It’s easy to hate Jake Paul. No, really, it is easy. It is easier than fixing a bowl of instant soup or making your way home from your next door neighbor’s house. It is easier than beating a three-year-old at golf or the US triumphing in a war with Liechtenstein.The well-known YouTuber is immensely unlikable. His face conveys gormlessness and smugness simultaneously. His voice is off-puttingly nasal yet serenely self-assured. He is so insanely, shamelessly money-hungry that he put out a Christmas song with the refrain ‘buy that merch’. His videos appeal to an audience largely consisting of young teenagers with thumbnails of women’s backsides and titles like ‘SURPRISING Best Friend with EMILY WILLIS STRIPTEASE.’ He says COVID-19 is ‘a hoax’.Yes, Jake Paul is easy to hate. So, when the YouTuber stepped into a boxing ring to face the legendary New York Knicks point guard Nate Robinson in an exhibition bout on the undercard of the improbable Mike Tyson/Roy Jones Jr pay-per-view, millions of people were rubbing their hands at the thought of the professional idiot getting flattened by the veteran athlete.Then Paul knocked Robinson out.It was not controversial. It was not close. It was barely competitive. Paul knocked Robinson out colder than a steaming flask of liquid nitrogen.Hate him or loathe him, you cannot deny Jake Paul’s success. Somehow, he has turned his own obnoxiousness into an asset. He has monetized his unlikability. Following the logic of professional wrestling, where fans come out to see the villainous ‘heel’ wrestler get his comeuppance, he knows people will pay millions to see him defeated. To his credit, he has turned himself into a decent enough boxer that he can prolong, and profit from, their anticipation. Turning lemon juice into lemonade is hardly original, of course, but the internet made it easier. The denizens of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook et cetera feed on the adrenaline of outrage as much as on the dopamine of pleasure. Cursing the idiocies of people we might never have known existed is a morbid, impotent sport — a means of energizing ourselves amid monotony.Think of Donald Trump. Even before he was the Republican nominee, President Trump was maximizing attention by exploiting outrage — not just the outrage of Republican voters against establishment liberalism but the outrage of liberals and leftists against his colorfully crass, antagonistic utterances. Their condemnation kept him firmly in the public eye. Media figures can be representative of this trend as well. Piers Morgan, the Atlantic-hopping British loudmouth whose talents have extended from being obnoxious on America’s Got Talent to being obnoxious on his CNN talk show, has built a long, profitable career on being so abrasive that viewers will tune in with the fond hope that a guest will inflict verbal or physical vengeance on the man. The internet is full of headlines from ‘Piers Morgan destroyed by Ted Nugent’ to ‘Piers Morgan destroyed by Owen Jones’ but is he ever? No, he comes back as smug as he ever has been.The media exploits the outrage economy. Donald Trump might not have been endorsed by journalists in his initial campaign for the Republican nomination but he did gain an immense amount of coverage. The man made for thrilling copy. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, meanwhile, is as much a product of conservative outrage as progressive enthusiasm. She is mentioned on Fox News more than mothers mention their sons.Of course, in politics you want at least as many voters to like you as to hate you but being hated by ‘the other side’ can win a lot of hearts. A lot of Republicans love Donald Trump less for his own innate characteristics than the reactions he elicits. A lot of Democrats rally round AOC or Ilhan Omar less for their political vision than for the hostility that they evoke.But Mr Paul has to be careful. He knows there are some lines that cannot be crossed. He can show porn stars lap dancing in his videos for his young audience but when the Daily Beast asked him about footage in which he was caught dropping the n-word while rapping, he shut the question down with a gruff, ‘I wouldn’t like to comment on that.’ The boundaries of what can and cannot end your career are mysterious but real nonetheless.
Mr Paul also has to be aware of the boundaries of his talent. A great heel may be a cheat, or a liar, or a bully, but they have to be talented and dedicated. Otherwise, the audience’s appetite for their destruction will be sated prematurely and interest will wane. Adrien Broner was a young boxer who hoped to follow Floyd Mayweather’s path of riling up fans with his arrogance and disrespect so they would tune in to watch him get starched. While Mayweather was such a phenomenon that he could frustrate those viewers time and again, however, Broner was just good. He lost four fights in six years, going from being a villain to being something of a joke. When Paul challenges Conor McGregor, then, it is a PR masterstroke — as long as they don’t fight. Nate Robinson, for all of his athletic gifts, was a basketball player. McGregor is an elite martial artist who has held two belts in the UFC. To continue his run of success, Paul has to fight contenders who are good enough that viewers will think that they can beat him but not good enough to actually do so. Why do you think Donald Trump never seriously ran for president in 2012? He can say it was because he did not want to sacrifice his role on the Apprentice but I think it was because he knew he could not beat Obama. By 2016 he had his Nate Robinson.