Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On Privacy and Perspective: 1

Many years ago, in a school somewhere in Canada, a dumpy-looking kid wandered into the room of the AV Club and recorded himself fooling around with a golf ball retriever, as if it were a light-saber, over the tape of a school basketball game.

A little later a classmate found the tape, showed it to a friend, and had a good laugh. There was absolutely nothing wrong with that. Had they called in a few more of their friends to have a good laugh at the tape they found, there would be nothing wrong with it. I might even stretch it so far as to say that had they called in 10,000 of their friends, one by one, to say, “Hey, get a load of this tape I found,” there would be nothing wrong with it.

But that’s not what happened.

What happened is that one of those friends digitized the tape and distributed it among the students in the school, and at that point a line was crossed. It’s one thing to laugh at someone privately among your friends. It’s something totally different to make him subject to ridicule throughout the entire school.

But wait. There’s more.

One of those students took the digitized file and uploaded it to the Internet, where, after being edited by someone else to include Star Wars type special effects, sounds, titles, and music, it became the hottest thing since the Dancing Baby.

And our dumpy-looking kid’s life was over.

Or so he thought.

He withdrew from school and his parents filed a harassment lawsuit against the families of four of the students involved with originally distributing the video. But I’m not sure this was right. Did those students mean to “ruin this kid’s life?” Were they harassing him with malice aforethought? Or were they simply being stupid teenagers, saying “Get a look at the funny tape we found?”

Was it bullying or cyber-bullying? I’m sorry, but I’m a little old-school about bullying. As one who was regularly shaken down for my lunch money, or beaten up after school just because I was the little guy, I have a hard time with how we’ve expanded the definition of bullying to include anytime that people just aren’t nice to you. That’s a slap in the face to people who’ve been…well…slapped in the face.

And what of the student? Was his life really ruined, or does there come a point where you, and your family, have to gain a bit of perspective and humor and say, “You know, this will be really funny in a few years, and I should learn to roll with it?” Are we way too thin-skinned these days?

Or as Helen Popkin of MSNBC suggested, once his moment of Internet fame arrived (which included people petitioning George Lucas to give him a part as an extra in one of the Star Wars movies), rather than running and hiding, the Star Wars Kid should’ve proudly walked through his high school halls, embracing his new-found fame, and “answering every verbal Jedi jab with a handgun finger point and a cheerful, ‘That’s me! Right back at cha! No autographs until lunch period!’”

Yes, we need to be very careful about what images we post online of other people. But we also need to gain a sense of perspective that allows us to remember that when that embarrassing video or set of pictures of us makes it to the Internet, it’s not the end of the world; we should especially remember how much we’d laugh if it were someone else we were looking at.

And take it in stride.

And if, by chance, you've been under a rock for the past 10 years, and don't know what I'm talking about, check out the original video, the edited video, and the Wikipedia article telling how many times that video has been spoofed in other places.


  1. I know this post is old but I just found it, another moral is "don't make silly recordings of yourself and leave the recording lying around in a semi-public place." Life's about making choices and living with consequences of those choices. This recording was in his control until he left it lying around in a device that did not belong to him. Now if the other kids had seen in, and dug through his backpack, and then uploaded it, I think that would be very different.