Contrary to popular belief, infamy doesn’t equal fame
They wanted to be famous.
Of all the troubling aspects of the Lakeland, Fla., tale of thuggery and brutality that has recently made national headlines, that’s arguably the most appalling. Not that there isn’t plenty more here to disgust any observer with a conscience.
It’s disgusting, for instance, that on March 30, 16-year-old Victoria Lindsay was allegedly lured to a home where six girls ambushed her while two boys kept watch. Disgusting that the half-hour attack, recorded on video, shows her taking head shots and kicks while covering up, making no attempt to defend herself. Disgusting that one of the girls yells that there are only 17 seconds of video capacity left, so "make it good." Disgusting that police say the girls show no remorse, one wondering in jail if she’d have to miss cheerleading practice, one giggling at her bail hearing. Disgusting that some parents have attempted to make excuses for their little miscreants; it happened because Lindsay was trash-talking online, one mother said.
Disgusting, all around.
From where I sit, though, the capper, the piece de resistance, the brown rat on the garbage barge, is this: these girls beat Lindsay up and recorded it so they could post it on YouTube. They wanted fame. Or at least, their generation’s version thereof.
It’s a funny thing, fame. Used to be, we perceived a difference between it and notoriety. Now they seem to have melded in the public mind, to have become all of a piece so that it no longer matters what one is known for, so long as one is known.
And never mind that what happened in Lakeland cost a girl vision in one eye and hearing in one ear. Never mind that her alleged assailants face charges including battery and kidnapping (though, unlike a certain notorious and similar case last year in Jena, La., not attempted murder).
Once upon a time, you became famous because you ostensibly had some talent most of us lacked or because you did some heroic thing. That day is long gone. Fame has devolved. It has been dumbed down.
You think I’m talking about Paris Hilton and I suppose I am, but the truth is, Hilton looks like Hepburn in fame’s new paradigm. Think of the University of Florida student who became famous for interrupting a speech by John Kerry and crying, "Don’t tase me bro!" as police led him away. He got a reported 2.7 million hits and time on the "Today" show out of the deal.
Or, think of the prostitute and would-be singer who serviced former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. She has received over a million dollars in modeling and advertising offers and her song — undistinguished ear trash by all accounts — has notched record downloads at an online music site.
In a world where prostitutes and goofballs — not to mention cats who use the toilet, girls with hiccups, falling skateboarders and singers who can’t — can become famous, who can be surprised that a group of teenagers would feel their path to fame lay in beating senseless a defenseless girl? After all, we are not dealing with smart people here; the fact that they filmed their crime — damning evidence gift-wrapped for the prosecutor — proves that.
No, these are the video-besotted children of an era where only suckers can’t find some way to become known. Fame is democratized now, no longer the exclusive province of the talented, the heroic or even the lucky, but rather a commodity accessible to anyone willing to seize it by any means necessary. So six girls ambush one and it’s a performance for the camera. A star turn.
Seventeen seconds left. Make it good.
Ironically, the kids got their wish. They are famous.
One hopes that someday, they will be intelligent enough to recognize and lament what they are famous for.
Pitts, winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.