I was interviewed by a local TV station the other day about a recent YouTube fad, young girls posting “am I pretty or ugly” videos.
What do I have to say on that topic?
Well. I am not a foe of social media. I like that Facebook, for example, makes it easy for me to connect with family and old friends.
And I like YouTube. I use YouTube links all the time on my blogs—“Casablanca” made a guest appearance in my previous post through a link to YouTube.
But, yikes. A 30-year-old fashion model has serious self-confidence issues if she posted a “am I pretty” video. From a 12-year-old, it’s unbearably poignant, self-absorbed and sad.
In communication terms, the internet is too often the Wild West. If you post a question such as “am I pretty,” you’re inviting, and you’ll get, the surliest, crudest, meanest list of comments. In a world with billions of people online, there are millions of jerks, guaranteed. Nobody is perfect enough, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and all of us beholders don’t have universal standards.
And no young adolescent has reached the apex of personal physical perfection at age 12 anyway.
The “am I ugly or pretty” fad is icky on many levels:
- You feel bad that kids are posting the question in the first place. Kids, don’t ask the internet questions that you would whisper only to your closest friends. The intimacy that you feel with your computer in your bedroom is false—on the internet, you’re playing before the world. And the internet never forgets.
- You wonder how “real” the whole thing is. Is this a 12-year-old acting spontaneously? Is there a puppet master somewhere who is prompting this behavior? Is this a 20-something waif who can look and act much younger? I’m sure most of the videos are exactly what they seem to be, but “most of” is not “all,” and fakery is common online.
- You wonder where the parents are. A great rule of parenting is this: No screens in the bedroom. No cell phones, no computer, no TV. E devices that connect you to the world can only be used in common living areas around other people. Sure, your tween or teen will hate you if you make and enforce this rule. But if you’re going to be a parent, you’ll earn your adolescent’s hate often, so what the heck? Let him hate you, it’s your job. Online sites, Facebook and YouTube, often have age rules, which are pretty universally ignored and circumvented. You can’t (and shouldn’t) try to shield your child from seeing gritty reality, but you can guide his or her behavior and understanding of the world. And posing a question like “am I pretty” online is stupid at any age, but beyond the pale if you’re still knee-high to a grasshopper.
Well, that’s just a few reactions. How did I react to being interviewed? It felt weird because I didn’t feel that the conversation I had was very substantive, and when the story aired, it was an odd kind of feature anyway—to illustrate the story and give some narrative arc to it, the reporter used a phone to show the video to a random family in the park and then provoked the expected “that’s terrible” and “I would never do that” reactions.
I and another MMU professor appear in brief guest roles to add, I don’t know, some “expert” commentary. Well, OK. Having been a reporter, I try to cooperate with reporters because I know how hard that role can be. And it’s true, I am also an attention seeker, I don’t mind being on TV. Because I’m so pretty. (That’s a joke, by the way, so please don’t feel moved to comment to correct my impression.)
But, I’m not sure in this case how illuminating I was or how illuminating the resulting story was. Like beauty, perfection in journalism can be elusive.