Lies, damned lies, and viral videos

Could have seen this coming. In fact many of us did see it coming: Viral videos have become commodities, which welcomes lying and cheating into the clicks-into-cash equation.

So no surprise, then, to see a dishonest follow-on to October’s NYC cat-calling video, wherein Shoshona Roberts, with the help of a hidden camera, shows us what it’s like to walk the streets of Manhattan as a woman. Nearly 40 million hits later, the result has been a much-needed discussion on the difference between friendliness between strangers, and unwanted sexualized attention. All good so far.

But then along comes poseur Stephen Zhang, and his attempt to horn in on some of that sweet social-dialogue clickbait. On November 8th, Zhang posted a video on YouTube purporting to show a woman’s travails on the opposite coast. In it we see a young woman acting drunk, really drunk, in the middle of the day on Hollywood Boulevard. No way I’m going to link to it, I won’t be responsible for lending Zhang a single further undeserved click. But if you happen to go search for it, please note that he’s disabled comments. And draw your own conclusions.

Conclusions were drawn, and then some, as soon as the video went viral. Salon led with the headline, “Gross men being gross.” I’ll admit I was snookered as well. The video seemed to capture numerous instances of random men trying to take advantage of the inebriation—to lure her back to their cars, their apartments, their houses. It seemed sickeningly plausible.

Too bad it was all a big fat lie. Within four days the men in the video all began coming forward, all telling essentially the same tale: They were told they were helping create a student video, or maybe it was a comedy short. All of them had been fed their lines. All were told exactly how slimy they should act.

It’s deplorable. Not least because the video claimed to show a reality that was actually manufactured to match a communal preconception. And not least because it raised a worthy question, and would have been a worthy experiment if only it had been honestly undertaken.

It’s deplorable because, who knows, maybe one of those guys might have been inclined to help that girl, and in so doing might have given us a bit of viral restoration for our faith in humanity.

Instead we got a viral confirmation of all the worst.

About editor, facilitator, decider

Doesn't know much about culture, but knows when it's going to hell in a handbasket.
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