Logan Paul, Affluenza Survivor
Back in 2013, then-teenager and then-nobody Ethan Couch did some dumb things. He indulged in substances like marijuana and valium, which is only slightly dumb. He then chose to drive with these substances in his system, which is definitely dumb. He just so happened to be driving on a restricted license, which is more negligent than dumb, but still pretty dumb. Oh, and he also had a lot of alcohol in his system – three times the legal limit – which is dumb even if you're not driving, and especially dumb if you are driving. He was also speeding, which isn't normally a dumb thing, but he was in a residential area, which only makes it minimally dumb.
Unfortunately, the amalgamation of all these dumb things resulted in a colossally dumb thing to do, which (even more unfortunately) resulted in the deaths of four people in a car he collided with, as well as the complete paralysis of one of the passengers in Couch's car. And while this may all seem tragic, it's a routine kind of tragic where someone does something dumb and others pay the price. The reason this is important, however, is his lawyers used an interesting defense, claiming that he was suffering from something called affluenza.
While 'affluenza' has been used in various contexts – and actually has its own PBS documentary – Couch's lawyers used it to imply that he had an inability to comprehend the repercussions of his actions. It argued that Couch had never developed the power of judgment, or determination between right and wrong because he never faced any kind of consequence for his behavior. That was the lawyer's take. Between the lines, everyone assumed that just meant that he had shit parents.
Surely Couch know it was not okay to operate a vehicle while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. But just as surely, Couch thought that he wouldn't face repercussions for his actions. And that's where the defense falls apart: he knew that repercussions existed, and just thought that he was exempt from them. He was later sentenced to 10 years of probation and a long-term treatment facility (which at its face seems to be counterproductive; if the judge really thought he didn't receive appropriate discipline before, how would continuing to withhold appropriate discipline be effective?), a sentencing that drew outrage for its leniency . A few years later, he violated probation by running to Mexico (and imitating McLovin' from Superbad), which resulted in a two-year jail sentence.
I bring up all this talk of affluenza because since that time when it was ridiculed by the masses, it's been recognized as an actual disease by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. No shit, right? It has symptoms and everything. Here are six of the main ones:
- Expectations of superior treatment from other people
- Pompous and arrogant demeanor
- Self-perception of being unique, superior, and associated with high-status people and institutions
- Needing continual admiration from others
- Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
- Unwilling to empathize with the feelings, wishes, and needs of other people
Sadly, it's been underreported that Logan Paul, the internet's latest apparent scumbag, is actually a victim of affluenza. Paul, a YouTube content creator, has recently been in the news because of a video he posted. He visited a place in Japan known as the 'suicide forest', where he stumbled upon (and filmed) a dead body, which drew widespread criticism. It's easily the most vitriol he's inspired in his short career, but I personally don't get why this was the trigger. After all, he's been suffering from this terrible affliction for quite a while now, and he meets every one of these symptoms! Let's go through them in turn.
Expectations of superior treatment from other people – Over the course of hundreds of YouTube videos, Paul has displayed a nauseating amount of entitlement and disregard for others. You don't even have to go through all of them, just look at the videos from other parts of that same trip to Japan – he knowingly takes display food in a restaurant, breaks merchandise and tries to return it, throws things at people and at traffic and at police officers, strips in the middle of the road, jumps onto moving vehicles, dangles raw fish at others . Being funny gives you a certain amount of license to be a dick, but all of these definitely veered towards the dickish side of the spectrum.
Pompous demeanor – It also appears that this disease is genetic. Logan's brother Jake is just as big of a YouTube influencer, and he likewise has a track record of douchebaggery. He threw a motorcycle into his pool for some reason (motorcycles are of course water-powered), and burned a mattress into his empty swimming pool resulting in flames that were literally as tall as his home. He condescendingly said "It's a bad situation and I feel bad for them, but there's nothing we can do" when his neighbors complained, and followed that up by climbing on top of a news van, which is dumb in the you're-proving-their-point kind of way.
Self-perception of being unique – Logan even released a single called "No Handlebars" which includes some masterful lyricism such as "I can ride your girl with no handlebars," a line so profound that he repeated it twenty-one times (I counted) in two minutes and fifty-six seconds. Brother Jake releases a song called "It's Everyday Bro," a title so self-explanatory and on-the-nose that he says it fourteen times just to drive the point home. It's a mind-numbing level of dumb. Seriously, you'll zone out about a minute into each of them.
Needing continual admiration – The Pauls also engage in a truly inglorious amount of dabbing, a move so rooted in history it was originally referred to as 'sneezing'. Dumb and dated.
Exploitative of others – Logan has a clothing line called 'Maverick by Logan Paul' which is different from the company 'Maverick Apparel' – which sound so similar that Maverick Apparel had to release a statement condemning Paul's "repulsive, abhorrent and mutton-headed conduct" and how his "maw-wallop across social media" made him "an object of ridicule, hatred and contempt." It's funny how dumb they think he is.
Unwilling to empathize – He quite literally said in his first apology for the suicide forest video, "it’s easy to get caught up in the moment without fully weighing the possible ramifications." Sounds a little bit like not knowing the difference between right and wrong huh? It's a tone-deaf type of dumb.
By the way, I was kidding. Affluenza still isn't a recognized medical condition, because of course it isn't. Those symptoms I listed above? They were actually symptoms of narcissism, more specifically narcissistic personality disorder. Because isn't that what affluenza really is? It's coded narcissism, in that it implies a general disregard for the well-being of others mixed with an unhealthy dose of entitlement with a sprinkle of dumbness. And it's not just Paul. It's all of his friends included in the vlogs, the cameraman, the editor, all of them. It's everyone who helped produce the music video and all the people that stood and danced next to him.
Paul actually released two apologies for his forest video: a short shitty text one, and then a longer video. In the latter, where he's perpetually trying to choke back a smile, he says that his "intent is never to be heartless, cruel, or malicious." I believe him. I have no doubt that in this very specific case, Logan Paul had no doubt that he was doing the right thing, or at the very least an okay thing. He clearly edited the video before posting it. He thought that blurring out the face was sufficient to make it sensitive. He included a quick little disclaimer about suicide and how important it was, which he thought was absolutely appropriate to address the seriousness of the topic. But then again, he could have also edited out the cringey jokes that he made, but he chose not to because he really thought those were okay. I can't fault him for being malicious, just a dumbass without sensitivity. Aside from this one video, we already had an established track record where Paul not only knows he's doing the wrong thing, but is acutely aware that he can choose to do the wrong thing without repercussion. He's a narcissist.
What might have been lost in the discussion around affluenza in Ethan Couch's case is that the judge who leveled the lenient sentence didn't just think that Couch had the capability to recover and improve. The judge perceived Couch as someone who was *worth* the effort and the money to fix up and mend. Whether or not you consider the sentencing part of the justice system to be flawed, you have to appreciate that there's subjectivity involved. And subjectivity introduces the possibility of bias.
Unfortunately, being dumb isn't illegal. And while Logan Paul didn't appear to do anything illegal (at least in that one video) and won't face a judge in court, he will still face a different kind of judge. From YouTube who didn't take down the video and promoted it to 'trending', to his crazy impressionable fans who continue to defend him after Paul himself said his actions don't deserve defense, to all the people who continue to subscribing to him en masse (over 25k a day!), to the parents who allow their young children to watch his work; all of these people collectively act as the judges of what Logan Paul has done and continues to do. And these judges will inevitably – just as in the case of Couch – determine that Paul is likewise worth the effort to mend. He won't lose his following, his platform, or his income.
He'll just be yet another victim of affluenza, a disease so deadly it took the lives of four people in a car crash and one who hung himself by a tree. Fortunately, people like Logan Paul and Ethan Couch are survivors. Let's hope Paul just gets sentenced to a decade in a medical facility too.