When news of Tyler Clementi’s suicide broke last month, it outraged all the “right” people for most of the wrong reasons.
Reeling with humiliation after falling victim to a vicious practical joke, this 18-year-old apple-cheeked boy decided he could no longer endure being alive. He composed a farewell Tweet on his Blackberry, then leapt off the George Washington Bridge. His corpse was discovered in the Hudson River hours later.
This dweeby, quiet, bespectacled, ginger-haired boy would have gone down as merely another casualty of youth’s casual cruelty to youth, to be briefly mourned and soon forgotten, were it not for one detail in his terminal ordeal. Clementi, it turns out, was gay, and this played an incidental role in his self-immolation.
Thus, it seems that Tyler Clementi will join Matthew Shepard in the pantheon of latter-day martyrs who suffered and died for the Holy Cause of eradicating the world of homophobia. Sad sack that he was at the end of his life, his name in death will now be invoked as an indomitable beacon of hope and change. His spirit, we are bound to hear, will always be with us as we struggle to stop prejudice and forge a more just society, striding arm-in-arm into the future…
…and blah blah blah. You know—all of that totally gay rhetoric. Get ready—it’s coming. It’s here. And it’s queer. (As in stupid.)
I am appalled by Clementi’s tormentors’ brazen behavior. If indeed they are found guilty of what they’re accused of doing, they should be punished to whatever extent the law permits; moreover, they should be shunned and shamed for their callous disregard for a fellow human’s well-being and their wanton invasion of his privacy.
That said, to politicize this affair, as many activists have already done, is cheap, ridiculous, and tacky. While Clementi’s personal shame over his homosexuality probably drove him to his desperate act, the real culprit in this affair isn’t homophobia or gay-bashing or “intolerance”: It is simple human cruelty.
Consider the facts:
Dharum Ravi, Clementi’s freshman roommate, apparently rigged a webcam in their room on September 19, three days before the tragedy. That night, Clementi took in an older male visitor, and the two kissed and embraced passionately while Ravi watched the action via Skype from friend Molly Wei’s room. Later, Ravi Tweeted: “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into Molly’s room and turned on the Web cam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”
Apparently, Ravi later streamed the webcam video to many of his online friends, and it made its way around the Internet. Clementi found out that he’d been publicly “outed” in a spectacularly egregious manner, and he couldn’t cope with the trauma. On September 22 at 8:42 p.m., Clementi Tweeted his last message: “jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” A few minutes later, he took his fatal plunge.
Charges are pending against Ravi and Wei, though it’s not clear how prosecutors intend to proceed. There is, however, widespread momentum in some quarters to nail the pair with a “hate” or “bias” crime. Homosexual activists and their many mainstream-media sympathizers clearly want to milk this incident for all it’s worth. One suspects they are busily looking for ways to pin Clementi’s suicide on gay-marriage opponents, conservative Republicans, Tea Partiers, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and whomever else they don’t like.
But when objectively examined, the facts don’t coincide with the tearjerker after-school-special message that many have tried to impose upon this forlorn tale of a doomed lad’s demise. Clementi’s homosexual predilection was far from the matter’s crux. It was merely a convenient foil to be exploited by the heartless pranksters who victimized him mercilessly.
Imagine a scenario in which Clementi wasn’t gay. Say that Ravi and Wei recorded him making out with an overweight girl wearing braces, then they broadcast the incident as “gross French-kissing exchange between geeky guy and fat chick.” Now imagine they’d videotaped Clementi masturbating to Internet porn, then titled the resulting streaming video “Geek beats his meat.”
In either of the above cases, the boy’s privacy would have been just as thoroughly invaded, and his voyeurs’ mocking cruelty would have been no less horrifying. But there is no powerful political lobby for masturbators or fat, nerdy, unattractive couples. Rushing to take such victims’ side doesn’t earn you plaudits as a wonderfully “tolerant,” majestically “progressive” person by the Powers That Be.
If either of these other scenarios had unfolded and Clementi had killed himself due to the resulting humiliation, the fact is that very few brows would have furrowed afterward on TV talk shows and the celebrity circuit. You certainly wouldn’t see Ellen DeGeneres or the kids from Glee making impassioned appeals for greater peace, love, and understanding.
In short, the matter wouldn’t be trendy or politically sexy, so nobody would care.
It’s disheartening to see such crimes and tragedies reflexively treated as exploitable moments by interest groups. If nothing else, such responses are misinformed. Sadly, there are many sensitive, vulnerable, depressed people in the world, and there are also many mean fucking bastards who get their jollies from picking on the vulnerable types.
Cruelty isn’t a political issue. Bullying cannot be ameliorated through more widespread sensitivity training or “reeducation” to somehow “cure” prejudice—indeed, ideological rigidity and forced conformity inevitably lead to the birth of a whole new class of mean, hateful control freaks. Political correctness, a doctrine that aims to avenge perceived past injustices, almost always constructs a whole new configuration of injustices, with yesterday’s victim class becoming today’s victimizers and vice-versa.
The attempt to make Tyler Clementi’s mistreatment and tragic demise a gay-rights cause célèbre is foolish and wrongheaded. If Ravi and Wei are indeed guilty of what they are accused of doing, they probably weren’t motivated by a disdain for homosexuality. More likely, they thought Clementi was a “dork” and decided it would be funny to mess with him.
This stunted, sadistic mindset is as common as it is despicable. Cruelly hounding the hapless is an all-too-frequent phenomenon practiced in all walks of life among people of every race, creed, and sexual orientation. It appears to be an endemic part of our wretched, highly imperfect state. Such a piece of work is man.
God rest Tyler Clementi’s soul and comfort his grieving family. And God bless all victims of cruelty: straight and gay; black, white, brown, and yellow; exploitable or politically useless; and remembered or forgotten.
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