Last night I posted the video and a story about an Ohio man who punished his 10 year old daughter for bullying by making her walk to school. He followed behind her in his pick-up to make sure she was safe, but he also took video of the kid (shot from behind) and posted it to social media to shame her.
I posted something affirming what he did — the punishment, I mean. The kid had been kicked off the school bus a second time for bullying. I was bullied pretty badly as a kid, and I had an emotional reaction to this story, as I always do to bullying stories. I still think the father was right to make his bully daughter walk to school as punishment.
But in the post, I minimized the harm of him posting this to social media. I indicated that it was regrettable that he did that. Reading the comments many of you left on that post convinced me that I was wrong for a couple of reasons. First, I was wrong to minimize the horror of that father posting it to social media, and second, I was wrong to post the video here, and thereby participate in this father’s monstrous act.
You were all right, and I was wrong. I took the post down. A reader wrote to say that he doesn’t care about the forced walk to school, but that he finds the video to be obscene — like child porn, in fact — because it’s about demonstrating the power of one person over another. He said that he’s actually terrified of what that father did: normalizing surveillance and the objectification of all relationships by turning everything into “material” to feed the social media beast.
He’s right about that, and I regret that I didn’t see that clearly last night. I don’t even post images of my children to social media when they do good things, and I never would have done that. So why was I so quick to approve of that man doing it — or if not exactly approve, then fail to be more than just uncomfortable with it? Because the life I live online has gotten me accustomed to seeing people as material, and personal dramas as events.
In this case, that child could not consent to being turned into material, which is why it is especially horrible.
But what about cases in which adult people objectify themselves, and make a public drama of their own traumas, especially for political gain? Is the fact that they choose to exploit themselves, and to put their own material into the public square, sufficient to give the rest of us permission to comment on it? I think it is, in most cases.
Take, though, the case of these minor children whose parents are putting them into the public square as drag queens (e.g., Desmond Is Amazing) and transgenders (e.g., any number of sympathetic media profiles of trans children)? How should we regard them? It seems irresponsible to ignore them totally, because by publicizing them, the children’s parents are attempting to normalize what their children do. On the other hand, by commenting on it, even critically, we are participating in those parents’ exploiting their kids, are we not?
Anyway, I want to thank again you readers who helped me to see how wrong I was. I often complain in this space about people who think that some wrong done to them, or to their kind, justifies any punitive response, in the name of justice, or social justice. Well, I fell right into that same trap last night. My residual strong emotions over what bullies did to me as a kid allowed me to ignore the horror of a father humiliating his bullying child on social media. Mea maxima culpa…