I watched it. Well, actually I watched a ‘reaction’ video, in which a thumbnail of the video was playing in the corner while the camera was focussed on the guy watching it. So in this hall-of-mirrors existence we lead, I’m blogging about my reaction to a reaction video to a video. Got that? Good.
So, do you know what *that* video was? It was a video posted by YouTube celebrity (don’t look at me like that – I had to Google him too) Logan Paul. The setup was that he was going to spend a day in Japan’s “haunted forest” of Aokigahara, but his plans ran adrift when he found the body of a recent suicide, and took the decision to film both the body and his own reaction. Uploading it to YouTube, his 15,000,000 subscribers had ‘liked’ the video 500,000 times until the media got a hold of the story, he removed it and issued an apology (of sorts) via his Twitter account.
Firstly, it’s worth a quick exploration of why he was there in the first place before we come to ponder briefly on what this episode tells us about a certain strand of internet life.
The forest has gained its infamy largely due to the phenomenal number of people who have taken their own lives there. Like the Golden Gate Bridge, it has acquired some kind of magnetic power in the minds of those looking to end their own lives, and they are drawn to the woods in the last extremities of their desperation. In a bid to dampen the dark allure of the place, the number of suicides is no longer publicised – although in 2003 no fewer than 105 bodies were found there, to give you some perspective.
Even before it became a mecca for suicides, Aokigahara was known as a ‘haunted forest’. It is alleged to have been used for ‘ubasute‘ in the 19th century: the practice of leaving elderly or infirm relatives in a remote location to die, which – as remarkable as it seems to modern sensibilities – is weakly documented as having been an actual practice. As with our own culture, the spirits of the dead are believed by some to continue to reside in the place of their deaths and so the combination of ancient legend and the general creepiness of forests makes for an eerie, sombre place that certainly would tickle the interest of anyone with a taste for the morbid.
Quite a few YouTubers have made videos of themselves spending a night in the woods, ending the night with a few minutes of guffawing sub-Blair Witch night-vision footage of them saying “Shit! Did you hear that?” and running around in the dark as part of their exploration of Japanese culture, or in search of clicks (depending on your general attitude towards this kind of stunt). It’s almost a sub genre of video in itself – along with “holy shit! I’m eating a live octopus, guys!” and “our hotel room is crazy, yo!”
And so we reach Logan Paul. Entering the woods, he and his team had walked just a hundred yards from the car park before finding a body hanging, dressed in a purple, double-breasted woollen coat, dangling lifelessly against a tree trunk. To he and his crew’s credit, their initial response was actually within the bounds of how you might expect humans to react. They called to the person from some distance (“Hello..? Are you OK?”), proceeded closer, noticed the facts of the situation (noose, discoloured skin) and shouted at each other to phone the police. Presumably – hopefully, even – one of them actually made that call.
But it’s what happened next that is instructive. Firstly, they kept the camera rolling and focussed on the body. Their concession to taste ended at blurring his face out, but that pretty distinctive coat I mentioned earlier would surely give away the identity of that poor soul to anyone who knew him. Then Paul and a couple of his crew made some stumbling statements along the lines of “don’t do this” and “suicide is not an answer, guys” as well as incoherently documenting how they feel about finding a body – which we can imagine was as genuinely shocking to them as it would be to anyone else.
Already we’ve reached the point where human decency would demand that nobody should be filming this, but true to the modern idiom of endless narcissistic voyeurism it takes them a couple of short minutes to come to terms with what they’re seeing and pass into the “we’d better get some more footage of this!” mode. And so, Logan Paul – with his audience of 15,000,000, mainly young, subscribers – decides to get into frame with the body, wearing his dorky Pokémon hat and veering from shock to a kind of “holy shit, bro!” tone.
And now this person – dead for only a handful of hours – became a grotesque prop for one man’s ego.
So. They go into a wood that is a notorious suicide hotspot. They find the body of man, hanging in those woods. They keep the camera rolling. They decide it’s fine to get into the frame with him. They laugh (and seriously, his two companions cannot stop smirking and openly laughing throughout). They then take that video, edit it, film a disingenuous introduction (“I’m not monetising this video”), and upload it to YouTube with this thumbnail.
In one day, 6 million people watch the video before it comes to the attention of the ‘normie’ world and a “monsoon of negativity” forces the berk to take it down. He issues the following apology on Twitter.
Note the following aspects of his apology.
- “I didn’t do it for views… I thought I could make a positive ripple on the internet.”
- “I’ve made a 15 minute TV show EVERY SINGLE DAY for the past 460+ days.”
- “‘…it’s easy to get caught up in the moment.”
- “With great power comes great responsibility.”
As is now commonplace with these kinds of public displays of contrition, it is sickeningly mealy-mouthed, and as much a denial as it is an apology.
Remember I said I watched this sort-of second hand via a reaction video? Well the guy in the reaction video stopped halfway through, because his own sister had taken her life by hanging. No surprise then that he broke down in tears for several minutes during his own video. But then he himself continued to watch… in search of…. what? Closure? Answers? Or his own little slice of the clickbait money?
I don’t know what’s wrong with us any more. I don’t know why I’m writing this. But YouTube is another Google property that is a toilet, and a perfect little microcosm of how social media connectivity is often a conduit for our worst, rather than our better sides.