Saturday, October 2, 2010

Scapegoats and Double Standards in the Rutgers Scandal

The suicide of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi is the Internet hot topic du jour, and why shouldn't it be? This is human interest red meat at its rawest and bloodiest. We love a good victim almost as much as we enjoy a good scapegoat to rail against, and this story has both.

Having been in a somewhat similar position as Dharun Ravi -- cast as the undoubtedly guilty and depraved villain of a college campus incident -- I find myself compelled to empathize with the antagonist in this story. That is not to say I sympathize with him or feel any personal affinity towards him. He was an unbelievable douchebag. But he is in all likelihood not a sociopath or a monster. There is no doubt in my mind that he did not want his roommate's blood on his hands. (That BBC article quotes a friend of his saying that Ravi liked Clementi.) Ravi is a dick who played an awful prank that had horrible unforeseen consequences.

Think back to how you behaved between the ages of thirteen and nineteen. How many of us can honestly admit to never once playing a cruel trick on somebody? Can you look me in the face and say you have never once in your life started or helped to spread a nasty rumor about somebody? Tell me there has never been an instance where you said something nasty about somebody behind their back or deliberately embarrassed somebody in public. Tell me you have never once in your entire life called somebody a name or callously shunned somebody you did not particularly care for.

You are either a saint or a liar.

All of us have acted in the same spirit as Dharun Ravi at least once as teenagers and adolescents. We have all mistreated people who did not necessarily deserve it. The only difference is that the recipients of our bullshit did not take it personally enough to kill themselves.

Dharun Ravi is being charged on two counts of invasion of privacy. Good; he deserves it. He will probably be expelled from Rutgers. Great. Throw him out. What a dick.

We really should just leave it at that.

Imagine that the last person towards whom you did something deliberately nasty -- and it is very likely that you have done something deliberately nasty at least once -- killed themselves afterwards. Imaging not only having to live the rest of your life knowing that you indirectly killed a human being, but getting to log onto Facebook to kill time while you await your trial and see ten thousand people screaming for your blood.

The thousands of retweeters and Likes this folks' lack of self-awareness is stunning. I wonder how many of the "Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei are Sick Fucks" subscribers routinely browse YouTube, watch videos of people unwittingly embarrassing themselves, and post them on Facebook and Twitter for their friends to enjoy? A third? Half? More than half?
Citizens of the wired world love watching people humiliating themselves. We have an insatiable appetite for gossip, scandals, and scenes (as this whole unfortunate episode illustrates). Am I off the mark in thinking it hypocritical that thousands of the same people who sat around the PC with their friends and shared a laugh at the Star Wars Kid's expense are now pointing a sanctimonious finger at Ravi for trying to give the public what it wants?


  1. I find myself agreeing with you. I have no doubt that the students who pulled this prank meant it only as that: a prank. The unfortunate thing is that if the poor student they pulled this on had been sleeping with a woman at the most he would have been embarrassed but he likely would have enjoyed the stud reputation he no doubt would have gotten from it. Society continues to move at a snail's pace.

    I don't think it's possible to prove that there was malicious intent behind it, but even so there's still the elephant the room that no one is allowed to talk about and that suicide is ultimately a personal choice. And even with all the injustice a person may suffer it was still their choice to act as they did.

    So yes, bust the perpetrators for invasion of privacy. Expel them from school. Make an example of them and how it's not ok to treat people like that. But manslaughter, involuntary or explicit? I'm sorry. They were not the ones who ended that poor student's life. Sad is it is that was his own decision and most are not comfortable accepting what that really means.

  2. Suicides happen all the time, every day. Men kill themselves at a rate four times faster than that of women. Suicide rates among our Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen are sky rocketing. But we get up in arms about a gay kid killing himself because, frankly, he was gay.

    This would not have been news if it were a heterosexual man who killed himself after being embarrassed that his sexual escapades ended up on the 'net. But here in 'murica, we have a fetish for the victim mentality, and OF COURSE gays are oppressed victims, so there you go. News.

  3. "Had he been in bed with a woman, this would not have happened," said Lauren Felton, 21, a Rutgers student. "He wouldn't have been outed via an online broadcast, and his privacy would have been respected and he might still have his life."

    Why? How do you know he wasn't just giggling about filming his roommate having sex? The article and this person make this sound like a statement of fact, but it isn't. It's a possibility.

  4. In response to the above comments:
    Still, you can't possibly deny the amount of shame associated with homosexuality in America. The way we (as a whole) treat homosexuals is, more often than not, like shit. There is a nation-wide stigma towards being homosexual, regardless of progressive advancements. Yes, it's irritating to have the mass media shove it in our faces, but there's still several elements of truth that can't be denied.