A refuge for the young ones
Writer: Lee Lian Kong
Published: Fri, 01 Apr 2011
"We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the internet!” - Sean Parker, The Social Network
At least the young ones are.
They should be the ones who know about one Rebecca Black, the most talked- (or Facebooked- or Tweeted-) about 13-year-old these last couple of days. Her music video on Friday went viral with more than 17 million hits on YouTube.
The reactions to her video are powerful but also painful. At best, the lyrics are inane, the music unremarkable and the video forced.
It starts with her singing about waking up for school, having cereal, deciding whether to sit in front or back, excited about Friday and the weekend. Maybe a little too excited about the weekend when she sings: “Yesterday was Thursday, today is Friday, we so excited, we gonna have a ball today, tomorrow is Saturday, Sunday comes afterwards.”
Comments range from Hypervocal.com’s “Truly, undeniably awful” to SF Gate’s “… the ultimate combination of horrible lyrics, horrible songwriting, horrible auto-tuning (apparently to hide horrible singing) ... horrible dancing and horrible horribleness…”
They are also personal, like: “I hope you get an eating disorder so you’ll look pretty, and I hope you go cut and die.”
The most-liked comment is how she makes Justin Bieber look good.
Why so much hate? Singing about school and parties sounds like pretty standard 13-year-old material.
Zapa, 32, a journalist, says, “What do you expect? Can’t have her talking about Nato’s strike on Libya, innit?”
On the other hand, Khairul, 23, a law student, expects more. “If this is how the average teenager thinks, I’d rather have them
They certainly aren’t mute. The internet is a thriving avenue for youth expression, both good and bad. Like honey to bee (or tweenyboppers to Justin Bieber), teenagers flock to the internet to express themselves. It offers a wall for the shy or timid to say what they want.
Being so, it becomes a double-edged sword.
Girls like Rebecca and Marie Digby get their big break, thanks to the internet. Friday is now No 19 on the iTunes
chart, just behind Enrique Iglesias and just ahead of Grammy-winner Zac Brown Band.
Conversely, many have committed suicide because of cyberbullying.
There is no escaping bullies even on the internet. Remember the “Saya gay, Saya OK” (“I’m gay, I’m OK”) YouTube video by a 33-year-old engineer last year? He was humiliated, chastised, and had even received death threats.
One would think that with the internet comes a platform for expression not possible within the confines of school, universities,
workplace and families. On the internet there are blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. to vent. These are also places to bond with like-minded people and gain solidarity.
With support comes strength, no?
If Rebecca and the Azwan Ismail fiascos are anything to go by, hatred seems to come more easily than help. Says Khairul, “People are now famous for being the object of so much hate. It’s like we’re parasites who feed on hate, jumping from one target to another.”
There is now even a special category for suicides induced by internet, like the case of a girl who was tricked into thinking she had a love interest when it was all a prank. She hanged herself in her bedroom.
Surprisingly enough, suicide.org, a suicide awareness and prevention non-governmental organisation, noted that youth suicide in the United States started to decrease from 1990 onwards.
The 90s was when the internet began to be used publicly.
Whether or not there is a direct correlation between the internet offering a place for solace and expression, and thus decreasing youth suicides, remains yet to be confirmed. What is definite is that the young are turning to the internet to articulate their angst or sadness.
This may not exactly prove to be enough to stop them from killing themselves, though. Jeremy was the title of a song by grunge band Pearl Jam about a 15-year-old boy who shot himself in front of his class. Using this song as an analogy, Yench, 21, hypothesised: “If Jeremy had the internet, he’d write an emo blog post or rage on Youtube and still commit suicide afterwards anyway”.
It will be a bold and unwise move to tackle this problem by erasing its source. Teenagers will always be angsty. They will always have unlimited sources of rage. Malaysia’s usual reactionary way in handling problems (remember the Valentine’s Day crackdowns?) may potentially bring more harm than good.
The effects of the internet are starting to show, and the sight is not very pretty. It is a good indication of what our humanity is like, issuing death threats to innocent 13-yearolds or forcing homosexuals to die. The Malay saying goes: “Kalau melentur buluh, biarlah dari rebungnya (To bend a reed, start from the shoots).”
There is a solution to this. Teenage angst can be channelled elsewhere other than death.
Imagine what an artistic world it would be if all this raging angst were channelled into learning to play guitar, to write, to draw?
If we are serious about this, the time is ripe to start looking for and paying attention to our youths. And the internet would be a good place to start.