Wednesday, January 12, 2005



New York's Westchester County has (stupidly) enlisted Spider-Man in its effort to prevent its youngsters from "cyberbullying."

Cyberbullying is the practice of doing all the crappy things kids have always done, except posting it on the Internet. Heck, Blogger, which is how I post this, is probably hosting several of these wonderful examples of youthful exuberance right now.

The article I read at CBS used examples such as sites where the school's fattest girls were discussed, or showed videos of high school sexual encounters, or posted discussions of what a girl's sexual preferences might be.

Westchester County District Attorney Jeannine Pirro said these were all beyond the scope of prosecution, because, though disgusting, they were exercises in the First Amendment rights of the individuals.

Granted, Pirro has way more legal experience than I do -- a high school class in Constitutional Law and a college class in Commercial Law -- but, despite the best efforts of Reagan and Bush appointees to the Supreme Court, I believe there still is Constitutional case law that is presumed to give us privacy. This would include, I would think, discussions in a public forum about the sexual preferences of high school girls. Of course, Bush 2.2 will probably completely destroy the legal presumption of privacy, but that's not even the real issue here. For instance, while you can hide whether or not a girl will go to third base, you cannot hide whether she's a size 24.

And Westchester County is right to try to teach kids not to be cyberbullies, in the same way it's right to help the elderly cross the street. Society just won't buy it. Picking on people is not only Constitutionally protected, but it's institutionalized even among those who claim to be good people. Heck, count me first among those people, at least when I'm discussing the current occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

But think about it. Every night, Jay Leno and David Letterman (and a slew of other, cruder, less-watched monologists) rip into public figures. And while I may think making fun of the president for his SAT score is legitimate, I find myself irritated when other public figures are picked upon for their relative unattractiveness or their girth. To some degree, when ethnic jokes stopped being okay, it made it more okay to make fun of fat chicks. And, of course, while you can't make fun of Italian-Americans or African-Americans, you can make fun of people from New Jersey or Arkansas. David Letterman is still telling Monica Lewinsky jokes. Jay Leno became the king of late night when he would tell OJ Simpson jokes when Letterman was conscientiously avoiding them. It proves that it's easy to get dragged into the gutter, too: Because Leno passed Letterman, Letterman felt compelled to start telling Simpson jokes. Because, you know, murder is funny.

Don't get me wrong. Political correctness can be just as bad, especially when it's fascistically applied, as so often happens. But I think it would be a good idea if we all looked at bullying in our society. Bullies are people who believe that because they're stronger, they should get what they want. In elementary school, it may just be lunch money. In high school, it may be date rape. In the real world, it might be imperialism, or slavery, or a protection racket. Heck, in the United States, we all own property because land was bullied away from its original inhabitants. The kings and queens of Europe own what they own because their ancestors bullied it from someone else. The common people of Europe don't own any of that because their ancestors had what they had bullied away. What I'm saying is that, at every level of our lives, we know how people use an advantage to immorally gain something from a weaker person. We've even institutionalized that into our economic system.

So, if our kids see all these behaviors and decide it's okay to pick on some skinny geek or rich fat kid, what's out there to prevent it?

Discussions like these remind me of Columbine High School. It's easy to say that those two boys shouldn't have gone into school and killed students and teachers. But they had been bullied to a breaking point. Yes, like Ron Artest, they should have been able to withstand what had been tossed their way. And, like Ron Artest, they are guilty of what they did. But if the Columbine High School jocks had not been such jerks, perhaps those two boys would not have felt the need to bring weapons into school.

Meanwhile, the only thing you can control in the world is you. So next time you're driving and force a car going too slow out of your lane, remember that you're part of the problem. The next time you yell at a customer service representative to get something from a service provider, remember that you're part of the problem. And the next time you use an election to impose your will on people who don't think like you do -- well, then you're part of the problem, too.

1 comment:

Jim Chadwick said...

All of which is why I never agree with my libertarian friends who dismiss the inequities of capitalism as the necessary price of a free market economy. There is no free market economy; it is run by financial bullies who have used the advantages of connections, smarts, street saavy, and/or the benefits of a subsidized education to flex their muscles over the incompetent, the non-aggressive, and the unlucky.

I agree with many, many of your arguements, Mike. I'm sick of insult comedy as the predominant humor of our culture. And I'm a guy who used to enjoy it. But there's just way too much smugness nowadays. Plus, it's cheap and easy. I feel sorry for Monica Lewinsky having to hear the endless fat jokes. And while there are many legitimate reasons to dislike Michael Moore, I am always amazed on how quickly people resort to using insults about his weight as a way of supposedly undermining his viewpoints. What does one have to do with the other?

But Columbine is a bad example to use for the case against bullying. In the beginning, I understood, having been a bit of a high school misfit myself and knowing what a deadly combination ridicule and rampant testosterone can be. But I've read enough to have the opinion that there was much more behind Harris and Klebold than a couple of misfits dealing with the pain of rejection. Harris, in fact, was probably a psychopath, and I am not using that in a merely insulting manner. He clinically may have been one. These were two guys filled with hate and and a superiority complex, and ambitions to bring pain to the world on the order of 9/11. They were ticking time bombs. Their meeting was an unfortunate moment of fate. Columbine just happened to be the place where the switch was trip.