[Image description: Shane Dawson, looking serious, edited next to a photo of Jake Paul smiling, with an open zip down his face. Inside is a black-and-white contrasting photo of him looking ahead, deadpan.]
By Amelia A. J. Foy
Everyone and their mother knows about The Mind of Jake Paul by now, but here’s a summary if you’ve somehow missed it (or just haven’t watched it): Shane Dawson, old-school YouTube personality, has transitioned away from skits and comedy to the world of “docu-series”. His latest came about after a tweet he sent, where he wished to understand how Jake Paul ticks - one of the most popular and controversial (read: hated) people on YouTube. Originally, Shane Dawson’s next series was going to be on “sociopaths”; specifically, whether you have to be a “sociopath” to become a YouTuber. In other words, to put your life out there for everyone to see, film really out-there stunts/pranks/videos, and handle the fame that comes with this. I never thought I’d say this, but thank god he chose to focus on Jake Paul - it might have reduced some of the pop psychology mess by occupying screen time.
I know it’s controversial but i really wanna try more things like this on my channel. I wanna try things i’m genuinely fascinated by and interested in. The ups and downs of Jake Paul’s life and persona is something I would LOVE to see from the inside. pic.twitter.com/5Og8qoknNp— Shane Dawson (@shanedawson) July 12, 2018
Pop psychology refers to simplified psychological concepts that are popularised in the media, often by media personalities, with very little nuanced research or understanding behind it. Thus, whenever mental illnesses are brought up on social media in this format, especially personality disorders, as a psychology student I get a visceral “oh god, please don’t” reaction. I just know it isn’t going to be done well. But, when I saw Shane Dawson was at least bringing in Kati Morton, a qualified clinical psychologist with a plethora of informational YouTube videos on mental health, I let myself get a little bit hopeful. Maybe, just maybe, personality disorders would be presented in an accurate and humanising way? This is why I looked past the editing in the first part - Jake Paul’s face superimposed onto a pulsating black-and-white brain scan as the intro card (really?), a variety of stock videos that probably took a search of “sociopath” to come up, edits of both Jake Paul’s videos and other YouTubers/celebrities over eerie music… I even overlooked each point where Shane Dawson overacted his shock towards the over-the-top and dangerous “pranks” Jake Paul has done to encourage framing it as “sociopathic”. I thought, this is typical pop psychology. Pretty harmless as long as it is dismantled soon, which I thought it would be done by the second installment.
[Image description: Title card reading “The Mind of JAKE PAUL” in typewriter font over a black-and-white brain scan, with Jake Paul’s face superimposed onto it.]
But the entire second installment is a mess (as is every later discussing on “sociopathy” in the series). Kati Morton, to her credit, did point out that “sociopathy” is actually called Antisocial Personality Disorder. But ASPD doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, I suppose, so Shane just keeps saying “sociopath”. This is a super outdated term; the reason it isn’t used is that it’s so demonising to the person you’re referring to. Same can be said for “multiple personality disorder”, which is clinically known as Dissociative Identity Disorder, as the former perpetuates harmful and inaccurate stereotypes about this group of people. That was the first red flag for me.
Then she whips out the DSM-V. Cool. This is the diagnostic tool psychologists use when assessing clients. Seems legit. But why was it necessary to plaster every symptom in creepy typewriter lettering over clips of celebrities, YouTubers (including Jake Paul), and stock videos of creepy masked people? Why was it necessary to act so terrified when Kati Morton suggests you could know a “sociopath” - and why was it necessary for them both to keep referring to it as “weird” and “creepy”?
In response to this backlash, Shane Dawson said he got carried away with the editing, trying to make it seem “scary” for effect, and that he wasn’t accusing any of the people whose clips he used of being a “sociopath”. He somehow fails to see that this isn’t the main issue. Yeah, your editing of the video was irresponsible but more irresponsible is him trying to approach this topic at all - even with a psychologist involved. The main reason, I feel, comes from the many messages I’ve seen from his fans after this installment, all along the lines of:
“Oh, Jake’s definitely a sociopath!”
And, “Hm, I wonder if she’s a sociopath!”
And, “Wow, is that blonde woman even qualified? This doesn’t make sense!”
Your series doesn’t happen in a vacuum, Shane. I bet it’s super interesting to you to investigate this, but you should have just kept it to a Google search or an actual ASPD documentary. You suggesting that Jake Paul could be a “sociopath” when you yourself admit at the start of this series that you know nothing about him, is ridiculous and harmful. First of all, you discredit Kati Morton’s credentials by involving her in this series. Your fans, because they disagree with her or don’t understand the topic, decide she’s unqualified, thereby writing off all her other helpful videos. I do think she spoke in an irresponsible, dehumanising way in his video, however - people with ASPD still deserve respect, and ASPD is far less common than she suggested (only a 1-4% lifetime prevalence). She also failed to explain the issues with the DSM-V criteria for ASPD, such as the overdiagnosis of men with this disorder; as the criteria includes criminal and violent behaviour, which men are more likely to have committed regardless of ASPD symptoms.
Secondly, by including Morton, you add weight to the assumption that “Jake Paul is a sociopath” - which is dangerous in a number of ways, and ultimately is going to be untrue (as the fifth part concludes - oops, spoilers). Finally, by suggesting he could be a sociopath in the first place, you open up the floor for a whole array of people to go, “No, he’s not, and here’s why” - not only providing justification for his behaviour, but a whole realm of unfounded psychological “expertise”.
Logan Paul’s response video is the perfect example, where he claims he has “sociopathic tendencies” like “everybody does”. Let’s clear this up - that isn’t a thing. Yes, ASPD exists on a spectrum, but you cannot be diagnosed with “sociopathic tendencies”, and no, not “everyone” has them. It’s incorrect to perpetrate this. The number of people I saw agreeing with Logan Paul - even people who didn’t like him - was staggering. Sure, this explanation is preferred; because ASPD is so feared and demonised by society that people hear “sociopathic tendencies” and go, “oh, right, they’re still a human being, then. Yeah, that sounds better”. Almost worse than Shane and Logan acting like psychologists is the fact that their (mostly young) fans now feel they know what a “sociopath” is enough to define people by that descriptor. It’s so irresponsible.
ASPD doesn’t mean you are a monster, or an inherently bad person. A lot of people believe this is the case because you lack empathy. Empathy alone does not make you a good human being. It is not the sole determinant of whether someone will hurt you or not. Serial killers have empathy. Sexual abusers have empathy. Tyrants and dictators have empathy. They still commit horrible acts because they decide some people are simply not worthy of that empathy or see themselves as superior in some way. Similarly, someone who cannot feel empathy at all can still have a moral compass - a knowledge of right and wrong which they follow. This doesn’t mean they are “acting” like good people. We all follow this same compass - e.g. even if we can’t relate to someone’s experience, we don’t say “go fuck yourself” because it’s rude. Further, lacking empathy isn’t specific to ASPD. Affective flattening - lacking in general emotional response - is a symptom of Schizophrenia. People on the Autistic Spectrum may find it hard to relate to other people or adopt their point of view. In fact, studies have suggested little association between empathy and altruistic behaviour, and that it can, in fact, promote inaction and prejudice. For example, if you feel empathy towards an abuser, you might be an abuse apologist. Thus, empathy is not the be-all-and-end-all of our humanity.
But you get none of this from Shane’s series because it isn’t sensational to present a balanced argument.
Please note that I don’t hate Shane Dawson, or think he’s untalented, or believe he had bad intentions when making this. But he is uninformed and ignorant. The Mind Of Jake Paul could have been interesting, had you just left out the entire pop psychology aspect. You could have talked about his family, talked to ex-friends and girlfriends (as happens later in the series) without “is he a sociopath?” as your motivation, and just explored how his environment molded him. You could have discussed white privilege, male privilege and class privilege as driving factors for his behaviour, causing his sense of entitlement and the belief that he can get away with anything. But I guess this route Shane’s decided to take is more “fascinating”.
Some argue Jake Paul shouldn’t have been given this kind of platform at all, and I agree. Between his controversies anyway and the recent YouTuber boxing matches, he’s had enough attention. But if you’re going to make a docu-series on him, trying to get into how his mind works, the least you can do is stick to calling him out like the rest of YouTube does, just with more editing and actual interviews. Don’t drag mentally ill people down with him.