Everybody Wants to Be Naked and Famous?

In today’s Chronicle e-newsletter, I read “They’re Back, and They’re Bad: Campus Gossip Web Sites”, a piece outlining the new crop of gossip sites cranking up for all your college–and high school–bathroom wall writing pleasure.

A word from the folks who create/support these sites:

Purveyors of college-gossip sites generally laugh off criticism of their creations, painting their detractors as people who simply can’t take a joke. The forums are like a playful simulation of celebrity tabloids, they say, where people on campuses are trashed or defended like Hollywood A-listers. Plus, the owners point to threads where students talk about which fraternities have the best parties or which sororities have the prettiest members as evidence that the sites offer harmless entertainment. —emphasis mine

That bit in italics reminded me of a great tune from my own college days that seemed remarkably apt when considering this sentiment and the popularity of things like YouTube. A musical interlude: this vid sets YouTube clips to a live version of The Presidents of the USA’s “Naked and Famous.” Not the best example of what could be done with this tune/concept, but a nice little tour of the kinds of things folks share in their quest to be known on this international channel.

Later in the article, Daniel Solove, author of The Future of Reputation, and Danielle Keats Citron, author of “Law’s Expressive Value in Combating Cyber Gender Harassment”, address the issues of the loss of ability to determine public reputation and the ineptness of traditional law enforcement to address cyber harassment, respectively. There’s a triviality associated with this situation, just as there is in many conversations about bullying, that we just have to buck up and not take what other’s do to us so personally. Solove and Citron would, I believe take an opposite view, citing the well-established traditions of prosecuting libelous/slanderous speech and sexual harassement as the predecessors of the approaches we must take in cyberspace as well.

Perhaps for many, though, those electronic words don’t carry quite the same weight as the ones inked on paper. Add to that attitude the “common knowledge” that we can skim from the surface of surfing the web–that people will post all sorts of images we (old folks) can’t believe they’d ever want to see the light of day–and you get a sort of justification for the purveyors of sites like Juicy Campus. If we’re willing to put images out there that illustrate our debauchery, then what on earth will a few scribbles from some anonymous jerk do to hurt our reputations further?

For the record: I’m not blaming the victim. Rather, I’m acknowledging that we’re in a difficult and complicated negotiation as a culture, a negotiation which is made more complex by the depersonalization that I believe is so much easier to achieve when the world we inhabit–the cyber one–can be “shut off” with the press of a button or the detachment of a cord.

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