ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–A Rutgers University freshman leapt to his death off of the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22. Tyler Clementi threw himself into the Hudson River after two classmates secretly broadcast a sexual encounter he had with another male over the Internet.
Dharun Ravi, Clementi’s roommate, and Molly Wei, both 18 and freshman at Rutgers, have been charged with invasion of privacy. Prosecutors are investigating to see if more serious charges might be warranted.
It appears that Ravi and Wei were playing a prank they thought would be funny. However, their stunt resulted in a very serious unintended consequence. The antic humiliated Clementi to the point that he took his own life.
I am a firm believer in individual responsibility. Ravi and Wei must be held accountable for their actions. There is no possible scapegoat for their behavior. That said, nothing in life occurs in a vacuum; everything has a context.
How did two freshmen at a respected university arrive at the conclusion that it would be OK to record two people in a sexual encounter and broadcast it over the Internet? Where did the seed for this idea originate?
While Ravi and Wei are the only ones to blame for their actions, I believe the seed for their Internet prank was germinated in a culture that has become crass, calloused and wholly indifferent to the concepts of propriety, respect and dignity.
So-called secret celebrity sex tapes routinely surface and litter the Internet. There are popular movies that depict the very stunt employed by Ravi and Wei.
Cable television broadcasts so-called edgy programming fraught with crude language and sexual content. Reality TV has skewed the very concept of entertainment.
Add to that the phenomenon of You Tube and its plethora of inane content and you have a popular culture that finds people in denigrating situations entertaining.
“American society claims nothing as sacred and nothing forbidden, except that which falls outside the bounds of whatever is considered politically correct,” wrote John W. Whitehead in the book “Grasping for the Wind.”
Clementi is not the first to fall victim to a crass, calloused culture made more indifferent by technology.
Just as troubling as the students’ actions are those that would use the suicide to push an agenda. Steven Goldstein, chairman of the homosexual group Garden State Equality, said in a written statement that his group considers Clementi’s death a hate crime.
Luanne Peterpaul, vice chairperson of Garden State Equality, told the Associated Press that “she believes that filming a man and a woman engaged in sex in a dorm room would not have had the same results.”
“It’s quite possible that maybe they would have videotaped an opposite-sex couple,” Peterpaul told AP. “But would there have been such a following?”
A talented young man killed himself because a very private aspect of his life was violated and broadcast over the Internet. His sexuality is irrelevant.
Peterpaul’s belief that the outcome would have been different had Clementi engaged in sex with a female is pure speculation. Who knows, had it been an opposite-sex couple maybe both young people would have taken their lives.
There is no evidence that the prank was motivated by hatred for homosexuals. Friends of the suspects indicated they “have no problem with gay people,” AP reported. “He [Ravi] had gay friends,” Derek Yam told AP. “He said he was lucky to have a good roommate. He said his roommate was cool.”
The motive for videotaping someone surreptitiously having sex is rooted in a culture has lost its respect.
American culture was once informed by the biblical principle that individuals are worthy of dignity and respect. Hence, most in society operated by the maxim, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Many today maintain that biblical teaching is irrelevant to modern culture. However, the simple principle articulated by Jesus of treating other people the way you want them to treat you could have prevented the situation at Rutgers.
Had Ravi and Wei asked themselves the question, “Would I want to be broadcast over the Internet in a compromising situation?” perhaps they would not have gone through with their prank. And Tyler Clementi might still be alive.
A simple, profound biblical principle is the key to transforming a selfish, uncaring culture into one that extends dignity and respect to every individual: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.