Raging Boy

Reading The Ugly

Let me take a moment to step back from objectivity and ask one simple question: why should a person like me be writing about a figure like Logan Paul? For those of you who do not know me, I personally identify as a straight white dude who likes watching content on the internet. Even though I have been using post-colonial theory to deconstruct popular culture for over five years now, I have still not mastered one succinct explanation to justify my scholarship within my own personal identity. The most effective framework I have come up with is that deconstructing the problematic texts that were instrumental in forming my identity is fundamentally an act of exorcism. I have been clearing out colonial ghosts, selfishly searching for pleasure in the myths I formed my identity around while simultaneously eviscerating them. 

Though Logan Paul is far from my favorite YouTuber, he does represent the most problematic particular genre of videos made on YouTube. There is a generation of men not so different from me who remain isolated in digital worlds, similar to the young "redditors" Massanari notes have their desires reified while the platform continues to ignore and marginalize others (Massanari, 2). Instead of "geek-friendly spaces" in Reddit reinforcing "liminal and performative" shapes of white masculinity, we find the algorithm promoting videos based not only on internal merit but on controversial value (Massanari, 4). Controversial content has come to be associated with whiteness and vlogging, a fact continually highlighted by the commercial domination of YouTubers like Jake Paul, Logan Paul, and PewDiePie. It would seem to have skin like mine and to employ controversy on YouTube is a recipe for success, giving further credibility to Safiya Noble's formative work in Algorithms of Oppression. In her anthropological study of Yelp users of color, Noble writes that the design of the site "is taking on new dimensions of control and influence over [a Black shop-owner's] representation" (Noble, 179). The Google algorithms that drive traffic through Yelp are built on the same infrastructure as those employed by YouTube, giving us a rather bleak outlook wherein creators of color have to choose between representations of their culture and turning a profit. If the algorithm is allowed to dictate the future of YouTube, content will grow more efficiently streamlined toward white masculinity.

Returning to the question at hand, why did I write about this topic? When I study and publish projects on Logan Paul or Donald Trump, is problematizing their voices worth the negative value of adding to their attention within the algorithmic framework? If my work becomes autoethnography and "ethnographic work requires not just a clear head but fire in the belly", then what use is a mind clouded by the smoke of a self-consuming inferno? (Boellstorff et al., 57).

Here is where Logan Paul, a man who takes pride in his semi-rural background just as I do, enters back into my life. By looking into the abyss of his content, I am certain that Paul's style has stared back into me. I have found myself occasionally chuckling at non-harmful jokes within Paul's content, and almost began to believe his narrative within certain videos. Complicate this with Paul's recent video addressing his own struggle with mental illness, and the figure of the man becomes sympathetic outside of his brand. Though I cannot abide by what he stands for or what he does, I can now understand that he is indeed a human. If my past had taken a divergent path, I could even see myself being on his side. To me, this makes Paul more dangerous than I thought before; if I can begin to believe him just by immersing myself in his twisted narrative for a few weeks, what of the children who continue to regard him as an icon?

As just another white guy from Oregon, I don't know if I will ever understand why I continue to study the ugly side of the internet. However, I know what I can do as an academic to make the most of it. If I leverage my inside "specialized knowledge" of the norms a boy not unlike my self grew up with, perhaps I can begin to "move effectively in a field setting" (Boellstorff et al., 66). By approaching YouTube from the perspective of a normative identity, I aim to differentiate between harmful practices and the identity of popular creators.

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