This week, the internet has been swamped with coverage of the boxing match that pitted online personality Logan Paul against actual famed athlete Floyd Mayweather. On Wednesday’s episode of ICYMI, Slate’s podcast about internet culture, Rachelle Hampton and Madison Malone Kircher explained the troubling origins of the Paul brothers and how, despite a series of serious allegations, they’ve been able to maneuver their fame across multiple platforms. In this transcript, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, they discuss why this fight is nothing more than a lucrative publicity stunt and the ways in which online platforms have allowed people like Logan and Jake Paul to thrive.
Kircher: All right. So who are the Paul brothers? That’s really where we have to begin. Logan and Jake Paul are social media stars and influencers. They came up on Vine. So they originally started out as Viners doing raucous pranks and outlandish comedy.
As with almost all internet celebrities that come out of nowhere, these guys are traditionally attractive: blond-haired, blue-eyed—maybe. I’ve never checked that closely. They’re very muscular. They’re aggressively heterosexual, and they established themselves as Vine guys back in the era of Vine, RIP.
Hampton: RIP, Vine. I mean, what’s interesting about Vine fame is that the people I was following on Vine were all Black teens. What Black kids were doing on the app was actually funny. What people like Logan and Jake Paul were doing, I was just like, “I don’t get it.”
Kircher: It was sort of hit or miss in the beginning. Logan Paul and Jake Paul made some funny stuff, but also had a very acute understanding of what they were doing and the brands that they were building. And they have only continued to expand upon that since then.
Hampton: When you say they knew what they were doing, can you elaborate on that?
Kircher: I had a friend, Caroline Moss, who wrote a profile about Logan for Business Insider in 2015, and she spent some time with him. And he performed a never-released song called “Stank Dick,” which sort of clashed with the image of being wholesome or wanting to pivot to television. Again, it’s never been released, so no one has ever actually heard “Stank Dick,” but it seems like that was the brand beginning to form.
I think what has kept me interested in the Paul brothers is that there is a savvy to them. There is a calculation to their brand and growing empire that I am darkly fascinated by. The harnessing of how platforms work and how fandoms engage with people, I find that to be really entrancing. And also, they do dumb shit all the time. So it’s this really fun, delicious combination.
When I say the name Logan Paul, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
Hampton: I mean, the first thing is the Suicide Forest thing.
Kircher: Yeah. So Logan Paul vlogged a dead body that he found in Japan’s so-called Suicide Forest on New Year’s Day in 2018. The Suicide Forest is known by its name colloquially because it is a place with a very high proportion of deaths. It is a place where a significant number of people have gone to take their own lives. So, there’s something grim already about the idea of Logan Paul and his group of YouTube comrades marching into the forest with cameras strapped at the ready.
Hampton: “Kind of grim” feels like an understatement, but yes.
Kircher: I find the mental calculus that the Paul brothers are doing in real time when they make these decisions to be darkly fascinating. The Suicide Forest video is a really great example of that, because there’s a moment in the video where Logan pulls out a bottle of sake from his backpack, takes a drink, and is like, “Fuck it. I don’t care if I’m drinking and cursing in this video. It’s already getting demonetized.” Which is to say, he already knew it violated YouTube’s policies.
YouTube’s reaction was a non-response. They limited his AdSense money, which is how YouTubers make money on YouTube. The video in which he’s seen drinking alcohol and showing a corpse is not one that advertisers would want to be seen against.
Hampton: Yeah. What I remember of this controversy was the lack of response from YouTube––besides the bare minimum of demonetizing––which, people get demonetized for shit that they shouldn’t be.
Kircher: All the time.
Hampton: Him being demonetized for something that horrifying is … It’s the bare minimum. The bar’s below the ground.
Kircher: Yeah. During that time, I talked to a lot of his fans, the Logang—kids mostly—just trying to get a sense of if their opinions of Logan Paul had changed. It was this wild look inside the mind of the fandom, because the responses I got were people telling me, “No, that’s just Logan. He found a dead body. He had to vlog it.”
Logan comes back with a suicide prevention PSA. It is extremely tacky. Don’t seek it out. All of these things just continue to build and build and build on the infamy of Logan Paul, and his brother Jake has had a similar career trajectory.
Jake founded Team 10, which is like a social media incubator/collaborative house in Los Angeles area that’s best known for making its neighbors miserable. One time, they lit a fire in an empty swimming pool, that kind of thing.
He was on a Disney Channel show called Bizaardvark for a while. Jake Paul left the show, but it was very clear that it all ended because of the fire in the pool and the noise complaints. Leaving the Disney show, though, did inspire a rap track entitled, “It’s Everyday Bro.”
Hampton: There’s just this way in which white people use adjacency to Black culture as a way to distinguish themselves and make themselves seem edgy. It’s not only deeply cringe, but also just deeply offensive in so many various ways.
Kircher: “It’s everyday bro” is also Jake Paul’s motto, in that he vlogged every day.
Hampton: For how long?
Kircher: Years. This was his thing. He was a daily vlogger.
Hampton: We kind of talked about this during our David Dobrik episode, but the danger of daily vlogging when you are Logan Paul or Jake Paul is that you are essentially putting a camera inside of a frat house, which feels like asking for a lawsuit in a lot of different ways. So I can’t imagine that those daily vlogs did not capture a shit-ton of stuff that we don’t have time to talk about. But what a rich text.
Kircher: And it’s about to get worse.
Hampton: I didn’t think that was possible, but all right.
Kircher: There have been, as recently as this year, a number of women who have been involved with Jake Paul coming forward with allegations of actions ranging from emotional abuse, to groping, to sexual assault.
Hampton: What makes all of this worse is just how much money they’re making doing this. They are controversial figures from before the internet, who are just constantly doing fucking stunts for $2,000 or whatever. The Paul brothers are millionaires.
Kircher: And everything they do is about building their brand and their businesses, in a way that they can exist off-platform. That’s what’s really critical about what they have done––they weren’t tethered to Vine. They’re not tethered to YouTube, or Twitter, or Instagram. They use those platforms. They harness them, certainly, and those platforms have been very, very good to them. But Logan and Jake Paul are social media a-platform behemoths at this point.
So, Logan Paul and Floyd Mayweather announced this big pay-per-view fight. This is not a new thing for Logan Paul. He’s been on the pay-per-view boxing scene for months now.
Hampton: The Paul brothers’ general turn towards pay-per-view boxing kind of floated up into my feed, and I was like, why? Nobody who’s an actual boxer is going to want to fight these absolute chuds.
Kircher: Then enter Floyd Mayweather.
Hampton: None other than the undefeated, 50-0 in his career—and this is the only fact I know about sports—Floyd Mayweather. He came out of retirement for this, to fight Logan Paul.
Kircher: I feel like we should maybe digress for just a minute for a brief Floyd Mayweather ICYMI Wikipedia article.
Hampton: Floyd Mayweather has been accused of violence against women at least seven times, and has been convicted of violence against women at least twice. So two terrible people beating each other up is what happened this weekend, and they weren’t just beating each other up. They were beating each other up for money.
Kircher: Floyd Mayweather has likened the match to legal bank robbery and has claimed that he stands to make $100 million, while Logan Paul claimed a figure of somewhere in the $20 mil range. Given the source, that’s likely an inflated figure. But still, we are talking about some serious money at stake for both of these guys.
Hampton: Truly love when terrible people make a shit-ton of money for being terrible.
Kircher: Both Logan Paul and Floyd Mayweather have been using the other person’s history as fuel for the fight. They did a press conference for Mayweather, where he said he was going to make Logan Paul pay for what he did in Japan. And Paul, firing back in the beef, said that we all know what Floyd Mayweather did to his wife. So, mutual grossness that these acts of violence––to varying degrees––are being reduced by their perpetrators as fun barbs to throw in a fight to make them more money.
Hampton: This really gross tongue-in-cheek winking at assault.
Kircher: Yeah. Also, I realize we have not said—the fight is fake.
Hampton: Oh yeah, of course. It’s not even a real fight. It’s an exhibition.
Kircher: Logan Paul went eight rounds with Floyd Mayweather, which––
Hampton: I know Floyd Mayweather is retired, but he had to be going easy on him.
Kircher: But Logan Paul gets to say he went eight rounds with Floyd Mayweather and, in the end, did not lose. Floyd Mayweather gets the very visible reality that he probably could’ve completely demolished Logan Paul, and instead will take his very large check and go home, thank you very much.
Hampton: The worst people are the best at gamifying our attention spans.
Kircher: I will go to my grave screaming that it’s unfair to just be like, “These are bozos who got lucky and got famous.” But with the other half of my chest, I will go to my grave screaming that these platforms, and the systems that support the platforms, allow for the rise of a certain type of creator. They allow for that person to fuck up over and over and over again and still be the thing that the algorithm and thus the people see and want to see more of. And the Paul brothers fell perfectly into that category.
Hampton: I mean, both Floyd Mayweather and the Paul brothers, in a lot of ways, kind of strike back at the notion of cancel culture. It’s just going to keep working for them, and I think that’s what’s so frustrating about once you reach a certain level of fame on the internet, or your audience has chosen to ride or die with you. The platforms either can’t hold you accountable, or have no will to hold you accountable, because your success is their success.