Every time I turn on the television these days, I see another video of teenagers engaged in violence against one another, or I see another news story about how bullying has resulted in a child's death, or I see another viral video where some unsuspecting dupe has been caught on video in a horribly compromising position. It seems that our airwaves are being flooded with media that glorifies someone's malicious desire to harm another human being. My question is, when did it become acceptable to humiliate and hurt our fellow man without a thought for the consequences?
Just a few days ago, I was strolling the Internet, looking for interesting articles to read as I often do, and I came across an all-too-familiar sight. It was a video that depicted two teenage boys fighting. These videos are a dime a dozen, but what set this one apart was the fact that the father of one of the young men was present at the dust-up, and this parent was instigating and exacerbating the horrible behavior unfolding before his eyes. The 16-year-old boy's father was, in essence, calling shots for his son during the fight. Fortunately, once the video went viral, the parent was charged with several crimes, including child abuse. As I see it, though, charging this man with a crime is only mitigating the symptom, not the cause. After all, we are all responsible for creating the society that rewards this type of behavior and we all consume media that may be of questionable origin.
Of course, we all publicly disapprove of violence, debauchery and humiliating others, but privately, many of us find this type of media stimulating and help perpetuate its popularity. In fact, many of us who have witnessed these types of events in person do little to stop them from occurring, and some of us even take an active role in instigating the fracas. Who doesn't want to be the author of the next video that goes viral, right? It could end up on any number of TV shows and news segments and help bring about the 15 minutes of "world fame" that Andy Warhol spoke of almost half a century ago. If he only knew how prophetic his statement was. With the advent of YouTube, there are millions of us who now have an utterly useless claim to fame that began with the click of a play button. Despite its uselessness, though, many of us fight for it. Of course, some of these individuals do not ask for their fame, and the consequences of unwanted Internet scrutiny can range from annoying to deadly.
Many of us have heard about Tyler Clementi. Tyler jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after a sexual encounter he had with another male student was recorded by his roommate and disseminated on the Internet. Any of us would be embarrassed to have our sexual escapades broadcast to millions of our peers, but imagine how much worse it would be if you were a gay teen and had not yet revealed to the world that you were a homosexual. Tyler was thrust into the spotlight, the world instantly knew his deepest secret. This proved too hard a burden for a young man who was just beginning to discover his own sexuality, and the grief, shock and utter humiliation he felt led him to believe that his only recourse was death at his own hands. The two students who were responsible for filming Tyler and then posting it on the college network were both charged with crimes, but only one of the students ended up being indicted. While I am relieved that the state saw fit to charge Tyler's roommate with a serious crime, there is a larger issue to be considered: why this person felt it was acceptable to commit this heinous invasion of privacy.
Another case that comes to mind is the suicide of Megan Meier. Megan committed suicide by hanging herself after a supposed Internet friend turned vicious and began to insult and harass her online. Weeks after her death, police determined that it was not a fellow student who made Megan's life a living hell, but the adult mother of a local girl. A mother who had a daughter of her own not only thought it acceptable to harass a child, but reveled in Megan's torture. While the suicide of a fragile teenager and the loss of another teen's mother to prison is a tragedy in itself, there is a much larger picture to consider. Yet again, an individual who normally should have had compassion for their target displayed a total lack of a moral compass when it came time to make the right decision.
Why do incidents like the ones I mentioned above happen with more and more frequency each passing year? Why are people so quick to use their cell phone cameras to shoot video that completely humiliates another human being, and then post that video for all to see? Why do teenagers and adults now resort to violence without even considering other options? Well, I attribute this degradation of society's moral fabric to a phenomenon I have dubbed "Internet Carnage Desensitization."
Internet carnage desensitization is just a succinct phrase to describe the process by which we are becoming gradually less aware of the consequences of harmful actions we commit against others, as well as our decreased hesitation to commit such acts. There are many theories that claim the Internet is desensitizing us to sex and violence, but I think it goes deeper than that. When you constantly see people use cell phone cameras to catch fellow humans in compromising positions, it becomes more acceptable and less offensive, bit by bit. You may not even be consciously aware that you are growing more comfortable to it with each video or image you view. I have caught myself pulling out my phone in order to snap a picture of someone with their pants down, only to scold myself -- not only for almost taking the picture, but for wanting to humiliate someone who has done nothing to me whatsoever. Unfortunately, many of our fine citizens do not have the willpower or moral standards that I do, so we are fighting a losing battle. When you can turn on the television and see commercials that depict young girls using their cameras to catch morbidly obese men in skimpy bathing suits, you know it has become part of popular culture.
Well, I am declaring an emergency. We need to stop this behavior and turn the tide before we are unable to regain control of this runaway train. When our parents grew up, people were courteous and respectful, even to a fault. Now, courtesy and manners are the exception to the rule, and harmful voyeurism is the order of the day. It's time to put a stop to this trend before we birth a generation of peeping toms and "Best Internet Video" becomes a category at the Oscars.
Follow Daniel P. Malito on Twitter: www.twitter.com/danielpmalito