Review #10 – Shane Dawson’s “Inside the Mind of Jake Paul”

Shane Dawson is not Errol Morris. Jake Paul Isn’t Robert McNamara or Donald Rumsfeld or even Steve Bannon. But I kept thinking about those movies, in concept if not in actual implementation. Part of the reason I is the simple that that Inside the Mind of Jake Paul runs for an hour and forty five minutes, putting it squarely in the feature length category against the world of Morris and others. The 40 to 50 minute pieces that preceded it feel fundamentally different, despite the fact that the final episode doesn’t have any more things in it than the others – it just has them for longer.

And Jake Paul is, you know, reviled by the public and the media. In a different way by much different people for less significant reasons, but the initial reaction to a docuseries about Jake Paul was DARN IT SHANE DAWSON DON’T YOU DARE MAKE ME FEEL FOR JAKE PAUL. The idea of giving that guy a platform was anathema to a wide swath of the people on the internet who care about the things that happen on the internet. And yet, he did. And so, you do.

The question that bogs down the first half of the series – is Jake Paul a sociopath – is so far from view and irrelevant by the finale that you honestly wonder why Shane Dawson bothered in the first place. He’s not, so the devotion of an entire episode, easily and justifiably the most controversial of the bunch for its problematic use of music and extra footage, to it seems like the flailing of a filmmaker who has extensive remnants of an earlier video concept left in place because no one was there to tell him it undermined the point he would ultimately be trying to make.

But it’s also a likely result of the way the series was released. It was fascinating to watch in effectively real time as this thing was formed. He continued to edit each episode until the day it released. It is everything that a YouTube series can be that nothing else can.

But maybe the decision to form the coherent structure and argument beforehand isn’t just a result of archaic distribution systems. Maybe it just results in more cohesive storytelling.

Hmmm…

The series, then, is largely a distraction. The very-serious conversation between Jake Paul and Shane Dawson that is this final episode focuses on some topics that we’ve heard from any number of perspectives, and others that have not come up at all. A fair amount of it contradicts things we heard earlier, and there’s no attempt to reconcile that.

None of it was necessary. Much of it was counterproductive.

Inside the Mind of Jake Paul is a fully self-contained document of a 21-year-old millionaire. One who doesn’t matter at all. Except that he does.

I did not care about the younger, slightly less controversial Paul brother until I saw Nerd City’s video on him entitled Parents Worst a Nightmare, which exposes some genuinely dangerous aspects to the videos of someone who claims his audience is kids 8 – 16. I continued not to care on a personal level, but the video shattered any impression that Paul’s success was benign.

That video also serves as the basis for the most revealing moment of this entire series. That is not, as Shane seems to believe, in the segment where things get real and the background music comes down (more on that, I can assure you), but in the exchange that precedes it. Shane brings up Nerd City and the accusations he makes. He gives Jake Paul a chance to be redeemed. And Jake Paul rejects it outright.

Not only will Jake Paul not apologize for manipulating children into buying dat merch, he rejects the premise. The closest thing he gives to an actual defense – that Spongebob has commercials too, so whatever – falls on deaf ears in the only moment where Shane genuinely pushes back (sort of). I believe that Jake doesn’t understand the problem with what he’s doing, but that doesn’t make him anything but wrong for doing it. I’m glad someone told him that to his face. Maybe when he’s 30, he’ll understand.

Can you imagine Jake Paul at 30? He probably can’t either.

The intent of these Shane Dawson docuserieses has been to give a platform to controversial figures and let them speak their truth in a setting moderated by an ostensibly (but clearly not) neutral arbiter. It’s an interesting, perhaps even admirable, goal, but it is also one that grinds against the reality of a Shane Dawson video.

This is because Shane Dawson is not a particularly good interviewer. His YouTuber sensibilities overtake his conversations as he interjects himself into basically every question he asks. Everything begins with a monologue explaining what he thinks and why before he invites the other party to respond. And back-and-forths continue in this pattern. He often offers his subjects the opportunity to just stop talking or turn off the camera. He, of course, would have much to say about this fact. But it makes sense, because as much as any of these series – this, Jeffree Star, Tanacon – are about the people whose names clickbait his titles, they are all really about Shane. And that’s fine.

But let’s not pretend that this is anything else.

Fifty-three minutes in to Inside the Mind of Jake Paul, a title card says that heavy stuff is coming (it’s not wrong) and so Shane will remove the background music that has been playing under everything thus far. And that moment, and the subsequent conversation that happens in silence, is so clarifying. Because you can feel the manipulation on Shane’s part in the musical choices he makes even more than in the video clips he overlays. The music is heavy-handed. It’s loud – I listened with headphones. It doesn’t benefit the video. And I can say that with the utmost confidence because even if the conversation that begins there is not the most enlightening, it’s the most compelling. This is where you just get Jake Paul in all of his glorious dullness. 

Because he is not an interesting person to listen to. His language is simplistic and repetitive, particularly when he’s trying to express emotion, which much of this video is him struggling to do. He dropped out of high school, and you can tell.

But what he is trying to emote about is, I think, genuinely interesting. The story of what brought a kid from Ohio into this bizarre internet fame and the craziness that followed his fame all make for compelling, if often unrelatable, drama.

YouTube drama takes a variety of forms, but it runs the gamut from utter nonsense to kind of horrifying. Jake has been caught up in both, but Shane focuses largely on the latter. There appears to be an honest attempt to get him to go deep on it – though one constantly interrupted by Shane’s need to explain how it all makes him feel.

The Mind of Jake Paul, which has over 130 million views and counting across its episodes, is nothing short of a sensation; it also has taken on this broader importance, as the entire internet that cares about the internet stopped to have an opinion – myself obviously included. And the series, and this episode in particular, will shape the way people perceive Jake Paul going forward. This platform, these 105 minutes, the chance to say things with some pretense of radical honesty is disarming.

But it’s a puff piece, and we can’t let ourselves think otherwise. Shane Dawson likes Jake Paul, and that fact hangs over every minute. Jake’s feet aren’t held to any kind of fire; that sole pushback comes in the form of a stern talking to and not a genuine attempt at engaging Jake in his manipulation of children. Despite all of that, it wants you to be on Jake’s side, and of course it succeeds.

If you don’t, you wasted eight hours of your life.

Six-Point-Nine out of Ten

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