Put the spotlight on more important issues and make comic relief less exploitive. Otherwise, we become easily manipulated slaves to tech publishers, unable to filter information, prioritize knowledge, and keep our eyes and fingers away from the screens.
And he drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness, and he told his two brothers outside. And Shem and Japheth took the garment, and they placed [it] on both of their shoulders, and they walked backwards, and they covered their father’s nakedness, and their faces were turned backwards, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and he knew what his small son had done to him. And he said, “Cursed be Canaan; he shall be a slave among slaves to his brethren.”
An American Airlines flight was about to depart when a woman had a mental episode. She now explains that she had an argument with a family member. Maybe she was intoxicated, who knows — it doesn’t matter to me and shouldn’t matter to my readers.
The woman was very attractive. Because she screamed something about not being safe, the airline followed the procedures and evacuated the airplane. The flight was delayed for hours. My readers probably recognize the episode I am describing. If not, I’m going to omit a certain distinguishing feature of the story that’s not that important in the grand scheme of things. Also because I find the constant references to it exploitive.
The police arrived, and their report noted that the female passenger “appeared extremely distraught, crying.” The woman was escorted to the unsecured area of the airport. That wasn’t the end of it.
Everyone has a cell phone these days, and if everyone has a cell phone, at least some of them are bound to be used compulsively. One passenger recorded the ruckus, getting a good shot of the disruptor. A celebrity named Carrot Top happened to be on the flight. I hear he’s some kind of comedian. Carrot Top was understandably upset about the delay — it’s not easy to get on the plane these days, and some strange lady caused everyone to deboard. He posted the video on social media, and it went viral.
Content creators saw what they had there and knew they could capitalize on it. Twitter — or X, as it’s now known — recently started paying users for interactions they generate on the publishing platform, so there is the obvious financial motive for large accounts to circulate a video of an unknown woman during one of her less than finest moments.
In the past, I argued that citizen journalism documenting the decrepit condition of the homeless in San Francisco is necessary because it forces viewers to confront the disturbing reality of the cities. This episode is different. At the time the video went viral, the woman represented no threat to anyone. If the footage was meant to show the sorry state of contemporary air travel, there are better ways to do it than by ogling a chick in a tight-fitting t-shirt. If the story was about drugs that can cause psychotic reaction, the public should be informed about such substances, but obviously nobody will divulge. It was pure morbid curiosity.
Memes poured in. Several hashtags were created in relation to the episode. Most of what was said about the woman wasn’t malicious, but, for all we know, she could be emotionally fragile and she became the butt of many jokes. She was an ordinary passenger on the airplane, subject to the same excruciating and dehumanizing routine as everyone else, but when she broke down, that episode was recorded and blew up on social media.
Not going to lie, I found the video funny, and the woman relatable even. It’s easy to see why she fascinated millions. But I found it disturbing that the story simply refused to die, not because powers that be were pushing it, but because the masses couldn’t have enough of it.
I blame the kind of interactive voyeurism that digital technology enables. In the 2000s or earlier, a story of a disruptive passenger related to a friend was ordinary gossip, hardly worse retelling. It’s the sights and sounds of the video, the woman’s mannerisms, and her choice of words that kept social media users hooked on the episode.
Watching a short recording is a pleasant little task. Clicking the heart button is easier still, and reposting makes one feel like participating in a conversation. Leaving a witty comment takes work, but it feels most satisfying when other accounts notice it.
No person is real on the screen of one’s iPhone, but the need to click is. Users keep their fingers busy when they feel they will get engagement, getting stuck in a viral feedback loop. There is no compassion or sympathy. Media dependency is the sole authentic feature of the digital world.
There were, of course, very good reasons to avert our eyes. The woman in the video exists in three dimensions, she is a recognizable person, and nothing can be gained by awarding her with notoriety.
If that wasn’t enough, the viral video wasn’t the end of her ordeal. Some accounts demanded to know who the woman was; one writer did the legwork and published her identity on Substack. Then major media continued doxxing. One website snapped a picture of her, presumably at the door of her home, holding a check — the wealthy individual that she turned out to be, she appeared to be accepted a payment from the publication while complaining that her life has become hell and that journalists are stalking her neighbors.
None of the media attention will advance the cause of restoring the dignity of air travel, or any other kind of legitimate social or political goal. The video went viral for no other reason than it was a funny short clip to interact with online. The users couldn’t help themselves.
I am not the one to argue for limits on speech. Although the fallout for the individual at the center of the story could potentially be worse, I don’t believe media publishers should be censoring posts related to this incident.
All political lessons from it amount to this: as John Adams once observed, our form of government was created for moral and religious people. It takes self-restraint to allow a stranger to have his episode in privacy. Put the spotlight on more important issues and make comic relief less exploitive. Otherwise, we become easily manipulated slaves to tech publishers, unable to filter information, prioritize knowledge, and keep our eyes and fingers away from the screens.DONATE
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