The recent video of the University of Oklahoma fraternity members is nothing short of appalling. The racist song in which they sang is no doubt abhorrent, and there is much warranted legal, policy, and social debate ensuing about the matter.
Out of these imperative discussions, however, one additional facet of this repugnant incident strikes me. Particularly, the way in which these students and this song became national news--someone simply recorded a video on, what appears to be, his or her cell phone.
This is certainly not the first time in which a cell phone video has sparked nationwide discourse. Certainly in 2015, there is nothing especially fascinating about recording a video on a mobile phone. But when you contemplate the span of United States history, it is truly remarkable that new technology can now capture daily incidents in our society that would have traditionally been closed off to the general public. Today, anyone with a cell phone has the ability to spontaneously take a video of a social injustice and widely disperse it.
The Oklahoma fraternity incident illustrates this point. Students chanted the racist song on a bus in front of a finite group of individuals. If this had occurred before the advent of camera phones, talk of this event may have never left the vehicle. Someone on the bus may have reported the incident to a university official. However, the only undeniable documentation demonstrating the extent of the circumstances would likely be unavailable.
Even if a report of this occurrence had made the national news decades ago, it still may not have infiltrated the national audience with the same intensity as today. A video allows people across the country to experience an event firsthand. As a result, the public debate quickly skips past the who, what, where and when and, instead, hits the ground running, discussing the why and the how.
There is no doubt that media has played a critical role in political and social movements throughout the history of the United States, but the recent ability to so easily capture behavior and cement it in time is truly extraordinary. Impromptu recordings logically capture the most uncontrived conduct, allowing society to both observe and address reality. New technology is surely serving to create the most candid historical record that we have ever seen before.