Opinion » Editorial

'Everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes'


There is a poignant saying that could help us all: Be the person your dog thinks you are.

Your dog thinks you are wonderful and kind. To your dog, you are right even when you are wrong. You are exemplary. If only.

A sound moral code and common decency can be sorely lacking and is particularly worthy of discussion in light of a recent video that made the rounds of a suspected Whistler resident berating a bus driver with taunting and racist comments. As upsetting as it was to watch this behaviour, the video footage is a reminder that we are all players.  And the camera — or cellphone — is always rolling.

Then there was another Facebook post from a June altercation in Squamish between a man on a bicycle and a female driver. A Squamish man berates a woman, her accent, and even the fact that she is from Whistler. He is nasty. He calls her names, using the most offensive of insults against this woman. Within three hours last week the video logged more than 4,000 hits.

The effects are swift and sobering. And disturbing.

As one Facebook user noted, whipping out a cellphone to film every act of rudeness or bad behaviour can be viewed as a threat, or worse, bullying. The presence of the cellphone is as if to say: You won't get away with this. And even: I dare you.

And this raises myriad questions. By filming an incident, are we inciting it further? It doesn't seem to affect behaviour as the Squamish man continues on his rant regardless of a video in the making. What is the end result? Is it to expose those who obviously don't know any better? Is it to alert others to the fact that we are surrounded by rude, offensive, ignorant people?

Others say these people should be exposed to public scrutiny and be held accountable for their actions, if only on social media. But to what end is not clear. What's the benefit of such exposure other than questionably entertaining video bites, the collective shock among the level-headed that such behaviour can be so routine, or that those who post can log thousands of hits? Perhaps the offenders will think twice next time. Probably not.

What of the greater risk that such video filming stokes the fire? There are far too many videos of people who attack in similar incidents — they feel cornered and the only way to escape is to physically lash out at the person filming. Indignation never ends well.

At the very least, we seem to need to record these vignettes of life in the event that something goes wrong. It is our proof after the fact. And it works. One only has to remember RCMP officers' repeated tasering — followed by the subsequent death — of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport in 2007. Without a bystander's video, Dziekanski may have wound up just another mysterious statistic.

Beyond comparison — but worthy of mention — is the horrific shooting of Philando Castile last week in Minnesota, whose tragic and unnecessary death was captured via cellphone and posted to Facebook. This just 48 hours after another fatal videotaped shooting of Alton Sterling in Louisiana. Within hours, Facebook removed the footage of Castile that his partner had streamed live as her fiancé sat hunched and bleeding to death in their car. Then the video was posted again. It appears Facebook leaves it to us to determine what we can bear.

Millions of incidents are captured throughout North America and involve a witness's only weapon: A cellphone. For the Armani-clad bus rider who could well face the wrath from otherwise sound-minded citizens — although we don't like to think we are capable of that here — we must ask ourselves if we are comfortable with such cause and effect. We must keep questioning.

Presciently, almost 50 years ago Andy Warhol got it right: "In the future everybody will be world famous for fif†een minutes."

Perhaps he should have said "infamous."