So what if a local news story revealed last week that the YouTube star is an extremely bad neighbor — complete with burning furniture and the hordes of young tween fans who wait outside his home everyday (sometimes with their parents in tow) to catch a glimpse of their idol? The segment went viral, and now you know who he is. Maybe some of you even like him.
“The Jake Paulers are the strongest army out there. Dab,” he said to the news crew, dabbing. It was childish, and the “Jake Paulers” loved it: The dab was for them. In each of his vlogs, Paul tells his fans to “dab on them haters.” It’s another catchphrase of his.
After the news story went viral, Paul abruptly left his role on a Disney channel show where he played a social media star, a move that he treated as no more than a blip on his inevitable rise to the top. “I have outgrown the channel,” he said in a tweeted statement, a version of which he also vlogged a couple days later.
In other words, it was Disney that was holding him back. He might not be wrong about that: Two days after leaving Disney, Paul challenged his fans to get him to 12 million subscribers in 12 months, a goal that he could realistically accomplish — he already has 9 million subscribers, and gains tens of thousands of new ones each day.
In the same vlog where he issued that challenge, Paul films himself getting kicked out of a pool area for filming without a permit, and getting yelled at in a Nike store for using its equipment without signing a waiver.
The Jake Paulers are Paul’s army, and they expect Paul to act like this. His fans are young — tweens, teens and 7-year-olds. And they’re devoted.
YouTubers who speak ill of their man will see their Twitter mentions and comments fill up with defenses and insults. The intensity of the “Jake Paulers’ ” devotion to their man has become a YouTube meme itself. Jake Paul could do the worst possible thing you could imagine — join ISIS maybe, or shoot someone while standing in the middle of Fifth Avenue, the meme goes, and his fans would cheer it on as “savage.”
I watch YouTube for fun, but it’s fair to say that I am not exactly Paul’s target audience. He and his older brother mock famous YouTubers who are younger than I am for being old, for one thing. When I kept up with his vlogs for a week for this piece, I felt as if I was viewing the near-perfect weaponization of some of the worst parts of YouTube culture.
The Internet loves celebrities who are open and authentic, and Paul’s daily vlogging style plays into that, following him through the course of a day from morning to night. But his actual content is a vacuum for anyone looking to make real meaning — it is, essentially, a vlog about having a successful vlog. It is knowingly inauthentic, with Paul and his housemates arranging their day around stunts or pranks that would make good viral content. His housemates, by the way, are all social media personalities too, albeit with smaller followings than Paul. They’re part of his influencer network, Team 10, and they’re there to learn from him.
Paul is basically the social-media-star-equivalent of a prosperity gospel preacher: His own viral success is an example for others, his channel a testimony. Follow Paul, act as he acts, join his movement, and the YouTube algorithm will reward you with some of the worldly goods he displays everyday in his videos. Nothing is fully ironic or earnest in Paul’s world. It is simply content.
The controversy that followed Paul for the past week has since become part of that testimony, something he’ll turn into content, too. Paul posted a video recently titled “I Jake Paul actually got arrested …,” which he advertised with a still image that appeared to show him being arrested by uniformed officers. It went up at the height of the fallout from that viral local news story, when it felt like all of YouTube was waiting for a consequence, something to knock a bit of humility into the young and rising star. But the joke was on them. The “arrest” was a prank, the cops were acting.
The reason, he said, was to teach viewers a lesson about authenticity. “That was just kind of a lesson to teach you guys that not everything you see in the media on a day-to-day basis is real, and that you can basically fake everything and twist anything the way you want,” he said. Later, he added, “don’t believe the fake media.”
As Paul spoke, his Team 10ers stood around and listened. Who knows whether Paul authentically believes what he is saying or not, and who cares? What matters is: Paul is the master at this sort of thing. Watch and learn.
The video has nearly 9 million views.