Thursday, April 15, 2010

I'm so glad there was no internet when I was a kid. From an early age I have always been acutely sensitive to violations of dignity. I feel humiliations keenly and have a physical feeling of dread and revulsion when I even think back on humiliating episodes from my past.

When I was in grade one, my friends and I workshopped a class-conflict pantomime one lunchtime – it was about two dairymaids who dared to stand up to the queen and the duchess. (I think this might have been influenced by the AA Milne poem The King's Breakfast.) I was so pleased with this – there were songs and everything – that I told my beloved teacher Mrs Leith about it, and she said we ought to perform the panto for the assembled grade one students.

Of course, my stupid friends fucked it all up. They didn't sing the songs properly. They didn't do the lines properly. I looked like a total dick in front of my entire year level. You know the expression "I wished I could crawl into a hole?" Well, I was so humiliated I did the next best thing: I crawled under a desk in the corner of the classroom and sobbed, and wouldn't come out for the rest of the afternoon.

I have tears in my eyes right now as I type this, remembering the terrible conviction that I could never hold my head up among my classmates again, that this would be something they'd mock me about for years to come.

Of course, I suspect nobody remembers this humiliation as keenly as I do. I'd be surprised if my former classmates remember me at all. But imagine if this episode were available online, for billions of strangers to watch and deem 'funny' or 'cute'.

Oh god, this was terrible to watch. I used to make up all sorts of stupid dances when I was a kid, and I'm grateful they were never recorded. There is still evidence of my stupid audio recordings, which my brother miT often interrupted, but there's something profoundly undignified about video. My heart breaks for the girl in this video – because she clearly wanted to look awesome and glamorous and instead she looked like a dick.

An odder thing is that for some reason only the humiliation of children upsets me. By contrast, I never fail to laugh hysterically at this video:

We are learning over the last ten or so years that personifying a viral internet meme can be a painful experience. Mike Blount still cringes every time he hears the "Hello my future girlfriend" audio message he placed on his website in 1998, aged 11. But he's decided to be a good sport about it, and has even recorded an updated version, "Hello my future boyfriend". ("Yes, I am gay. I like the cock.")

Also, remember Ghyslain Raza, the Star Wars Kid who "had to endure, and still endures today, harassment and derision from his high-school mates and the public at large", and "will be under psychiatric care for an indefinite amount of time."

I felt heartened that the following video got lots of criticism on BuzzFeed.

Why do we belittle the emotional turmoil of children as if it's not as important as our own? I still resent the way my distress or anger was dismissed by my parents as "You're just over-tired". But it's not so much this little girl's genuine heartbreak that troubles me, but the mother's cool interrogation.

Some commenters on BuzzFeed were like, "Yeah, but she'll laugh about it when she's grown up." As someone whose childhood humiliations still rankle almost thirty years later, I can tell you that's just not true, and that comments such as "that is definitely coming out in therapy" are much more accurate.

Jesus, that poor crying girl!

I think the difference is that kids do these things because they want to be cool - role playing is often part of identity development - whereas adults post these things because they think they are cool and want the accolades they feel they deserve.

(I started laughing at the adult dancer at about 18 seconds when she is hunched on the floor - it's awesome even without the slapstick)
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