Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Negative Breaking Point on Youtube

The other night, I discovered a new and enormously popular viral video in which an irate father exacts revenge for a Facebook post made by his teenage daughter. Naturally, it's of interest to me, because it depicts somebody hitting a breaking point and embracing it completely. It just so happens that I don’t approve in this case.

More than by anything in the video itself, I am struck by the enormous string of comments beneath it. While I have a pretty strongly adverse reaction to the video, my discomfort with the cheerleading in the comments is mitigated slightly by the awareness that it indicates that people widely see the appeal of breaking points and are genuinely desirous of them. There’s something positive in that; the trouble is simply that people may not realize that the satisfying feeling of watching somebody follow through on something like this doesn’t always mean that it’s good.

It’s shocking to me how unquestioning people are in the face of their own gleeful reactions to cool acts of vengeance witnessed at a safe distance. Comments siding against the unseen teenage girl dominate the comments on the video by a factor of something like thirty to one. That almost suggests a bullying mentality on the part of the crowd, and certainly it indicates a penchant for knee-jerk reactions. The daughter isn’t in this video to defend herself and we don’t know what her home life is. To my mind, it’s always good practice to give the benefit of the doubt to the one who is absent.

Even if the situation is exactly as it’s presented in this video, she’s just a teenage girl expressing her frustrations. Her frustrations may well be unfounded, but there’s a role for direct communication in setting her straight. This petty vengeance on the father’s part is just passive-aggressive, and it’s spectacularly passive-aggressive, as he seemingly goes out of his way to avoid addressing her directly (she’s not likely to see the video, after all) while still demonstrating serious aggression by discharging a fucking firearm.

Fostering a breaking point is only worthwhile if what arises from the destruction is significantly better than what was left behind. I don’t really see that happening in this case. In my experience, this sort of thing fosters resentment more than anything else. Wanton destruction coupled with virulent browbeating and public humiliation is pretty likely to drive a deeper wedge between parent and child, and the gap will widen still more as this man’s daughter acts out in more serious ways, generating still more outbursts from dad.

I’m rather sorry that people like this so much. It’s sad that people are so eager to watch a man snap and to live vicariously through it, while more nuanced, social, political, or cultural notions of breaking points evidently remain inaccessible to the masses. There is a role for bald aggression sometimes, but that role is not in parenting. Parenting should entail far more patience than this. The various commenters don’t seem to recognize that patience does not translate to acceptance or capitulation.

The point of patience in this is only that while the world provides us numerous just targets for cathartic vengeance, our children are not among them. There is no place for vengeance or pettiness in parenting. Those are things we should withhold from our children in the interest of seeing that they never misuse them either.

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