With the latest youtubized capture of street violence in the form of the beating death of Derrion Albert comes another round of usual blog reactions including grief, confusion, shock, sadness, dismay, anger, frustration. Blame is cast on the usual suspects: the media, rap music, parents generally, mothers (teen mothers, non-wed mothers, baby-mamas) specifically, fathers (teen fathers, absent fathers, irresponsible fathers) specifically, poverty, inadequate education, racism, neglect by the Black middle class, self-hate, gangs, culture of anti-intellectualism, the prison industrial complex, American acceptance and glorification of violence, testosterone, mental illness, and whatever I forgot to add to the list.
But the more crucial question for me is: What role do we, as bloggers, have to play in this? And I am particularly interested in whether or not bloggers have been making a conscious decision to embed or not embed the video of this crime on their blogs.
I have argued in comment sections elsewhere that I think we mainly embed videos (any videos) on our blogs because we are technically capable of embedding videos on our blogs. Perhaps in addition we feel it adds interest to the look of our sites, or adds variety to our content. Most of the time when I see embedded video clips on blogs, I see the same clip on lots and lots and lots of blogs. So the issue is not that we think folks will not be able to see the video elsewhere. We could choose to just provide a YouTube or other URL, or to just mention details of the clip and have our readers search for a viewable clip elsewhere.
Chances are, for the vast majority of buzzed-up videos, there are many opportunities for everyone with an Internet connection to find and watch the video.
The President, it turns out, has watched the captured beating of Derrion Albert. Here the argument is made that everyone should watch Derrion Albert lose his life—that it is “must-see TV”:
Back in the 1960s, we only needed to see footage of black protesters being beaten, hosed down and attacked by police dogs once to understand how bad racism was down South.
Back in 1992, we only needed to see the video of Rodney King getting beaten by members of the Los Angeles Police Department once to understand the boys in blue aren’t always on the right side of the law, even if a judge says otherwise.
Now, in 2009, many of us need to see the video of 16-year-old Derrion Albert being beat to death at least once to understand it’s no longer just the police and white people of whom we need to be afraid. It’s also each other.
Sorry. I do not buy that.
I think the circumstances for that kind of visual evidence today is a lot different than it was in days past. The medium is no longer new, and we are too sophisticated about special effects and other ways to make moving pictures show something that wasn’t there to be convinced of anything by video images alone. And to use Rodney King as an example? Do we not recall how that video was taken apart—frame by frame—in the courtroom, and what the jury’s verdict was? Were there really people anywhere who, before the beating of this young man in Chicago, thought that it was just police killing Us?
…So back to the bloggers.
My fear—perhaps eventually it will be an opinion, but I am not to that point yet—is that the airing such viral videos of violence mostly contributes to an air of titilation, an atmosphere of voyeurism. I fear our blogs may become places where readers can take a peek at the horror, and then make the appropriate comments of shock, sadness, dismay, anger, frustration, blame: a kind of virtual highway rubbernecking. I fear that—in a culture in which the criminals of heinous crimes have their names remembered (Bundy, Manson, Dahmer, Gacy) but their victims are nameless—such people captured on phone cams killing other people will see themselves more as 15-minute reality super stars instead of perps caught in the act.
I talked a little here about my initial decision to not post videos when I began this blog:
I also decided that I would give my new space a kind of stripped-down, minimalist feel. Embedded videos are everywhere on the ‘Net, and on my previous blog I greatly enjoyed posting them. But I decided against posting them here. Thus, for example, when I participate in Old School Fridays I post links to audio instead of embedding video.
So the core of my first decision was more aesthetic, an attempt to try something new…to go retro in a way. Now I am thinking about whether or not my decision to go clipless should also be guided from an ethical standpoint. I am trying to be more intentional about the decisions I make as a blogger. I do not have one of the big blogs, and I am not a traditional journalist, but I do still think it is crucial for me to develop a code of “paraprofessional ethics” when it comes to what type of blog I put out into the cyber-universe.
And I am just not sure I want to be one of the sites that hosted viewings of the death of human being.