Logan Paul, the YouTube star who ignited 2018’s first social media controversy with a video that showed and made light of the body of a man who had recently killed himself, is back after a few weeks of self-imposed exile. His chosen comeback vehicle is, of course, a vlog, but it’s one that’s, fortunately, leagues more sensitive than the video that got him into trouble in the first place. “I know I’ve made mistakes. I know I’ve let people down. But what happens when you’re given an opportunity to help make a difference in the world?” Paul says, reframing his transgression as an impetus for him to grow as a person and better society. In the video, which was posted Wednesday and plays like the kind of public service announcement that might follow a very special episode of a teen soap, Paul interviews a man who survived a suicide attempt and sits down with leaders in the suicide prevention community to learn about the issue. In the end, he pledges that this is just the beginning of a new chapter.
The video is appropriately serious in both its message and tone, as demonstrated by the accompanying solemn instrumental music and thoughtful shots of Paul—this time, there are no missteps in which the viewer catches Paul cracking up, breaking into a smile, or mugging for his fans. He’s even got a fresh haircut to go with his newfound moral clarity. Paul says the right things: “You are not alone,” it’s important to get help, and he’ll be donating $1 million to suicide prevention charities, starting with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Despite pulling off this vlogger-gets-serious routine relatively successfully, the video reads as a pretty obvious redemption ploy. Paul knows he messed up and that his career depends on minimizing the damage. Though he can’t be fired, he cares about his perception in the media, which can influence his relationship with YouTube and other companies he depends on for his livelihood. YouTube responded to the criticism and public pressure from the original video by removing Paul from its preferred ad program and suspending his projects with its YouTube Red arm.
If this Wednesday’s video feels a little corny and broad, you’ve got to admit that that’s better than the alternative, which is offensive and shameful. One wonders if Paul, even as he seems genuinely apologetic, really believes the new video can undo the harm he did. When the founder of a recovery center asks him incredulously, “You’ve never known anybody that killed themselves?” Paul answers, “No one. That was part of the problem, just my ignorance on the subject.” This seems like a poor excuse for a lack of empathy, but its inclusion in the video suggests that Paul may still not understand that.
There’s no playbook for what a comeback looks like for a social-media star. We know what a redemption tour looks like for a movie star or political figure, but someone like Logan Paul is still feeling out the script for a vlogger-pologia. In more analog corners of public life, time is an important ingredient in any redemption saga. (You know, that thing that heals all wounds?) It’s already clear that in the world of a daily vlogger/social influencer, a long break means something very different than it does elsewhere. Remember the original video, the one that started this whole mess? That was three weeks ago. Social media and vlogging move at warp speed. This new video may mark the start of a redemption narrative, but it’s important to remember that it’s just that, a start, and whether Paul is really at the beginning of a new chapter here or will be back to his goofy hijinks soon enough remains an open question. How will we know how it shakes out? By joining Paul’s 16 million subscribers and following along, of course.
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