Opinion: Jake Paul, Gen Z, and haters: What Shane Dawson missed

Photo credit: Pixabay

By Pamela Fourtounis
BU News Service

BOSTON — In a pseudo-journalistic style, Shane Dawson makes a sloppy attempt to profile reviled fellow Youtuber Jake Paul. Dawson’s web series, “The Mind of Jake Paul,” is expected to be a pity party for multi-millionaire Paul, who Dawson himself called “punchable” before the two met.

The series reveals a backstory no one asked for. No one, except, of course, Paul himself, who urged Dawson to try to rehabilitate his image.

But rather than improved, Paul’s image is further mangled. The series is a surface-level exploration and rehashing of Jake Paul’s most infamous controversies that leaves a larger, more compelling question unanswered: What does our collective hatred of and fascination with Jake Paul say about us?

In The Mind Of Jake Paul, Dawson adopts a true crime feel to determine whether Paul fits the profile of a sociopath— he suspects that explains Paul’s behavior. The proposition that Paul is an immature 21-year-old in an era where ridiculous behavior equals clicks and clicks equal money and fame didn’t suffice as an explanation for why he decided to film himself committing pranks.

The pranks range from oiling floors so his friends will slip, to demolishing his friends’ bedroom walls with a sledgehammer, to pouring thirty boxes of mac and cheese on his bikini-clad girlfriend. Paul also makes insufferable music videos about being a Youtuber who has millions of subscribers, integrating catchphrases like “it’s everyday bro” and “dabbing on the haters” plentifully.

He lives in a Los Angeles mansion with the rest of Team 10, a squad of influencers he funds, manages and propels straight to online stardom, only after they agree to assume the role of his choice while the cameras are rolling. Paul is almost like a cult leader.

He’s a product of his environment. If Jake Paul is a monster, we’re responsible as a society for creating him. Social media shaped our culture and allowed for figures like Paul to flourish. Influencers don’t exist in a vacuum, they cultivate their brand in response to their audience.

In Paul’s case, he turned frat-bro-style hazing into a profitable career. Before we knew it, our mindless clicking added up, affording Paul a brand new Lamborghini Huracan and all the other luxuries his boyish heart could dream up.

The Team 10 mansion is on full display in the documentary. It has an indoor boxing ring, a merch store and ceilings adorned with murals of its members. It’s Neverland for Generation Z, where the influencers’ lifestyle serves as a stark contrast to the reality of life for those in their late teens and early twenties in 2018.

Here, young people have an exorbitant amount of money, influence and control. The perils of college, financial insecurity and loneliness apparently don’t exist. Viewers can’t help but seeth.

To put things into perspective, many people of Paul’s age are wondering if they can afford to move out of their parent’s home by the time they’re 30. And then, here’s a portrait of youth so far removed from the real thing that it’s infuriating. Paul, as the leader, makes a perfect scapegoat for our resentment and dissatisfaction.

Paul has commodified the very last piece of sacred ground in the digital age: life itself. When he wakes up, his home is his studio, his roommates are his cast and crew and his daily antics are the plot. His name, catchphrases and relationship with Team 10 queen Erika Costell sell millions of dollars in t-shirts and phone cases to enchanted preteen fans.

But the online empire doesn’t stop there. For the Pauls, social media is a family affair. Jake’s older brother Logan is famous for a vlog that featured a dead body in a Japanese suicide forest, along with other questionable career moves. Dawson aptly described the suicide forest incident as “the worst thing that’s ever happened on Youtube.”

Even Mom and Dad are on the quest for fame. Pamela Stepnick and Gregory Paul run their own Youtube channels, Vlogmom and Vlogdad. Stepnick addresses her subscribers as the “Pamily.”

Gregory Paul tries to blend in with the twenty-somethings and teens Jake hangs out with. He lives in an RV outside the Team 10 house. No one said parents couldn’t join in on the fun but that’s perhaps because no one expected them to want to in the first place.

The Paul family represents Internet culture as a nightmare of the new American family: Vapid and convinced of the significance and profitability of their every move.

Our generation loves to hate— not that the object of our hate doesn’t often deserve it— and social media makes it all too easy to unleash our loathing on a seemingly unfeeling, disingenuous Paul.

But there’s something sad in Paul’s eyes when he recounts his failed business relationships masquerading as friendships. His pranks are planned. His Youtube life and home life fused into one feigned joke years ago.

The quest for attention and approval never ends. Paul only grows hungrier and less satisfied despite his ever-burgeoning follower count and bank account. In a world where fun is calculated, friendships are business contracts and women are clickbait, Paul loses too.

No one truly wins in such a performative culture, not even those who maintain the illusion impeccably.

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