After the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student whose sexual encounter with another male student was filmed and broadcast without his knowledge, the public wanted the heads of the roommate who recorded Clementi, and the roommate’s friend who was perceived as an accomplice of some sort. Both of these people were vilified in the media as bullies and Clementi’s death launched a set of public service announcements by Ellen DeGeneres, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Silverman and more.
While the message of the PSAs is undeniably important, I also discussed the tragedy with colleagues and students as a way to explore how the roommate alone was not to blame. What about the people who watched the recording, and read the roommate’s tweet, and saw the Facebook suicide note? Did they not have an ethical responsibility to act on Clementi’s behalf?
What’s more, it’s difficult to hold college students up to a higher standard than professional videographers and producers at an international cable network. If anyone should be clearly punished, or at least vilified, it should be the MTV staff in the room while Amber Portwood hit, slapped and punched her boyfriend in front of their two year old daughter, Leah, during the September 28th episode of the MTV Reality Show “Teen Mom.”
The MTV staff is there to get raw footage that will generate ratings, but at some point, as individuals their conscience should have clicked in to gear and they should have stopped the fight or removed the child from the room. True, it’s not their job to do so. Their job is to record “reality.” But sometimes your job is not more important than being a human being. Even though Portwood’s baby’s father is much larger than she is, no person ever deserves to be beaten by another person, period. They could have filmed one punch, and then broken it up and separated the two. I’m sure the ratings would have been the same.
In addition, that fight could cause irreparable emotional damage to little Leah, who didn’t get to choose who her parents are or whether or not she would be on reality TV.
However, the MTV staff had a choice, and they made the wrong one. Under Indiana law they could be held accountable for not reporting child abuse, as domestic abuse in front of a young minor is paramount to child abuse.
To read more about the effects of domestic violence on children: http://www.acadv.org/children.html
Shalva offers 24-hour help for local Jewish families dealing with domestic abuse: http://www.shalvaonline.org/about-us.aspx
The National Domestic Abuse Hotline is here: http://www.thehotline.org/