I was intrigued by the "cheerleader beating" video professor Chun mentioned in class on Wednesday. There are many connections to new and digital media in this one short example, and it reflects on the direction our culture is heading.
Apparently the whole fight was instigated by the victim "trash talking" the other girls – there were six – on myspace. This is a reflection of Danah Boyd’s article on networked publics; the victim was enabled to speak her mind in a public forum on myspace while remaining in the safety of her own room and her relative anonymity online. However, the result goes against my own hypothesis about how these networked publics work; I thought that next to no one really read all of the stuff posted on myspace, and as it turns out, people do. And the feeling of safety is merely an illusion; although trash talking to someone's face could result in an impromptu fight, trash talking online can give people the opportunity to form a group, conspire, and attack without warning.
After the trash talking, the six girls invited the victim to one of their homes with the explicit purpose of beating the crap out of her. More importantly, they videotaped it, planning to upload it to YouTube. In a time where absurdity and illegality will draw the most hits (good, old fashioned entertainment is so passé), they were enabled by new media to spread the word of, well, their brutality and inability to take comments made over the internet with a grain of salt to people all over the world.
But what is the causality here? Are we more violent, or promiscuous, or absurd, because of new media? Or is new media just providing us with an outlet for something that’s always been there? There’s something to be said for the fact that only something ridiculous or obscene will get noticed in the plethora of crap currently on the internet, so people do have incentive to go over the top to get noticed. However, it is just untrue to say that new media is creating the violence in these girls.
We saw this argument over video games not too many years ago (and it is still going on). Are video games making our kids more violent? In my opinion, absolutely not; we’re just giving kids an outlet to express that violence. And although that’s not necessarily a good thing, we can’t blame and shun the technology itself. It’s our deprived nature that causes us to utilize technology in these ways; the technology is just a scapegoat.
A few more points of note: Glenn Beck blames fame and fortune and our "reality culture" filled with role models that break the law. Ironically, he contributes to this drive for fame, no matter what the costs, by talking on the subject for ten minutes and by having a copy of the video playing for at least five of those minutes.
In the words of some 1337 Hax0rz: The internet is serious business.