In the left corner, KSI. 25 years old. British. 19 million YouTube subscribers.
In the right corner, Logan Paul. 23 years old. American. 18 million subscribers.
Three Sundays ago, more than 800 000 fans paid to live-stream these two showmen from opposite ends of the pond pummel each other in the KSI vs. Logan Paul boxing match. If you have no idea who or what I’m talking about then … good on you.
An actual boxing match IRL (in real life)
Billed as the ‘biggest internet event in history’, it’s a step-up in the power of YouTube, which now transcends online ad revenue-only with real-life arenas, ticket sales, money, merch and mainstream media reportage.
The young stars at the centre can hardly believe their luck. This showdown, the climax of 7 months of build-up sustained by diss tracks, debates and manufactured “YouTube drama”, bought a generation whose parents have told them they’re good at everything together under one roof.
The protagonists, void of talent in the traditional sense, had for months hurled abuse through their online channels and the podcasts of self-styled commentators.
KSI, with his jarring cackle, is the belligerent bully in this alternative media universe. Logan, the blonde American whose CV includes disrespecting a corpse, terrorising the Japanese and telling Santa Claus to F-off, unashamedly struts his stuff. See " target="_blank">some of his worst moments here.
Each of these individuals reaches about double the number of Multichoice subscribers.
Their legions of fans – average age around 12 years old – high on machismo and sugar, are easily influenced by the influencers.
They’ve developed a narrative akin to 1990s WWE wrestling – the difference is that this is staged by uber-privileged, real-life personas with a worryingly believable lack of morals.
Viewers had to pay $10 to watch the match, which isn't now available on YouTube in South Africa but here's Logan's reaction after the match:
Reaction videos and spin-offs
Ringside, South Africa’s most successful YouTuber, Caspar Lee, is worlds away from Knysna, the Garden Route town he hails from. With nearly 8 million subscribers, he’s now as famous as the YouTube in-crowd he calls friends; all of them trickle-down beneficiaries of this spectacle that metastasises to reaction videos and interviews resembling an amateurish E! True Hollywood Story.
Without rising from their rotating gaming chairs, even the fringe critics can mock and make money from the demigods at the centre.
Does money speak louder than morals?
Thanks to the suicide-forest incident in January, Logan’s popularity has exploded this year and his brand is raking in millions. Now masquerading as a professional boxer, Logan is living proof that when it comes to making it on YouTube, the consequences-based fallout of a social media faux pas does not apply.
Welcome to the new mixed reality where boring old morals don’t get in the way of fools and their money.
For the most part, the adults at YouTube remain silent on the rampant moral issues which plague their community. From time to time they feebly demonstrate authority by demonetising an offending user or serving a temporary suspension on their most popular cash cows; light touch punishment that resembles a doting parent who believes their brat can do no wrong.
Evidently the ad revenue generated from exposing millions of youngsters to large scale bad ideas is far too tempting.
You would think the wider YouTuber community and its influential “good guy” creators would self-regulate by affecting the young'uns positively. But even the wholesome, kale-swilling creators are not opposed to releasing a Logan or KSI-titled video much to the chagrin of their older, self-aware viewers. Insofar as the infinite curve of followers steepens, this pursuit of views, subscribers and ad revenue will continue to run rabid.
But at what cost?
The craving for controversy and confrontation has reached a scary point – self-governed by men-children yet to grow out of their KSI and Logan phase, it’s a world that is getting harder to watch.
I am surprised there isn’t more push back against the glaring ethical problems of a culture that glorifies and rewards schoolyard nastiness to the devilish degree we see today.
Has the line between reality and fantasy disappeared? Will it continue to be a numbers game in which the ad dollars favour the bad guys?
And if so, will the lack of moral storytelling in the content of current online leaders get worse?
Until the next “fight” …
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