Shane Dawson is the undeniable king of YouTube creators docuseries, and more often than not, his exposés carve out a redemption arc for their problematic or outright disturbing behavior.
His latest series focuses on Jake Paul, arguably one of the most notorious YouTube creators, and someone most YouTube followers outside of his 17 million subscriber base have lobbied against at some time. Dawson spends the first several minutes of the first episode of his new series, The Mind of Jake Paul, acknowledging his own faults as a documentarian. He refers to himself as too kind, too forgiving and too understanding, but notes that he doesn’t want to take the same approach with Jake.
“The backlash I got was crazy,” Dawson says in the video above. “Crazier than anything I have ever gotten. This was like, ‘Shane if you do this, we will unsubscribe. We don’t want to be a part of this.’ I was a little scared and regretful that I tweeted it [the proposal to work together], because I didn’t know the extent of it. I thought he was just cringey. I’m aware that this might be a bad idea. I’m like shaking. I’m really nervous. This time I want to sit down in a room with him and be like, ‘This is why people don’t like you, this is bad.’ I want you to tell me about it, be honest, change your life and fucking stop.”
Dawson isn’t operating a non-profit YouTube channel. He didn’t reach out to Jake Paul because Dawson wants to change the life of a troubled young adult. Dawson’s last docuseries, a five-part look into beauty guru and multi-millionaire Jeffree Star’s controversies, amassed 61 million views. It was sponsored. Each episode was shared, written about and talked about son YouTube. He was rewarded with actual money, views and boosted relevancy: YouTube creators’ holy trinity.
With Paul coming off his fight with Deji, which also saw both their respective brothers, Logan Paul and KSI, go head-to-head, now was the golden opportunity for Dawson to work on his next docuseries, and cash in on one of the most talked about creators on the platform.
“I get it okay, I shouldn’t be doing this, I shouldn’t be giving Jake Paul a platform, but I also want to do shit on my channel that I find interesting,” Dawson said, addressing fans and critics. “The fall of Jake Paul and the darkness of his world, is something that I am fascinated by. And that’s why I want to do this.”
The premiere focuses on whether Paul is a literal sociopath, but through a conversation with YouTube commentator iNabber, actually touches on a topic far more important than his subject’s behavioral patterns. Dawson wants to know why a young crop of YouTube creators are participating in dangerous activities, pranking their friends, hurting themselves and constantly performing for an audience.
The reason is simple, but the solution is unknown — and if his documentary series is primarily focused on the past, present and future of Jake Paul, it isn’t going to be the avenue to find the answer.
It’s not just Paul’s world that’s dark. YouTube culture is based on extremism. Not extremism as reported by outlets like CNN and Buzzfeed, who report on radicalization of teens and misinformation, which is its own issue; but what Dawson brushes against is why the platform’s most relevant creators are throwing themselves on top of moving cars or chasing friends around with flamethrowers or driving ATVs into pools all for the sake of YouTube supremacy.
YouTube is an ecosystem, and the “main” culture Dawson is ready to explore with Paul is its most visible and talked about. Vloggers and influencers; typically attractive twenty-somethings who either live or often collaborate with other creators in Los Angeles. They spend their entire days with cameras trained on each other, hoping to catch something they can use in a video. Everything is for views. Viewership numbers and subscriber counts get tossed around in diss tracks and as insults in videos; think the CEO of NBC calling the CEO of ABC to point out how well they did on Sunday night, except these are 21-year-old vloggers who are boasting about their dominance in four, 15-minute vlogs.
Tie in a desire to conquer everyone on the platform, access to cash and friends willing to join in for a shot at fame and an over saturation of creators on the site, and you get the antics often seen in Jake Paul’s Team 10 videos or the daily output of Vlog Squad (David Dobrik and friends). The recklessness may differ in severity — something Dawson seems set on investigating when it comes to investigating claims of bullying and abuse at Paul’s hands while filming — but there is a through line.
YouTube as a platform rewards the extremist culture right now, and even they’re aware it’s a problem. Robert Kyncl, who oversees all creators and business, spoke about the issue earlier this year in an interview with YouTuber Casey Neistat.
“We’re thinking very deeply — and every single day — on how do we create the right incentives and disincentives for creators to do the right thing on YouTube,” Kyncl said. “That means a lot of different things. That means do the right thing for advertisers, do the right thing for their users, for the platform organically, and not chase sensationalism; not chase views for the sake of views, and not chase drama for the sake of views — and not use drama at our expense for the sake of views.”
But everything is for views. Amidst concerns over demonetization, a significantly growing user base, competition for eyeballs with influencers on other platforms like Instagram and TikTok (formerly Musical.ly) and a need to keep subscribers happy, views aren’t just an arbitrary number for creators. They’re everything. They’ve created entire merchandise lines based around the term. Jake Paul is the most prominent member of this group, and arguably the most aggressive, but the “darkness of his world,” as he describes it, the need to do all these things on YouTube, isn’t a Paul problem.
It’s a YouTube problem. It’s the most important discussion about YouTube culture right now, but it’s unlikely that Dawson will do more than dip a toe into really exploring it. Dawson isn’t trying to change a platform, or change how audiences see an entire ecosystem. He’s trying to capitalize on Paul’s name, and get a juicy clip that will make millions of people tune into. He did it with Jeffree Star, and it worked beautifully. As I wrote then, he’s learned everything he needs to from some of the longest lasting reality shows today, like Keeping Up with the Kardashians:
The documentary is opulent and fleeting, but it’s a fresh format in the context of YouTube history. Collaborations between creators are popular and practically run-of-the-mill, but the the documentary kicks everything up a notch by turning a hangout into a conversation that isn’t just entertaining, but tune-in-to-find-out-the-truth newsworthy.
This interrogation of the private by Dawson’s warm, welcoming presence has become an instant phenomenon. YouTube feels like it’s on a standstill when Dawson publishes the next chapter in his latest series. People get together with friends to devour 30-minute installments like they’re episodes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians or Game of Thrones.
Dawson’s series on Paul will entertain. It may even break some news. There’s no question: tea will spill. People will mostly be accepting of it as long as it doesn’t try to redeem Paul’s behavior. Paul’s subscriber count has already reportedly begun to drop following the first episode.
The true shame is that it could be a conversation on a much bigger, and frankly more important topic than Jake Paul. His obsession with Paul’s specific story may kill the pursuit of the real story, which is much darker than the illusive world of Jake Paul.