Recently a video went viral on the internet of a father who had found a Facebook post of his teen daughter complaining about the work that was expected of her around the house. The post was quite the screed and was filled with expletives and insulting language and sentiments toward her parents, so it’s understandable why her father would be hurt on one level. The degree of anger displayed however, is not quite so understandable (something I will address briefly later). In order to teach his daughter a lesson, he recorded himself reading her post and then emptying the clip of his pistol into her laptop, after which he posted the video for the world to see.
In a series of conversations in the first few days after the video went viral, in particular, with @aehowardwrites and @AdamWaltenbaugh, several primary issues seemed to be raised by the response.
First, as Anna, Adam, and at least two parishioners at @StJoeshville pointed out, the response itself was a bit like a tantrum in that it does not so much challenge the childish behavior of the daughter–which was mostly on display in the fact that she posted her comments online, not that she said or thought them–as it reinforces it and wraps it in a shell of veiled violence. “Remember” the video says “who has the power here,” and power is displayed and reinforced with an instrument of violence in a violent act. As Adam reminded me from his work with abusers, physical displays such as throwing an item–not necessarily at a person, just in their presence–is a sort of violent display that moves toward intimidation of the other party. I suppose one might trace it to such primal urges as beating one’s chest and screaming incoherently. The root of the display is the same.
So, there is a subtext of violence, not, I think, conscious, but rather cultural and contextual. The other deeper issue is that it demonstrates a degree of anger and retaliation that is inappropriate for an adult who is actually secure in themselves and their authority. It is a demonstration, I believe, of a phenomenon described by Rowan Williams in his book entitled Lost Icons: Reflections on Cultural Bereavement, in which he describes how our society fosters the creation of sexualized children (actually, also appropriately termed consumerized or choice-laden children) who come to be seen as competitors by the childish adults which our society also produces, who never learn to distinguish between the needs and desires of a child and those of an adult. Because there is no understanding of the difference, a child or adolescent comes to be seen as competitors and are responded to as such, with anger, as a threat. So, this is where this video is an illustration of an inappropriate level of anger inspired in a person with power by the transgressiveness of a person without. But because neither their individuality or their relative powerlessness is recognized, but only “threat,” the response is anger (an even more extreme example of this is that of the Texas Judge who’s mistreatment of his daughter was caught on tape by her and revealed a decade later as he prepared for another run at his judgeship).
But what about the post from the girl that started all of this? The post demonstrated that the father reacted to the wrong thing. The problem was not the content of what the girl wrote, but that she posted it online. She was probably upset that her father was able to read the post which she had hidden from him, but if she was, she shouldn’t have been because any expectation of privacy she had was a false expectation–not because it is wrong to want privacy, but because it is a misunderstanding of the nature of the internet to expect it. This is the lesson parents and other adults ought to be teaching youth, not that you can’t say things that others shouldn’t hear (there are things that none of us should ever know or even desire to know that acquaintances, friends and loved ones have said or thought about us at times), but that whatever you put on the internet stays on the internet–and I don’t mean like what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Rather than challenging the most troubling aspect of his daughter’s actions, the father simply reinforced the worst aspect of the exhibitionism and, as was pointed out in this editorial in the LA Times, harmed himself much more than his daughter, and unwittingly testifying to the end of shame.
But there’s more here. One of the reasons this sort of online mind-dumping is a bad idea is not because what was said was all that bad. I know some people are or would be horrified by some of the things that teens say.. and their memories must be clouded, because I’ve yet to see anything in the Facebook posts of teens from the congregations I serve, or teenage relatives with whom I’m Facebook friends (always taking care which posts I comment on, as I try to be an adult who respects their boundaries but who is still available to bounce thoughts off of etc…) that was all that bad in comparison to the things I and my friends said and did at that point in our lives. The great distinction however, is that aside from the ever more foggy memories of my cohort, there is no record of what we said, did or observed. Today though, teens lives (and everyone else’s for that matter) are being preserved in the amber of the internet and the Facebook timeline. There is within this world where nothing is ever forgotten–even the mundane details of what one ate for lunch on March 25, 2005–a transition from grace to law and from forgiveness to judgement.
All of us, after all, have examples of comments or moments–fragments–of our lives that we made or pursued in anger or out of spite. We are, I’d venture to say, thankful that so many have been forgotten, allowing us to move on into the future. Teenage angst is not a crime or a surprise, nor is the fact that we will also make mistakes as adults. There are then, many events or segments of our lives that we would desire nothing so much as for them to be forgotten.
In one of his essays on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Stanley Hauerwas cites a letter Bonhoeffer wrote that addresses this idea quite well. Bonhoeffer writes: “The important thing today is that we should be able to discern from the fragments of our life how the whole was arraigned and performed, and what material it consists of. For really, there are some fragments that are only worth throwing into the dustbin (even a decent “Hell” is too good for them)… (Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence, p. 36).
So the real tragedy in all of this is that our technology makes it possible for the past to always be present and fresh, that it makes forgetting and shame ever more impossible and shifts forgiveness toward the improbable as every mistake hangs stagnant in the air and every wound remains as fresh as the day we received it.