Victims and Pedestals: Star Wars Kid, KONY2012's Jason Russell and Neda Soltani.

The internet has been frequently lauded as a tool of the revolution that will bring about large scale change to countries all over the world. Whilst it has had a degree of influence in recent events and arguably has radically redefined the way in which some of us live; I think we're willing overlooking/misinterpreting some things.

In the United Kingdom, the majority of our 'national' humor (as gauged by television shows and print media) is derived from mocking the downfall/abnormalities of others. But these 'others' are not just everyday people: often we've elevated them first (only to knock them down) or we've elevated them purely for humor. If you don't quite follow me, just read the celebrity section of any daily UK based tabloid for a week and that should clarify things. Our 'comedic' TV shows tend to focus on the buffoons, losers and degenerates in society - their (presumably acted) quirks and life style choices becoming the source of many laughs. Consider, is the Jeremy Kyle show about genuine justice for its participants or is it another wagon in the freak show?

Star Wars Kid
This derision is not just limited to the UK however. This humor has also broadly translated on to the internet. Remember this guy? His name is Ghyslain Raza, or as he's better known - the Star Wars Kid. During the the mid 00's he filmed himself swinging around a golf ball retriever in the fashion of a lightsaber (from the Star Wars series of films).

The film was then allegedly discovered by class mates, one thing leading to another with the video ending up online. It went viral, spreading throughout the internet receiving an estimated 1 billion views in various different forms. Whilst most viewers, judging by the comments section and general internet feedback, sat back laughing at this interesting display of combat skills, Raza ended up in a psychiatric unit diagnosed with depression.

Whilst newer stories seem to point to Raza's family having reached an out of court settlement with the original uploaders and that Raza is moving on with his life, does this not bear scrutiny? An event, which played out largely far from Raza's grip, landed him in a psychiatric unit in real life - all so the internet can get its Youtube 'lol' and 'meme' fix.

KONY 2012
More recently, Raza's video has allegedly been ousted from its position of most viral youtube video by a new player - KONY 2012, courtesy of Jason Russell. The video is basically a call to arms to fight against an Ugandan 'warlord' who's army is apparently built upon child soldiers. It went viral overnight and at time of writing, despite having been online little more than a few months, has 87,420,959 views on Youtube and another 17.9 million on Vimeo. But, another video is creeping up in views to haunt it. For relatively unconfirmed reasons the director of the video, Jason Russell, appears to have suffered a public manic episode/breakdown. Various videos spreading online depict Russell naked in the streets of San Diego, slapping the tarmac and rambling nonsense. Again, this has generally been met with mockery. Celebrity Gossip outlet, TMZ, ran the video through their network and had a group of commentators smugly jibe at it.

Regardless of what the true nature of the KONY2012 campaign is, I think the attitude of the commentators should appall most viewers. They clearly are struggling to not tear at the seams with laughter - yet ultimately they're laughing at the mental breakdown of a man who (one imagines) at least had some good intentions whilst creating the campaign. What gets me is his son's remark in the original KONY2012 video, which is obviously prior to the breakdown:
'I'm gonna be like you, Dad'
Nada Soltani
 In mid-2009, tensions were high in Iran and during an election protest, Neda Agha-Soltan was killed by a bullet to the chest. The audacious slaughter of an innocent protestor immedietly propelled Nada in to becoming a poster-girl for the Iranian opposition. However, the speed with which the online poster campaign was created, led to a grave error. The photo used was taken from Facebook, but not the profile of the deceased Neda. Rather, in their haste, campaigners created the poster using the image of another Neda, who was still very much alive. The error came from a slight difference in their names. Despite various efforts to snuff out the fire, the poster was duplicated over and over and spread throughout the internet. In a message to Dr. Amy Beam, the living Neda writes:
I'm having a hard time accessing facebook.
and to tell you the truth, I'm very scared!!!!
All around the world they are talking about my photo, which has turned into The symbol of liberty, rebellion, etc.
i'm in danger!
i don't know what to do!
The living Neda Soltani became an exile, considered a political dissident in her home country. In an interview with Jezebel.com, Neda says

"I've lost everything...I don't know what I'm doing here, and I don't know how I'll go on."

In our pursuit of entertainment, we, the internet community mock and laugh those who have fallen down. We've victimised people and wrongly commodified images to serve our own ends. We've put a kid in to a psychiatric unit. 

When will the internet begin to realise that what happens in the digital realm can have an impact in the physical realm? When will keyboard warriors or content posters begin to think before they slam down a finger on to the 'submit' button?

Towards the end of the KONY2012 video, an apparently more mentally stable Jason Russell states:
"At the end of my life, I want to say that the world we've left behind is one Gavin can be proud of" 
Are you proud of what we're doing here? 




Ghyslain Raza:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20611439/#.T4cu74GvmU8
Jason Russell:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGiR2TmeNYc
Neda Soltani:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/8129083.stm
Further reading:
http://edition.cnn.com/2012/03/06/tech/social-media/misinformation-social-media/index.html