The Teen Vlogger Jake Paul Adopts a New Persona, with the Help of Marco Rubio

The Teen Vlogger Jake Paul Adopts a New Persona, with the Help of Marco Rubio

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In the aftermath of the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the #NeverAgain movement has shaken up the debate around gun control. It has also initiated a reassessment of the contemporary teen-ager. Before
Parkland, one of the biggest recent stories involving teens was the
news, earlier this year, that youngsters were eating laundry detergent
as part of a social-media-inspired “Tide Pod challenge.” (“Teens are
daring each other to eat Tide Pods. We don’t need to tell you that’s a
bad idea,” the Washington Post wrote in a withering January headline.)
The Parkland teen-agers, by contrast, were articulate, civic-minded,
and, spurred by tragedy, used their ease with social media for good. As
David Hogg, one of #NeverAgain’s most vocal organizers, tweeted on
Monday, “Simply put politicians do not care about our generation because
young people 18-29 don’t vote and that’s a huge reason why we have the
student debt problem, environmental problems and gun violence because we
show our political leaders they can get away with what they want NO MORE.”

Another member of Generation Z entered the fray on Monday, too. Jake
Paul, a twenty-one-year-old Ohio-born social-media star, released a
video, “It’s Time to End School Shootings,” which documents his time in
Parkland, where, for the past two weeks, he has been meeting with youths
and their parents to “go ground floor . . . and figure out what needs to
be done.” Paul launched his career in his mid-teens, on the now-defunct
short-form video service Vine, before a stint as an actor on the Disney
show “Bizaardvark” and a wildly popular run as a YouTube vlogger. He
sometimes makes videos with his brother Logan, who, in December, became
embroiled in scandal after a YouTube video he posted, in which he
happens upon the body of a dead man in the “suicide forest” on the
island of Honshu, in Japan, went viral. Paul has more than fourteen
million subscribers on YouTube, and has said that he would like to be
the first social-media billionaire. The videos on his channel are
aggressively mindless physical pranks, delivered with manic energy and
deliberately idiotic, loudmouthed patter—half intentional branding
exercise, half the pure id of a high-school dropout who likely came into
his fortune way too early. With his wiry shock of blond hair and his
still-spotty skin, Paul is the boorish class clown who, through sheer
bravado, has somehow convinced his peers that he is a heartthrob.

Paul has been living in a sprawling mansion in the Los Angeles
neighborhood of Beverly Grove with the talent of “Team 10,” a
social-media management label he founded. According to the television
station KTLA, neighbors complained last year that Paul had turned the
community into a “war zone.” (He has since purchased a
seven-million-dollar house in Calabasas.) Paul’s pranks, each viewed on
YouTube millions of times, have included covering his friend’s car in
peanut butter, driving a motorcycle off a ramp into a pool, and filling
a tub with thousands of Doritos. Last year, the gang spun a D.I.Y. wheel
of fortune to determine which tattoos to get. Paul’s spin landed on a
gun, which he had tattooed on his thigh. If the #NeverAgain activists
have attempted to challenge the negative image of today’s teen-agers,
the outrageous popularity of Paul and his crew fundamentally confirms
it.

In Monday’s video, however, Paul seemed intent on adopting a newly
subdued, community-minded persona. Entering the home of the Marjory
Stoneman Douglas High student and shooting survivor Jonathan “JB” Blank,
he sombrely announced his intentions: “I just wanna become homies with
him, be there for him.” Wearing an MSD Strong T-shirt and ripped jeans,
Paul spoke to JB (“Why did you choose, like, to feel comfortable to open
up to me, specifically?”), who told him that there should be more
security guards placed in schools, as well as bulletproof windows. The
issue of gun control was not specifically raised in the
twenty-two-minute video, although later, perhaps swayed by some of the
critical responses, Paul did tweet that “gun reform is an absolute
must.” Paul did not speak to any of the leading #NeverAgain activists
but, rather, to teens who seemed more receptive to his brand of vague
inquiry. “Talking to them, I learned so, so, so much,” Paul said in the
video, summarizing the conversation. “Instead of just being a bystander,
people should realize, Hey: this could be me next.” He paused for what
seemed like an eternity. “Or my kid,” he added.

Paul’s Randian self-interest found its match about halfway through the
video, during a brief interaction with the Florida senator Marco Rubio, who,
possibly in an attempt to relate to “the kids,” agreed to speak to the
social-media star on Skype. Paul, who appeared to be sitting at a
kitchen table, wore a dressy black blazer over his T-shirt, before
greeting the senator with the words, “Hey, what’s up, man?” Rubio, in an
attempt to dress down for the occasion, was more casual in a shirt and
tie, no jacket. Last month, Rubio was annihilated onstage at a CNN town hall by the #NeverAgain teen activist Cameron Kasky, who asked him
bluntly whether he would continue to accept funds from the N.R.A. (He
would, because the organization “agrees with my agenda,” Rubio said, as
the crowd booed.) Paul offered Rubio no such friction, though the Skype
interview was oddly spliced with footage from the town hall, which only
served to highlight the uselessness of the interaction.

Skype’s slight time lag gave Rubio the appearance of a ventriloquist’s
dummy, his lips moving out of synch with the audio, as he explained
blandly to the apparently mystified Paul—squinched-up eyebrows, dim
eyes—that “this is a country with a lot of disagreements,” a situation
that would not change, he argued, were there new legislation. Paul
seemed to agree. “This is kind of the reason I made this video,” he said
to the camera. “I wanted to activate parents and kids within their own
schools and communities, because that’s the way things are going to get
done the fastest.” He made a swooping motion with his hands. “We don’t
want to wait for hundreds of people in Washington, D.C., to pass some
laws. There’s so many disagreements . . . We all want the same thing, and
that’s to make the schools safe.” His casual libertarianism and abstract
feel-goodism were in stark contrast to the Parkland activists, with
their specific policy goals and commitment to the collective, and
exposed the faux rebellion that has animated his online persona from the
start. “Is there anything that people should look forward to, is there
something new that you’re working on?” the aspiring social-media
billionaire asked. The Florida senator was more than happy to respond.
For all of Paul’s aggressively youthful energy, Rubio knew he was safe:
the vlogger was in agreement with his agenda.

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March 13, 2018 at 09:22PM

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