Instant cameras surround our inner demons
MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Martin van Beynen
OPINION: Yet another danger to the social status and reputation of normal adults in modern society has come to notice in the last couple of weeks.
In these sensitive times, many traps await the impulsive, strident and hot tempered. On any day you run the risk of being labelled a racist, a bully or, worse still, an inflexible and uncool person, often for behaviour that in days gone by would have been regarded as only colourful and forthright. In the past, some comfort could be drawn from the fact that trouble could be deflected by a simple denial or economy with the truth, but recent developments have removed even that small safeguard.
Now any little public fracas, conflict or embarrassing loss of composure is liable to be captured by a cellphone or head- mounted camera and within minutes be transferred to You Tube, where it immediately goes viral and available for international condemnation.
Two incidents in Christchurch over the last couple of weeks illustrate the trend. In one, a cyclist filmed a confrontation between himself and another cycle-track user over rights on a Ports Hills mountain bike track, and in another, a householder in Northwood grappled with some bike-mounted delinquents causing mayhem in his street. The sight of this fed-up gentleman gripping the fists of his mouthy young opponent in the clamp of his own hands provided an indelible image.
In the past the protagonists in both incidents would have returned home with an interesting story to tell but with little ability to inform the wider community. The video button on cellphones and cameras has changed all that. Now the incident can be relived in all its banal and essentially trivial glory in every home in the country.
How long will it be, I wonder, before children wanting to embarrass Mum and Dad, stick a secretly filmed video of an unflattering domestic spat, complete with a flying slipper, on You Tube. Everybody is now a fly- on-the-wall documentary maker and You Tube the vehicle.
We already have programmes like America's Funniest Home Videos. New Zealand could soon have something similar comprised of the country's ugliest social encounters, a show of expletive-laden incidents which bestow no credit on anybody but are nonetheless totally compelling. Reality television in its truest and most repugnant form.
Is it possible people will provoke or manufacture social confrontations, a sort of Candid Camera of the modern era at its rudest and most unpleasant? I would hope not but expect to be disappointed.
Perhaps the potential embarrassment at being tagged in one of these videos will encourage better manners and make people think again before they lose their inhibitions and give reign to their tempers and nastier inclinations. That can only benefit social intercourse and produce a kinder, gentler society.
On the other hand, people will soon get wise to the possibility and ensure they grab the recording devices first. Mind you, in the heat of the moment, the potential of the incident appearing on You Tube may not be the first thought that enters the mind.
You would think with the sheer abundance of filming and recording devices now carried by every single person, we would be on top of petty crime such as vandalism, anti-social behaviour, illegal rubbish dumping in the Canterbury countryside and random acts of minor violence.
But the phenomenon shows once again how a potentially useful and socially beneficial technology is somehow subverted to become a tool for voyeurism and escalating the vileness of ordinary encounters.
The most useful purpose the videos serve is the mirror they hold up to the human behaviours so vividly exhibited. It is as though we are watching a nature programme of our own species, acting very much like the primates we are. Because we are such clever monkeys it is easy to forget we are monkeys. We neglect the fact we are, at bottom, little more than sophisticated primates at our peril.
So our cyclists can be compared to a couple of young male apes, jostling for position, dominance and mating rights. And in the case of the man dealing to the delinquents, it is the silverback putting the cheeky young males in their place.
Viewed in this context, the demonstrations of aggression are, if not more excusable, at least more understandable. Perhaps in time, and after enough of these videos, we will learn how such situations can be avoided and defused before they reach the screen.
And, if we take it a step further, we may reach a point where we recognise the inner monkey in ourselves and ensure, when he or she is in a bad mood, they are ushered gently into a cage with very thick bars.
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