now-infamous (and deleted) video entitled “We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest… .” The reaction to that incident was swift and angry, and extended well beyond the YouTuber community. While Paul issued a series of apologies, YouTube ran damage control, publicly condemning Paul’s video in a series of tweets and suspending his YouTube Red projects and membership in Google’s preferred ad program indefinitely. But the damage was still done. Suddenly Paul became the shining example of what happens when the only driving force for content is more views, and the platform it’s shared on is designed to reward that.
It’s for these reasons that Paul’s most recent video reads like a desperate attempt at reputation repair, rather than a genuine effort to raise suicide awareness. It feels fake because it doesn’t come across as a signature Logan Paul vlog to the fans who have followed him for content like “ADOPT A BABY CHALLENGE! (Adult Test),” or a problematic video of him and his crew throwing Pokéballs at Japanese pedestrians. And at the same time, it also contains a handful of tics that make it feel, quite inappropriately, like a Logan Paul video with some segments about suicide prevention. The rules of vlogging dictate that everything a person is seeing and experiencing should be fed straight into a camera lens, so that no matter what ground is covered, the content is highly personal. But in this case, Paul’s personal story is that he didn’t know a lot about suicide, and his career was threatened for it. To conflate a PR disaster with the serious depression and pain that both people who die by suicide and their loved ones suffer is proof that Paul did not miraculously become emotionally intelligent over the brief span of three weeks. Do his fans seem to care? Not at all. But it’s proof enough that this won’t be the last Logan Paul mea culpa we see in the headlines.