The Mind of Jake Paul Review (Web Series, 2018)

The Mind of Jake Paul Review (Web Series, 2018)

You can’t fault Shane Dawson for his ambition. In the past year, he reinvented himself as a sort of YouTuber documentarian, creating series exploring the lives behind some of the biggest names on YouTube. After the massive success of his documentary web series centered on the fallout from TanaCon and the inner workings of Jeffree Star’s empire, he set his sights on his most ambitious series yet. He wanted to explore the relationship between internet celebrity and mental wellness, specifically personality disorders. By chance, he wound up with Jake Paul agreeing to be the subject of the new documentary series.

The Mind of Jake Paul is an eight-part documentary web series investigating whether or not YouTuber Jake Paul is a sociopath. Each episode focuses on a different aspect of the story. In one, he collaborates with Kati Morton, a licensed therapist, to go through the DSM’s clinical definition of Antisocial Personality Disorder. In another, he interviews Nick Crompton, Jake Paul’s former manager, to get a perspective on what is real and what is not in the YouTube videos. It takes four episodes of background information to finally see Jake Paul appear in the series; even then, the three episodes interviewing Jake Paul have very different tones and styles.

The big question I had going into the series is who is Jake Paul? I’m, frankly, too old to have ever been part of his target demographic—elementary and middle school age students—and only ever heard about him through celebrity gossip websites. I knew his brother was the one to implode his own YouTube career by filming a dead body in Japan’s suicide forest. I had heard of Team 10, Jake Paul’s YouTube crew, but had no idea what they did other than make it to the trending page on YouTube.

For that reason, I actually appreciate Shane Dawson’s slower approach to the series. A documentary is nothing if the audience at large doesn’t have a chance of understanding it. Shane Dawson paints a very clear picture of the facts. Jake Paul, for years, vlogged as a larger than life character, playing pranks on his friends in the Team 10 house and selling his merchandise in every video. If anyone chose to leave Team 10, he cut them out from his life and pretended they never existed. Those might be the lucky ones, as the pranks were often dangerous—setting fires, attacking people with tasers, dragging people into the middle of the street while they’re sleeping. It’s an over the top living cartoon of huge personalities playing their expected roles in a close to fictionalized version of Jake Paul’s universe.

I’ll take it a step further. I think the early episodes, before he officially meets Jake Paul, are the stronger part of the series. That’s a matter of tone and style. Like it or hate it, Shane Dawson made a clear creative choice in the first few episodes. He leaned in heavily on the “Is Jake Paul a sociopath?” thesis and crafted a brooding, suspenseful tone. I still think this sensationalized, almost horror film approach, is appropriate for the subject matter. A lot of what Jake Paul and the Paul family at large has done is strange at best, terrifying at worst, and that’s the draw of a documentary series about them. The early episodes felt like a true crime documentary, which is appropriate considering how often Jake Paul’s neighbors had to call the cops on Team 10 for some of the dangerous pranks he pulled.

The Mind of Jake Paul isn’t hard to review because of the length of the series. It’s hard to review because Shane Dawson was editing the series while the audience began watching it. You start to see the social media reaction to his videos included in his videos for context. He challenges the viewers who criticized him to get ready and brace themselves for the good stuff to come, but also starts to soften the tone of the series in response to sincere criticism.

Despite hitting on a really entertaining tone for the subject matter, Dawson did use very broad strokes while addressing the concept of Antisocial Personality Disorder. He was being honest from his perspective, but it unintentionally vilified anyone who did have APD as an emotionless monster willing to say or do anything to get ahead. He even included b-roll of other YouTubers who didn’t have APD while describing the symptoms. Essentially, Dawson’s ambition got the best of him and he made some poor decisions from a sensitivity standpoint. They weren’t intentional slights, but they hurt people nonetheless, and Dawson responded by shifting the tone of the series.

I think the big issue here is the framing of the series. The overall effect is still strong and Dawson really did his best to treat everyone involved in a fair way. The problem is that Shane Dawson, in the first episode, promised an eight-part documentary series exploring whether or not Jake Paul is a sociopath. He debunks that theory a few minutes into the fifth episode, meaning more than half the series (based on runtime) does not stick to the announced goal. The solution to this is easy in hindsight. Shane’s introduction could have asked questions he wanted to explore and then ticked those off along the way. The APD angle is a strong one, but so is questioning the reality of the vlogs, the intention behind starting Team 10, and what happens when you cross Jake Paul by leaving Team 10. The framing of the series only focused on the mental wellness of The Mind of Jake Paul rather than what the series actually provided, an investigation into the perspective, goals, and life of Jake Paul.

I have one major issue with the pacing of the series. I don’t mind 40-50 minute episodes depending on the subject and what needs to be discussed. I’d rather a shorter, focused episode than a longer one that starts to wander and lose its edge. I do mind the last episode. It is a 105 minute interview with Jake Paul. That’s a feature-length documentary as a standalone episode in a documentary series.

It is largely just a one-on-one interview with Jake Paul, and Jake Paul is not the strongest speaker in the world. He’s young still and finding his voice as a creator and a person. His answers are all over the place. I wound up having to watch the final episode over multiple days just so I could walk away and regain my focus on what was happening.

My guess is the real-time response to the heavily stylized editing of the early episodes impacted how Dawson presented the final episode. Rather than being accused of manipulating the audience again with scary or sad music (yes, a real critique of a documentary, the genre of less-than-subtle music choices to impact your opinion of what you’re watching), Dawson kept all of Jake Paul’s answers as unedited as possible. All the awkward pauses, repeated phrases, and thinking while talking is all present in the episode. Most documentaries will edit these responses down. Shoot, I can’t remember the last time I saw a documentary that uses so much of one interview in the final product. The insight into Jake Paul provided by this more naturalistic approach is unmatched by anything else in the series; it’s just not as easily accessible or even entertaining as the other seven episodes.

The highlight of the series is the interview with Alissa Violet. She was one of the original Team 10 members. Her role in that original lineup was Jake’s girlfriend; she wasn’t. Alissa and Jake’s relationship was clearly very toxic, with both lobbying severe abuse allegations against each other in the wake of Alissa leaving Team 10.

The reason why this, the seventh episode, is so significant to the series is perspective. The difference between a good documentary and a great one is the use of outside perspectives for context. You can provide all the primary source documents and interviews in the world and still be trapped in tunnel vision mode. The facts are there, but they exist in a bubble.

Alissa Violet (and Shane himself) shows what happens to people put through the wringer of swinging public opinion online. While Alissa is working on other projects, she did have to choose to largely step away from her own YouTube channel for her mental well-being. The stress of having to address all the nonsense stemming from her not-breakup with Jake Paul (they never actually dated, and her perspective on the relationship seems to suggest Jake was gaslighting her about what the relationship could be for a long time) essentially scared her away from creating content like she wanted to. She talks about her anxiety about being on camera at all and takes a long time to warm up and show her real self in the documentary.

Shane, too, is at a similar point. Alissa’s episode was not guaranteed for the series. An exact timeline is never provided, but Shane and Alissa discuss the online reaction to The Mind of Jake Paul series in an interview for The Mind of Jake Paul series. Shane and Alissa have already been inundated by fan response (Alissa would be a big part of the story whether she agreed to the interview or not, so obviously people reached out to her on social media to say whatever they thought without consequence) and they both just seem tired. This is the perspective the series needed. Not everyone is able to bounce back from the heavy onslaught of criticism being an online content creator can produce; shoot, I myself had a massive breakdown around 14 years ago caused by being a popular subject on a slam site for daring to discuss my own creative work and performances on the original version of Sketchy Details. It’s hard. This interview with Alissa makes the final interview with Jake Paul feel more real: he’s tired, too, and doesn’t know what to do about it.

The Mind of Jake Paul is a fascinating documentary series from a lot of perspectives. One, it explores a very specific kind of YouTuber culture based in pranks that I just never had an interest in. Two, it’s a living document about how criticism can impact an artist’s work, as Shane Dawson does not shy away from literally using reaction videos, headlines, and social media posts as introductions to episodes of the series. Three, it’s a strong exploration of the mental, physical, and emotional impact of being an online content creator. My great hope is that everyone involved in the series, and even those who watch it, start to see the value in self care. Pursuing your dreams is great, but you cannot be great at what you want to do if you do not make sure that you yourself are in a healthy head space.

The Mind of Jake Paul is available to watch on Shane Dawson’s YouTube channel.

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