Jake Paul’s Merchandise-Plugging Factory:
A Critical Theory Analysis of the Nature of the Culture Industry Within the Realm of Social Media
Jake Paul is a 21-year-old media mogul that has a hold over vast audiences in online, on television, and within the realm of music.
He shot to fame on the popular micro-media app Vine in 2013 before it was inevitably discontinued (Rosenberg 2018). By producing copious content across multiple different media outlets including Youtube, Instagram, and Twitter, Jake Paul acts as a wealthy, spontaneous, and likable social media “super peer” for his young audience following. Mass media steps in as an influential figure for many young people that provides an never-ending information source that depicts a world in which there seems as though there are no consequences to reckless stunts or promotions (Brown et al 2005). Jake Paul is widely recognized for selling his personal brand as merchandise, coercing kids into financial engagement with his brand in order to feel a sense of community.
The senseless coercion young people fall into at the hands of this Youtuber is comparable to those of which The Frankfurt school members, Horkheimer and Adorno observed within Nazi propaganda. (Horkheimer and Adorno 1979). In the Dialect of Enlightenment Adorno and Horkheimer created and used the term “culture industry” to separate artifacts of culture by two features: their homogeneity and predictability (Horkheimer and Adorno 1979). Youtube has become a platform for a multimedia merchandise-plugging factory. Using repetitive content that falls in line with the wealthy, reckless lifestyle depicted throughout his media channels. Jake Paul publicizes new video content, merchandise, music, and more every single day. The content follows the same standards and is reproduced with different titles, thus falling within the realm of Adorno and Horkheimer’s “culture industry”. Jake Paul’s social media presence promotes capitalist ideologies and play into the “culture industry” by creating a successful money-making model to coerce young children to conform and obey within his discourses. According to the Frankfurt school, the function of the culture industry is to organize leisure time and make it as productive as work time has been organized through processes of industrialization (Adorno and Horkehimer 1979). Jake Paul’s media outlets call the attention of consumers at all times of day, thus organizing leisure time and turning profit from their engagement through live streams, live shows, weekly web series, and outrageous calls to action.
Jake Paul relentlessly promotes his product merchandising throughout all of his creative outlets; promoting ideologies and a sense of belonging through articles of branded clothing. His marketing scheme can be compared to that of popular women’s loungewear brand, Victoria’s Secret Pink. Victoria’s Secret Pink uses the allure of the “cool college girl” as an influence for young adolescents.
They sell the lifestyle through social media and promotional video and images. As Victoria’s Secret’s Chief Financial Officer stated in a conference
"When somebody's 15 or 16 years old, what do they want to be?" They want to be older, and they want to be cool like the girl in college, and that's part of the magic of what we do at Pink."
Jake Paul mirrors these behaviours by promoting a lifestyle like his own, that can seemingly only be achieved through financial engagement with his brand. He targets younger children that look up to his outrageous overzealous lifestyle and uses the allure of choice throughout his various clothing designs. These marketing tactics are predatory and seem to fall out of reach of legal advertising regulation.
Canadian legislation states that Advertising that is directed to children
“must not exploit their credulity, lack of experience or their sense of loyalty, and must not present information or illustrations that might result in their physical, emotional or moral harm.”
a\Unlike on traditional TV, where the FCC limits the amount of advertising children under the age of 12— YouTube has no such rules, leaving the content creators with the autonomy to push advertisement endeavours directly to young audiences. (Stokel-Walker 2018). Jake Paul’s content seems to directly contradict these standards by encouraging children to join his “army” by investing financially into it through the purchase of merchandise, thus teaching obedience and conformity; the worship of an online persona.
In a study conducted by the New York magazine, Jake Paul promotes his viewers to purchase his merchandise an average of once every 142 seconds (Stokel-Walker 2018). Purchasing Youtuber merchandise has never been so simple, the location is outlined throughout all social media outlets, and allows for eager audiences to place orders immediately without the need for brick and mortar shops. Young audiences can make purchases straight from the platforms in which the media mogul posts his content on. With only three clicks on Jake Paul’s Instagram page, an order can be placed for one of his infamous branded hoodies (Burke 2018).
This is exploitative to the children in which he promotes to. It targets shopping experiences personally, attaching an emotional value to them that directly connects back to the producer of content; giving the illusion to children that they will be of more value to their heroes.
After fleeing the propaganda of Nazi Germany, the members of the Frankfurt school recognized the similarities between political propaganda and commercial coaxing of America; which can be paralleled to that of Jake Paul( Illing 2017). Through the discourses of the Frankfurt school, the coercive advertisements that Jake Paul executes and produces blur the distinction between the commercial and the political as well as what is a social engagement and what is strictly economical.
Jake Paul releases music as well: two songs in which were listed as part of Billboard’s top 100 (Billboard 2017). As noted by Adorno in On Popular Music, popular music is most fundamentally interested in its economic standing, despite its social circulation (Adorno 2009). Within one of Jake Paul’s Christmas songs, he pushes the notion of purchasing his merchandise, and even spells out the URL within the song (Paul 2017). His music promotes the essence of being unique, although, according to Adorno,
“popular music is standardized even where the attempt is made to circumvent standardization.”
Within each upload on the marketing juggernaut’s social media, there are countless advertisements to whether directly or indirectly encouraging young viewers to purchase Jake Paul branded merchandise. Marketing to children is predatory and exploitative by utilizing the emotional investment viewers put in when consuming the daily personal content Jake Paul produces. Youtuber merchandise symbolizes a sense of community and even a direct relationship to the creator especially when viewers are so young. The former Disney star and current social Media influencer holds domination over his subscribers. Popular culture and social media take control of the public’s leisure time and develop free labour from their data and direct profit from product sales.
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