Though it is nearly impossible to objectively judge the quantitative effects of a YouTube video, one of the most socially impactful American videos of 2018 was published on New Year's Day. Lifestyle vlogger Logan Paul's "We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest..." immediately spread beyond Paul's subscribers and even the limitations of the platform itself. Just over one year later, Paul's brand is doing better than ever with over 18.7 million subscribers and a rapidly expanding podcast. To find how he has structured such an effective redemption, we need to look to the complicated history of combat sports and redemption.
The day before Logan Paul made a return to daily vlogging last February (timeline here), British YouTuber Olajide "KSI" Olatunji publicly challenged Paul to a boxing match. Paul immediately grabbed onto the concept of training for a fight and ran with it, going on to equate his negative publicity with "a punch in the face" and to call working out and character redemption "the same thing" in his end of year review (the longest clip in my video.) Using the fight as an impetus, Paul changed his own situational identity from 'controversial YouTuber' to 'boxer who vlogs,' a dangerous act of micro-celebrity skin-shedding.
Paul is able to achieve this effect thanks to the "reliable uniformity of self-presentation" afforded him by vlogs (Marwick 195). Following the precedent of “transmedia [projects] that [bridge] live sports television with reality television" set by shows like The Ultimate Fighter (McClearen 3229), Paul's style of vlogging creates a world where he is authentic in practice as well as in body; the well-trained body is more visibly important in his improvement than any change in attitude. Paul's relentless self-promotion as a "boy from Ohio" further takes advantage of the trend for white athletes to have their “past... reframed as one of ‘mistakes,' as ‘checkered,' where he ‘fell short,' where he ‘fell off,' and one where ‘immaturity’ caused problems” (Leonard 148). This is a classic example of what David Leonard calls "#BeingRedeemedWhileWhite", reinforced by Paul's general disdain for his black opponent (158).
Using Logan Paul as a case study, it is clear that using micro-celebrity practices combined with athletics as a false path to moral redemption is now a possibility on the table for young YouTubers. In this age of male celebrities recognized for their attrocities simply apologizing and waiting out the clock before attempting a comeback, it is necessary to be cognizant of this more active and accelerated route.
Leonard, David J. Playing While White: Privilege and Power on and off the Field. University of Washington Press, 2017.
Marwick, Alice E. Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, & Branding In The Social Media Age. Yale University Press, 2015.
McClearen, Jennifer. "'We Are All Fighters': The Transmedia Marketing of Difference in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)." International Journal of Communication, vol. 11, 2017, pp. 3224-3241.
Paul, Logan. “LOGAN PAUL - WHY 2018 WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT YEAR OF MY LIFE.” YouTube, YouTube, 29 Dec. 2018, <www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ak2fJu6WFGo>.
Video sources in description.