It’s a serious question, Miss Bour.
I’d also like to put it out there, pursuant to Brandenburg v. Ohio, that I won’t be at all disappointed if some mudslinging creep digs up compromising information on Bour, the legality of the means of discovery being between the creep, the victim, and the courts, and publishes to a crowdsourced viral network. Those who are so fixated on other people’s reputations should be asked, well, how would you like to have one? In Soviet Russia, reputation has YOU! Or, as the Sicilians say, it’d be a shame if something happened to it.
What Bour discovered is that sixth-graders can be vulgar and a bit coarse and that this temperament carries over into their online lives. Do tell Mr. Wonka; he’ll finally cream his clown pants, allowing the rest of us to point and laugh at him. Facebook probably amplifies this coarseness, but it’s nothing that can’t be accomplished in short order just by putting large numbers of pubescent teens in one place with asymptotically low levels of guidance from older adolescents and adults. Seriously, any of y’all ever read Lord of the Flies? I had to in ninth grade, and unlike Sister Carrie, I actually did the assigned reading because William Golding seemed a less shitty writer than Theodore Dreiser.
The kids don’t have adequate guidance from more mature and responsible people online, but guess what? They don’t have adequate guidance in the public schools, either. Are you fucking serious? Realistically, the kind of mentorship that children and adolescents need can only come from parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, older siblings and cousins, family friends, and maybe leaders in religious or voluntary organizations. In a strictly pragmatic sense, it cannot come from the state, because even putting such a proposal on the table usually triggers a tax revolt. It should be no surprise, in a country as atomized, selfish, and harried as the modern United States, that not many people are willing to devote the time and energy needed to properly mentor the rising generations. Homeschooling is a lot of work. It is le hard. Being available for one’s nieces and nephews could get in the way of one’s bitchin’ power career, and being available for one’s grandchildren who are not living in Central Florida could get in the way of golf. If one is worried that the young people in one’s family are bathed in bad influences from their peers, the solution is to get involved in their lives and start providing more wholesome influences. Otherwise, they’ll probably spend more time publishing self-portraits in which they give the world the finger while dressed in their small clothes.
What, you won’t have anything to do with them and you’re still alarmed that they’re getting involved in rude nonsense online? Okay. Be a cocooning, antisocial freeloader like the rest of your countrymen, or step up to the fucking plate and do something about it by spending more time with the young people in your life and less time on self-indulgent wankery. It’s your choice.
We’ve gone into the Twilight Zone with internet technology, and there’s no going back until the grid fails. Don’t wish for this to come about because it’ll take down with it a number of other industrial systems that are much more essential than Facebook. The panopticon is here, and it’s here to stay. We’re all prisoners in it, and most of us are jailers, too. It’s a question of personal taste and conscience, and of institutional taste and conscience, to peer into the formerly private parts of other people’s lives or not. Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Lawrence took nekkid pictures of themselves, and thieves hacked into their computer systems and leaked the pictures. Perhaps you, too, would like to see Scarlett Johanssen and Jennifer Lawrence completely naked. They’re hot, and the pussies have been let out of the bag, so to speak. As one of my friends asked me, repeatedly, when we were out at a brewpub in Madison, “Are you planning to get Totally Naked?” (No. It sounded awful. The hefeweizen was much better, and besides, I’m awfully stout.) The marginal harm of privately looking at leaked nudes of Scarlett Johansson or Jennifer Lawrence is asymptotically close to zero.
The wrong answer, however, is to express shock or outrage or concern that these women photographed themselves in the buff. It turns out that they, too. have ladyparts, which they sometimes expose in private, probably when they’re putting out for their boyfriends or husbands or whatever. They are not celibate Mormons who never doff the magical underwear. This shouldn’t be a great insight, but judging from the furor over these nude photo leaks, it apparently is.
This is how ordinary Americans are leveled up towards equality with the rich and famous. We get none of the justice and prosperity. We only get the scrutiny. Now other pervs can peer into our private lives, too.
Notice how Melissa Bour found out about the edgy material that her students were posting on Facebook:
Although she did not accept the request, she was able to browse the student’s friend list and noticed that a high number of her pupils were posting selfies to the social-networking site.
In many of these, the students were donning skimpy clothing or swearing at the camera, she said.
Oh. Of course the Daily Mail is on the beat; it always is. This student asked to be her Facebook friend, and she had stronger boundaries than to accept the request, but before declining it she decided to take a look around the joint and see what the other kids were doing there. This is kind of like saying, yeah, I was over at Tom’s house, you know, just to break up with him, but after I dumped him I stuck around for an hour, rifling through his shit while he sat on the sofa in a fetal position, violently crying, and I found this old picture of you from South Padre Island. No offense, but may I ask why you’re such a skank?
Bour wasn’t really supposed to be there in the first place. This is precisely why she prudently declined her student’s Facebook friend request. There are things that a teacher should not know about her students’ lives. Notice, however, that Bour does not present the breach of discretion as having been her own on account of her having snooped on her students when they had not been notified of her obtaining access to their Facebook accounts; she presents the breach of discretion as her students’ for posting inappropriate material from their accounts in the first place, allowing her to find it. Bour is an adult publicly chastising minors under her authority for online speech that she only became aware of by surreptitiously looking at their Facebook pages. She claims to “care very much about their reputations,” and she’s turning their collective reputation into an international watchword for indiscretion and bad taste. This is backwards. It’s perverse.
One of Bour’s students, Xavier Ingram, said something amazing about the panopticon, probably more profound than he can imagine: “Say I want to be the president. That might affect me becoming president.” Ponder this. Putting stupid shit online could affect one’s candidacy for an office that a total of 44 people have held in its entire history. Maybe this Ingram kid is aiming a bit high. Besides, the permanent government probably has a star system in place to groom promising future candidates, and this system probably isn’t doing much scouting at public elementary schools in Tulsa. Ingram does, however, inadvertently cast some very ugly light on what has been made of presidential campaigning. This is, after all, the Beltway subculture that famously nourished Lee Atwater. It’s incredibly dirty and treacherous. Its practitioners exude the look of being up to something for which they should be reported to the police.
It’s blatantly pathological to apply this cutthroat style of dissembling to presidential campaigns. Even here, where it’s limited to the small pool of people deranged or megalomaniacal enough to run for the presidency, it leaves massive civic destruction in its wake. Applying this sort of disingenuously motivated scrutiny to the lives of ordinary private citizens would be unspeakably disastrous. But I shouldn’t use the subjunctive: employers have already taken to running background investigations and personality tests on applicants for jobs flipping burgers.
We’re closer to the telescreen than we think. Bob Hope once told a reporter that he had encountered television on a trip to the Soviet Union, “but it watches you.” Be burnt sickly, Mr. Smirnoff. At American USO show, joke tells BOB! All derivative joking aside, the overt advocacy of self-censorship in the United States today is being done by private citizens, and they’re doing it largely on behalf of private corporations, either ones that fail to safeguard customer information (Facebook et al.) or ones that inappropriately scrutinize information about applicants and employees that they have no legitimate reason to obtain. We’ve crowdsourced the sort of culture of fear that the Soviet authorities had trouble maintaining with thoroughgoing state propaganda. That’s why Melissa Bour’s servile, censorious screed about how students should chill their own free speech went viral. These people are going to bat for censorious employers and hiring managers who are apparently too dense to realize that the rudeness of teenagers after hours neither follows them around like a needy puppy for the rest of their lives nor is probative of their academic or professional behavior. What a funny country, America!
And what an officious teacher, Melissa!
Actually, maybe I should apologize to Miss Bour. Say I want to be the St. Louis County Chief of Police. Publishing rude essays online about how this one attention-whoring schoolteacher in Tulsa is a censorious piece of shit who should go pleasure herself with a sunflower stalk could affect me becoming St. Louis County Chief of Police. It’s cool to be involved in unexplained line-of-duty shootings, but don’t go brag to the Oathkeepers about how you theoretically like the idea of killing people and enjoy eccentric beliefs about Barack Obama. Okay, to be fair, they shitcanned Ray Albers, too. But it would be nice to get back to a place where Americans realize that talk is cheap, real actions in real life matter, and freedom of speech is something that employers ought to accord more respect than they’d show a bucket of John Nance Garner’s warm piss.