Monday, October 04, 2010

The Logical Conclusion

Based on what little I saw of the news last week, I didn't miss much in the States. Some weather issues, a few stories about Teabaggers, and of course, Rick Sanchez calling Jon Stewart a "bigot" for surrounding himself with blacks, Muslims and women.
Go fig. There were plenty more and better reasons to fire that tub of goo than the Stewart comment. But I digress...
The story, the tragedy really, that did catch my eye was the woeful drama of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who threw himself off the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey after two fellow students webcast his sexual encounter with another man.
That Rutgers obtained the immediate cooperation of their football team to hold a moment of silence for Clementi before Saturday's game speaks well of both the u niversity administration and the football coach. Kudos, before I get into my point.
Much has been made of the homosexual aspect of this crime, labelling it a hate crime. I do not know enough about the two students charged with invading Clementi's privacy to make a judgement about that, but my suspicion is they would have webcast his encounter even if it had been heterosexual. 
And now, to my point: would this webcast had been made if we as a society hadn't created an environment of gratification thru humiliation? If we hadn't had marketed to us "illicit sex tapes" of Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton or Britney Spears? If we didn't have paparazzi around to events and places specifically to take compromising photographs of stars and starlets? 
All because we as a society have a near-insatiable need to see tits, ass, and cocks?
In a society where Perez Hilton can be a celebrity because he's willing to embarrass someone else for the sake of a buck (and merely by coincidence, prove a larger moral point), isn't it a logical outcome that suddenly, everyone would want to make easy money by embarraassing their friends, acquaintances, and colleagues?
The expectation of privacy in society has become more and more narrow. The ready availability of information has given all of us the illusion of power and control over someone else, with the threaten of exposure and embarrassment held over our heads like the Sword of Damocles. It works for the good with people who are pursuing publicity, like a Carrie Prejean or a Christine O'Donnell, or yes, a Barack Obama or John Edwards. These are people who can rightly assume that everything they've ever said or done has been catalogued in the vast domain of the Internet and will come back to haunt them.
But for someone like Clementi, or you or I, someone who just wants to live out life in the relative obscurity of 330 million Americans and 6 billion citizens of the planet, this shredding of boundaries works for evil.
The two children who effectively killed Clementi will have their own accounts to settle in the world. I don't anticipate a happy life for either of them, having done this to a fellow human being. They are old enough to know better to be sure, but even if they weren't they would still be held accountable. And it speaks to the stunning change in technology that their parents could not have taught them better than this. How could they have known?
Moreover, how does a parent make a case for privacy when all around us are magazines and TV shows and websites that show that privacy in the face of a fast buck is quaint?
There is, however, a lesson for all of us in this tragedy. If we can learn it, if we can help stop the next tragedy from happening, then Clementi's death will have garnered some meaning.