The YouTube con job: Americans need to pay attention to real, valuable instead of fixating on brain-dead, flashy entertainment

October 28, 2019 — by Rohan Kumar

In December 2017, internet personality and YouTube vlogger Logan Paul visited Japan. He published four videos of his trip as the “Tokyo Adventures” series, titling one video “We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest …” The video, which showed Paul and his friends making jokes around the body of a suicide victim hanging from a tree in Japan’s Aokigahara forest, reached top 10 on YouTube’s trending list before it was taken down 24 hours later.

The other videos weren’t much better. Paul goes around making fun of Japanese culture by donning a kimono and rice hat while running around Tokyo screaming, harassing officials and shoving raw fish in locals’ faces.

Despite his appalling antics, Paul’s series received more than 24 million views, which translates to $90,000 in revenue, according to The Telegraph.

It’s crazy to think that Paul earns thousands of dollars simply by acting obnoxious, arrogant and disrespectful. In his other videos, he flaunts his wealth and brags about his success. Still, his YouTube channel has 19.9 million subscribers, and in 2018 alone, he earned around $14.5 million. Many similar YouTube channels that build themselves off of pranks or wealth have similar levels of support, particularly from young audiences.

The success of these YouTube channels reflects how our generation has become unhealthily attracted to showy, sensationalist content.

The explosion of the social media platform TikTok is yet another example of our shallow preferences. The entire premise of the platform is to watch and post 15-second videos responding to a fragment of a song. Its popularity with younger people attests to teens’ desire for high-speed dramatic content, and the emphasis they put on going viral rather than working up slowly. Although many people use these platforms as a source of plain entertainment, others see them as an opportunity to get quick fame and recognition, a mindset that can be self-destructive.

Ultimately, this uncanny magnetism toward flashy, shallow content can be dangerous. It leads us to believe that the ability to do party tricks, appeal to audiences and obtain wealth is an ideal and easy way to attain fame. It prompts us to focus on our outward image rather than our image of ourselves, which takes away from true achievement that benefits society and puts emphasis on the appearance of achievement.

Worse still, people have started to do crazy things in order to get views and followers. Jake Paul, Logan Paul’s brother, accused his neighbors of trying to kill him by damaging his truck in a video titled “My wife is leaving me …”, providing no evidence in an apparent publicity stunt. STORROR, a parkour YouTube channel, posted a video where YouTubers run across skyscrapers in Hong Kong as sirens blare and police cars surround the buildings, earning them 90 million views for a barely 3-minute video.

The unfortunate result of this Gen Z culture of glorifying wealth, arrogance and appearance is the overlooking of other, more productive goals. 

Fixating on sensationalism can be especially harmful considering that there are so many problems in our world today:  the hundreds of thousands of people who succumb to cancer in the United States alone, the humanitarian crises in Syria or the skyrocketing extinction rate of animals across the globe. These are issues that deserve our attention but often go unrecognized in favor of content like that of the Pauls’.

It’s safe to say, for example, that few teenagers have no idea who Shinya Yamanaka is, even though he won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for discovering induced pluripotent stem cells that can be derived from mature cells, promising to revolutionize the way we produce replacement organs. In fact, the only scientist most people know about is Albert Einstein, who, although he undoubtedly had a colossal impact on our understanding of physics, has been dead for 60 years.

It is more than likely that the majority of teenagers have never heard of Bana Alabed, an 8-year-old Syrian refugee who revealed the devastating conditions in Aleppo during the 2016 siege, airstrikes and famine through Twitter and later wrote the book “Dear World: A Syrian Girl’s Story of War and Plea for Peace.”

The teenagers know more about the inconsequential Pewdiepie vs. T-series drama on YouTube than an 8-year-old girl spreading awareness of the horrors in Syria speaks volumes about our misplaced priorities.

Of course, it makes sense that teenagers are attracted to superficial entertainment. Sometimes we all need low-stimulation content that allows us to take a break from our working lives. But it is important that we recognize those who do the unrecognized but critical jobs in our society. 

Nikhil Advani is one of the many World Wildlife Fund experts who strive to protect species adversely affected by climate change. Pediatrician Douglass Gross created the UC Haiti Initiative, a public service partnership between University of California campuses and the State University of Haiti, in response to the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010. 

Featuring these people on sites like YouTube can help give their work more publicity and give people a better idea of how important their work is. Seeing people receive recognition for impactful, important work will teach teenagers to pay viewer-hungry creators like the Pauls less mind.


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