"They'll be tried as adults for kidnapping (a first degree felony) and battery," said Chip Thullbery, a spokesman for the Polk County state attorney. Three of them will also be charged with tampering with a witness. If convicted, they could be sentenced to life in prison.
This story has been all over the news for the past few days. In fact, it has been impossible to avoid. From broadcast network to local station to cable news channel, it's the video de jour. There are a few things here that interest me, several that disgust me, and some (as a parent) that make my blood boil.
That being said, I want to spend a few moments exploring the idea that art reflects our culture, the medium is the message and a new thesis: video record-keeping is neither art nor a reflection of our culture.
According to the Orlando Times-Sentinel, Mulberry High School student Victoria "Tori" Lindsay was beaten unconscious by April Cooper (14), who punched her in the face and slammed her head against the wall until Tori fell unconscious. After waking up, Victoria found herself on the living room couch surrounded by a group of girls who resumed the beating. Victoria suffered bruises, a concussion and damage to her left ear and eye. She is expected to recover. Her MySpace page reads, "Victoria is just fine."
The girls said the beating occurred because "Tori" had been trash talking on her MySpace page. The video was a chance for the girls to retaliate and humiliate in a public forum. It ends with one of the girls saying, "There's only 17 seconds left. Make it good." Of course, the video never made it to MySpace or YouTube until Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd made a portion of it available to the press. The clip that has been seen around the country is only 1 of 5.
In a press conference, Sheriff Judd said the girls showed no remorse. "When they were in a holding cell, they were all laughing …" One of the teens arrested asked, "Does this mean I'm going to miss cheerleading practice tomorrow?" Others laughed and were quoted saying, "It looks like we won't be going to the beach this weekend."
If you dig deep enough into the facts of this incident, you will be amazed at just how damaged these kids and their parents are.
One question that comes to mind is, "How is it that none of these kids knew they were crossing a line that would quite likely have more tragic consequences for the attackers than for the victim?" Are these kids so desensitized to reality that they actually didn't know what they were doing was not only wrong but punishable by serious jail time? Or, are they just criminals?
The family, whom Victoria was not living with at the time of the beating, would like a public apology from the girl. They also want a law to protect kids on video and social-networking Web sites. In a press conference, Tori's father, Patrick Lindsay said, "It all goes back to the hot topic, which is the Internet. What the Internet is doing to our kids. What society is doing to our kids and the desensitization of our kids. I'm very upset with these Internet companies. As far as I'm concerned, MySpace is the anti-Christ for children. I'm not gonna stop here. I'm going to carry this as far as I can."
Excuse me, Mr. Lindsay … is it possible that your estranged daughter, against whom your wife has a restraining order and who you do not parent, nor live with, might have some problems that don't have anything to do with social networks? Is it possible that the eight teenagers who kidnapped and beat her suffer from similar lack of parenting, upbringing, education and suitable supervision?
Let's move on.
The kids never got to post the stuff online. However, as soon as the Sheriff released the video, lots of people posted it. How insane is the online culture? On break.com the page has five Diggs and an advertisement for Verizon.
And just to drive you totally crazy, the video had several overlay ads as seen below. Ahh … let's interrupt watching this nice little girl get beaten to a pulp and order some communications services from Verizon. Or, perhaps we should click on the overlay and find out if we should make an alternative energy growth investment. If this weren't so distasteful, it would actually be funny.
By the way, this video was posted by user EddieAdams in the "Funny" category and already has 666,233 hits and 1,273 comments.
At the end of the day, the online publishers are only a little worse than the traditional media outlets. All of the shows carrying this news are ad-supported.
Is the Internet to blame? Are the social networks? How about our "fame" oriented society, or the value chain that makes advertising against this kind of content profitable, even sought after? Were the kids trying to trade in the currency of "street cred?" Or, were they just a bunch of damaged kids committing a criminal act? Certainly, this video is not art. I'm pretty certain it does not accurately reflect our culture or our society. Selling advertising against the idea that it does (as the news networks are) is at least as distasteful as anything the "Internet" did when it monetized a technology whereby "EddieAdams" could post a beating as "funny" and get over half a million people to agree or disagree. But if the clip is not an accurate reflection of our society, it is at least an absolutely accurate record of the tragic events of that day. Smart, stupid, disgusting, maddening, unfortunate, tragic, compelling, newsworthy -- you choose the words. The outcome will be the same.
Shelly Palmer is Managing Director of Advanced Media Ventures Group LLC and the author of Television Disrupted: The Transition from Network to Networked TV (2006, Focal Press). Shelly is also President of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, NY (the organization that bestows the coveted Emmy® Awards). He is the Vice-Chairman of the National Academy of Media Arts & Sciences an organization dedicated to education and leadership in the areas of technology, media and entertainment. Palmer also oversees the Advanced Media Technology Emmy® Awards which honors outstanding achievements in the science and technology of advanced media. You can read Shelly’s blog here. Shelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org