I’ve come to the conclusion that a big YouTube personality could hunt people on a private island, make a video about it called “Human Death Prank,” and that it would A) get several million views and B) would have no lasting consequences for the YouTuber.
We’ve fallen into a pattern wherein there’s a new scandal featuring one of these people every month, and it always ends the same way. The performer will lay low for a few weeks. YouTube might slap them on the wrist, maybe an advertiser drops. Then they’ll just start churning out the exact same content, having learned nothing and making just as much (in some cases more) money than before. Here, let’s revisit some recently scandalized social media celebs and see where they are now …
You probably know Logan Paul as one of the many YouTube celebrities who looks like all of his hair is trying to escape from his head.
You might also have heard of his most recent scandal, in which he posted a video of a suicide victim’s corpse in Japan’s Aokigahara forest. After a public uproar, he spoke to Michael Strahan on Good Morning America, saying, “I am a good guy who made a bad decision” — a claim that is 100 percent true if you remove the word “good” from it.
For you see, good guy Logan Paul has a storied past of doing things that are objectively dumb and also terrible. Like the time he pretend to be shot in the back of the head in front a crowd of screaming 10-12-year-old children. As soon as he returned to YouTube after the suicide forest video controversy, he immediately showed his respect for the sanctity of life by pulling a fish out of a pond and pretending to give it CPR and tasing some dead rats.
YouTube cited Paul’s “recent pattern of behavior” (corporate speak for “We’re secretly worried this person might be a budding serial killer”) when they decided to suspend ad revenue on his account, which has 16 million subscribers, many or most of whom are children. The suspension lasted for two whole weeks. It’s been reported that he actually gained around 80,000 subscribers after his recent controversies. And why not? He made international headlines. You can’t buy that kind of publicity!
And the next time he thinks his channel needs a boost, well, now he knows exactly how to do it.
If you Google “Carter Reynolds,” the first result is a Business Insider article titled “The Rise And Fall Of Cater Reynolds.” Directly below that is the link for Reynolds’ Twitter account. He has 3.08 million followers. That … seems like a pretty cushy fall, but we’ll come back to that.
Reynolds got his start on Vine (remember that?), where at some point he is reported to have had four million followers — enough that he was able to get sponsorships from brands like Coca-Cola and travel the U.S. with “The Carter Tour.” He’s the kind of social media star who’s not particularly famous for anything more than being affable and good-looking in a non-threatening way that’s especially appealing to young girls. A few weeks ago, he tweeted “frozen yogurt sounds so good right now” …
… and it was retweeted 451 times. That’s pretty representative of his creative output.
In June of 2015, a video was leaked of Reynolds (19 at the time) and his ex-girlfriend, fellow social media star Maggie Lindemann (16 at the time). In it, Reynolds tries to pressure the visibly intoxicated Lindemann into giving him oral sex while he records it. Lindemann continuously repeats “I can’t” and “This makes me so uncomfortable” until he turns off the camera. Reynolds at first apologized in a single-line tweet, but then did a quick 360, saying on a YouNow stream that Lindemann owed him an apology for “things you guys don’t know about.” He added, “I didn’t rape her. She knows that herself … The fact that she’s trying to be all innocent now or something … it didn’t affect her that much. I know it didn’t.”
When Lindemann tweeted that she was in the hospital shortly after the video was released, Reynolds responded by tweeting, “Maggie is saying I’m the reason why she’s in the hospital … lol nah you’re just crazy and psychotic. Fuck you.” After receiving backlash, he then threatened to commit suicide on Twitter, apologized for it, and took a social media sabbatical.
The result? Well, in addition to his 3.08 million Twitter followers, today he has 3.2 million Instagram followers and 817,000 YouTube subscribers. While he’s no longer sponsored by Coca-Cola, he still does sponsored Instagram posts, including a recent one for Core water. He also sells merchandise and is getting ready to launch a clothing line with his new girlfriend, who is an Instagram model. Don’t follow his example, kids, or else that wretched fate may befall you too.
Sam Pepper is a former Big Brother UK contestant who managed to translate his brief reality TV fame into YouTube fame. He’s known for “pranking” people, which to be fair, isn’t some outrageous new trend. When I was in high school, guys were trying to punch each other in the dick and film it like Jackass, or screaming, “You just got Punk’d!” after knocking a friend’s book out of his hands.
The difference between Pepper and Ashton Kutcher is that Pepper’s audience is younger, and there’s no “Don’t try this at home kids” warning running in front of his content. His first controversy came in 2014, when he uploaded a video he called “fake hand ass pinch video,” which was just him pinching unsuspecting women’s asses with his real hand. After the backlash over the video, several women came forward with detailed accounts of sexual harassment and rape by Pepper. At least one rape accusation was investigated by the LAPD, but Pepper was never charged because the victim was not willing to testify after her father told her it would hurt her career.
Pepper continued his successful YouTube channel until 2015, when he staged another hilarious prank in which he convinced a young Vine star that his best friend was brutally murdered in front of him. After months of criticism about this incident, Pepper publicly confessed that his pranks were all faked, because if you did the things he pretended to do in public, you would be arrested. He then made his YouTube account private and deleted all of his tweets, going dark online for three whole months.
Today he still has 2.3 million YouTube subscribers despite infrequent posting (his latest video is called “HOW TO BUY ALCOHOL UNDERAGE * IT WORKED *”), plus he can boast another 1.3 million fans between Twitter and Instagram, plus some unknowable number of Snapchat followers. Oh, and he’s out there on the front line defending Logan Paul’s suicide forest video. Everyone is so triggered, you guys!
PewDiePie is the Titan of YouTube. There’s really no comparable star in the old media world right now. You would have to make a human centipede out of George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, and Ryan Gosling to approximate the star power that PewDiePie has on YouTube. He currently has 61 million subscribers, ahead of his closest competitor by 23 million. Like a medically resistant staph infection, there just doesn’t seem to be anything that can stop him from growing.
In February of 2017, he paid two men on Fiverr (a “Pay strangers to do things for $5” site) to hold up a sign that said “Death to all Jews,” under the guise of this being the weirdest thing he could think to have somebody do for that amount of money.
Thanks to an article in The Wall Street Journal, the outrage went mainstream and a whole generation of old people had to figure out how to say “PewDiePie.”
The incident caused Disney’s Maker Studios to cut ties with him, as well as YouTube to drop him from their Google Preferred ad program. PewDiePie responded with a video saying his actions were a joke, which kind of isn’t the point. (Meanwhile, neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer featured a blog post congratulating him for “making the masses comfortable with our ideas.”)
But hey, anybody can screw up once. Seven months after this apology, however, PewDiePie loudly and clearly yelled the N-word while streaming an online game, noting later that he’d forgotten he was streaming to the public (you know, it’s the kind of thing he normally only says among friends). This time he said, “I’m not going to make any excuses for why I did it, because there are no excuses for it.” He went on to say he was disappointed in himself.
By now, you know how the story ends. The kind of thing that would have permanently sank the career of, say, a Seinfeld co-star is but a scratch on the hull of PewDiePie’s Star Destroyer. According to Forbes, he made 20 percent less than his 2016 earnings … which means he netted $12 million. Meanwhile, he gained about two million subscribers after the controversies, seemingly without losing any.
Since this is 2018 and we find ourselves involuntarily grading racism on a curve, it’s easy to argue that PewDiePie isn’t as bad as the swarm of unapologetic racists that fill YouTube. He repeatedly says he doesn’t believe those things, that it’s all just shock value humor, that he’s learned his lesson, etc. That is not the case for JonTron, who was extremely eager to tell the world that those are in fact his views.
JonTron has 3.9 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, and turns up on a couple of others. He’s actually pretty funny — his whole persona is the cuddly nerd next door. Which is why it was so shocking to his fans when he took to Twitter to defend Republican Senator Steve King’s comment that “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”
When people called him out for it, he decided to clarify his views on the subject by discussing them with Steve Bonnell, a Twitch streamer knows as Destiny. Over the course of an excruciating two hours, JonTron clarified in great detail that he thinks racial purity is extremely important to the future of America, and that he fears the day whites become a minority (which he estimated would happen in 2042).
In response to angry fans, he said, “The fact that people think it’s troubling is what’s troubling.” In the course of the debate, he also claimed that wealthy black Americans commit more crimes than poor white Americans, that Mexicans are somehow attempting to recapture American land, and that “We don’t need immigrants from incompatible places.” Gee, I wonder which places he considers incompatible?
He then issued an apology for his clarification, saying, “I do completely understand that historically the African American community has had a raw deal in this country. Discrimination certainly exists but I do believe it goes all ways.” And later, “Any of the things in the stream that could be considered weird sounding or off-putting, I probably agree with you that they were. So, I hope you don’t read too much into it.”
OK? He seemed to swing wildly between “I’m a comedian, I don’t want to talk about politics” and “But here are my terrible politics, and if you don’t like them, you’re policing my thoughts” before finally landing on “Don’t listen to the things that I say.” At this point, do we even need to point out not only that JonTron still has his millions of subscribers, but also that his videos are still sponsored? The only lasting effect seems to be the entry about the controversy on his Wikipedia page.
The promise of the internet was always that there’d be no gatekeepers. You can publish directly to the world, bypassing editors, publishers, censors, TV networks, etc. Well, here it is. There is nothing between these guys and their audience, and what we’ve found is that their audience is not scared away by sexism, racism, or anything else.
The rest of us will have our weeks of outrage, and we’ll see vague headlines about boycotts and suspensions. While we’re patting ourselves on the back, these guys know they just need to hunker down for a bit and weather it. They know the audience isn’t going anywhere, and as long as the eyeballs are there, the money will follow. No matter what.
Ever notice how normal photographers are never embroiled in scandals? Stick to still-life with a Nikon DSLR camera.
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