Between tangled branches and moss-lined trunks, a man sways from a tree. Though he had entered the forest not long ago, he’ll never set foot out of it again. It’s a cloudy day. Mount Fuji continues to sleep on, and the Aokigahara is calm.
Until a burst of laughter pierces through the air.
“Yo, are you alive?” an energetic and clueless Logan Paul shouts at the body. “Are you fucking with us?”
Donning a green alien hat with video camera in hand, he and his friends tramp through the sacred forest, eagerly trying to get a closer shot. Horror soon sinks in as the group realizes what they have stumbled upon.
“Oh no, I’m so sorry,” Paul says to his viewers. “This was supposed to be a fun vlog.”
What a location for a “fun vlog” indeed. On the outskirts of Tokyo, Japan, the Aokigahara Forest sits nestled at the base of Mount Fuji. The Japanese landmark is traditionally known as a home for ghosts in local mythology. Internationally, it has earned a reputation as one of the most prevalent suicide sites with an increasing rate of bodies found every year.
This New Year’s Eve, Paul, a 21-year-old Youtube sensation, closed his year with a highly controversial video of him and his friends vlogging their way through the Aokigahara, showing his 15 million subscribers close-ups of a recently deceased man. Although the man’s face was blurred out, the rest of him remained in crystal clear focus.
Always close on his brother’s heels, white Youtuber Jake Paul posted a video of himself rapping the n-word within the same week. It seems that as they left 2017, the brothers also left behind their basic sense of morality, abandoning any respect the world had for them.
Logan excused his disrespectful behavior with a quick explanation that this was just his coping mechanism. Yet, when he edited the video later, he actively made a choice to keep the zoomed in shots of the deceased man, the distasteful comments on death and the bursts of crude laughter in the arboreal graveyard. The apologies he posted to Twitter and to Youtube were also widely regarded as insincere.
Logan’s instinct to keep these shots in his video is a testament to the growing sentiment among Youtubers and other online figures to put out content that is most appealing and intriguing. The consensus seems to be that the crazier and more shocking a video is, the more views it will receive.
There exists, however, a line between entertaining and distasteful content, and the Paul brothers stepped grossly over it. “This is not clickbait,” Logan claims at the beginning of his video. Yet with a title like “We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest…,” one cannot help but question the validity of the assertion.
In a digital and media-saturated age, online celebrities like the Paul brothers hold more influence than ever. There is an entire rising generation of young teens who look up to these figures and aspire to be like them. Subscribers are now facing a harsh reality check that the people they admire and watch weekly think it’s ok to vlog bodies of suicide victims or to spew racist and vulgar raps.
Social media stars, whether it’s Youtube or Instagram, usually have a relatively quick climb to fame. Once they’ve reached the top, they are eager to reap the benefits of being a celebrity, yet sometimes forget the responsibilities that come with the job.
What they choose to forget is that the creative and expressive content they put out has to now also uphold basic, respectable principles.
With media becoming increasingly accessible, these young influencers must accept liability and hold themselves accountable for the messages they send out. The platforms on which these stars communicate with their fans may have changed, but that does not mean standards of decency have too.