July 16, 2008

Teens Gone Wild? More Like MSNBC Producers Gone Clueless

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If you’ve read my stuff before, you know I tend to comment on the lighter side of things. You know: theatre, music, cleavage, television, the occasional Ugg boot … It’s rare that I find something disturbing enough to change my tone, especially when I’m at the freakin’ gym, running in place like a gerbil. But when I do, the serious comes out.

MSNBC has a new half-hour special they’re calling “Teens Gone Wild.” I’m going to take a venture and gander that it’s pretty inaptly named, given its reference to Girls Gone Wild. Joe Francis may be a misogynistic loser, but he’s nothing compared to a group of teenage boys who kidnapped, sexually abused, tortured and buried alive a girl and filmed the whole thing. I’d take the risk and say that he’s not even as morally iffy as the producers on MSNBC who showed what basically announced an almost-snuff film on the nighttime news. (Though they waited until 8 pm, which was when my family eats dinner, so I don’t know who they’re kidding.)

I wish I could find the specific tape I saw, but I can’t, and to be honest, I’d rather not post it here.

The one I saw was black and white footage of a girl who worked at a fast food place and was picked up by three teenage guys (I couldn’t tell if she agreed to go with them or was kidnapped), taken to a remote house, beat up, threatened with a knife, sexually abused and told she was going to be killed. They then took her to a recently dug grave and buried her alive. She survived and now the guys are being tried.

The boys’ lawyers claim that the filming and assault were consensual, that she had agreed to act in their “low budget horror film” and the boys, were, if not inculpable, at least innocent in a court of law. After Duke, everyone is being more careful, but I can’t help but be concerned about the Guilty Until Proven Innocent label they’re giving to a severely traumatized girl. (I apologize that this isn’t more detailed, but the MSNBC site has buried the story — no disgusting pun intended.)

The news anchor went on to say that it was the first time this sort of crime was filmed and he couldn’t believe someone would do this and then film it.

The thing is, MSNBC is wrong. It isn’t the first.

You could jump back historically and look at all the filming the Nazis did in the Holocaust, but that’s an allusion that makes everyone pretty jumpy, and the next thing I know, someone is going to be accusing me of comparing this kids to Hitler. Besides, you only need to go back to last year.

Last year, Du’aa Aswad Khalil, a Kurdish girl in northern Iraq, was stoned to death in an honor killing by male family members for loving the wrong man. The stoning was filmed on a camera phone and sent CNN, which they proceeded to show. (Not linking to that either, but it’s pretty easy to find on YouTube if you want.)

The reasons are different. The reactions and measures taken are definitely different. One lived, one died. One set of murderers (proudly) ‘fessed up, the other set of almost-murderers are claiming they’re auteurs. But here is what remains the same: a teenage girl is abused. It is filmed. It is sent into a western news syndicate, who, even though they declare the footage, “unspeakable” and “horrifying” choose to air it.

Teens Gone Wild shows footage of other brutal beatings. Tellingly, if you scroll down on the site, you see a one year memorial to Virginia Tech —another, horrendous tragedy that was filmed, sent to NBC, and aired.

There’s a lot you could say about this. Mainly, that in today’s saturated world, part of the crime committed — and the satisfaction for its committers — is having it witnessed by the world, by both further desensitizing and horrifying them. Or that you can’t see the purpose in showing the footage. I can’t. It’s not proving anything, warning me of anything I wasn’t already wary of, or causing me to take action. It just looks like a snuff film, what mainstream American culture would go see in two seconds if it was acted … something that even the boys’ lawyers claim it is. If yes, if no … what is the difference? What do you gain?

I don’t take to the argument that video games cause violence, or that rap videos cause rape. In the same way, I’m not going to blame slasher movies for what’s happening now, or even the technology that made it possible. But the chilling thing is the slim difference between Du’aa’s stoning, this new girl’s almost death and last summer’s Captivity, which grossed 2.6 million domestically. Joss Whedon stated it much better?, but here’s the point. If you deny the connection between the three, than you are choosing to fool yourself. Furthermore, if you think Du’aas’ honor killing and the lawyers accusing this girl of faking don’t have roots in the same place, then I already know what kind of crap you’re going to write in the comments section, so don’t bother.

The difference is, of course, that one is fictional, one isn’t and one might be. But I think the other point is this: the reason why the third is so blurry is because it’s hard to tell. They could all be fictional. And when you’re viewing something, whether on MSNBC or in a theatre, the only difference is someone telling you: this is true. This is not. The medium (production value exempted) is the same. And when it comes down to someone’s life, someone’s freedom and how quick we are to dismiss the inherent sexism, it’s that blur, and that ease in which we can recategorize it in our minds as fake — that’s the most dangerous. Trust me. I hopped off the freakin’ elliptical, walked away and wondered, very seriously. Was she just acting in a movie? Or, in the wake of Virginia Tech and Columbine and Du’aa’s murder and the Duke Lacrosse Trial, are we more willing to see the lies in the videotape?