YouTube superstar Logan Paul’s descent into ‘Black Mirror’ territory
Vlogger, who has over 15m fans, recorded footage of man who had taken his own life
YouTuber Logan Paul: his initial apology carried the oddly defensive retort “I do this sh*t every day”
With the release of Black Mirror S4 on everyone’s mind, tech writer Chris Gilliard (@hypervisible) created one of the most bleakly fascinating Twitter threads of the week by asking “What’s the most absurd/invasive thing that tech platforms do or have done that sounds made-up but is actually true?”
A scroll through the responses he has received is as jaw-dropping as a 10-hour binge of the British sci-fi anthology. In it you’ll find that Walmart now uses big data to determine which staff are likely to develop disease, in an effort to cut corporate healthcare bills. Or TV ads that surreptitiously broadcast high frequency signals audible only to your phone, allowing your viewing to be catalogued and recorded. Or that Uber has collated data from its customers’ habits to calculate a joky tabulation of their one-night stands.
By far this week’s most staggering example of real-life Black Mirrorism are the events surrounding the backlash of YouTube superstar Logan Paul, who recorded a vlog in the Aokigahara forest in Japan showing the body of a man who had taken his own life.
Like the high-pitched buzz Koreans play to deter teens from bus shelters, Paul’s appeal is mostly indiscernible if you fall above a certain age, but for kids, he’s a behemoth. He has 15.2 million fans on YouTube alone, a major portion of whom will now have seen him standing, in a green felt alien hat, beside the body of a man.
“This was meant to be a fun vlog,” he says on camera beside the body, a sentiment which might have been easier to understand had he not travelled to “the Japanese suicide forest” in the first place.
His initial apology carried the oddly defensive retort “I do this sh*t every day”, redoubling the outcry over his actions, forcing him to record a video, in which he appeared to have taken on some degree of the magnitude of his actions, amid calls for his account to be suspended.
Invoking Black Mirror in response to such instances may not be original but, as with a certain news story involving David Cameron from 2016, it was hard to avoid, particularly as the show returned for a fourth series this week. Paul’s story simply contains so many hallmarks of the show at its creeping best; the insistent oversharing, the private horror and public shame; the interface between silly, day-glo nonsense and literal, actual death.
It is perhaps a sign of Black Mirror’s acuity that its episodes can often seem over the top or wilfully unrealistic upon release, but horribly familiar within just a few years. A character such as Paul may well have seemed unrealistic or crudely sketched in a 2013 episode, while depicting him in alien headgear, throwing out hash tags beside a dead body, may have appeared broad to the point of breaking point.
Less than a week into 2018, a character like Logan Paul doesn’t seem implausible, so much as horribly, depressingly inevitable.