Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cyber-Haunting

Last night I watched another episode of the Real World.  While this episode provided much fodder for discussion on a moral and social level I only want to discuss one thing.  I want to discuss what I call cyber-haunting.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with this season’s cast or what the Real World is, here is a brief overview.  The producers of MTV have developed a show in which they invite seven or eight late teens and early twenty-something’s to live in a house and have their entire three-month roommate situation recorded, 24/7.   The house is usually a mansion-like setting that is carefully designed to minimize privacy and induce a myriad of antics between the roommates.  These can include co-ed bathrooms with opaque glass walls, co-ed rooms with multiple beds, no TV or radios, limited access to the internet, easy access to alcohol, and a not-so-private phone room where all the calls are recorded for the show also.

This season, one of the roommates has a secret past as a “gay for pay” porn star.  He had elected, thus far, to keep that fact about his past a secret.  He was paid to live in a house with a bunch of other straight men and have his life filmed via webcam four hours a day, six days a week.  There were shower scenes, naked cooking, masturbation, and other sexual acts that were recorded and broadcasted via the internet.  It was something that he did in his late teens and early twenties and maintains now that he no longer works for that employer.  He, while living in the Real World house, began a sexual relationship with another roommate.  He still made no mention of his past as an internet porn star to this woman.  The woman that he engaged in a sexual relationship with found out via her mother about his porn past.  Needless to say, all hell breaks loose when all of the roommates have to deal with his past.  Two of his male roommates said that he needed to talk to God about what he had done and deal with God’s judgment while another said via a letter that he was awful, worthless, and not worth knowing.

There are many facets to what all the roommates were dealing with.  His keeping a secret from his roommates about a topic that is far from common in most peoples’ daily routines, his keeping his porn past a secret from a woman that he is sleeping with both from moral and health perspectives, whether or not he was taken advantage of or victimized by his boss, dealing with what this all means in regards to his sexual preference, and whether or not he was wrong for engaging is certain sexual acts with men while maintaining his heterosexuality.  There are numerous others but these were the biggest ones that seemed to pervade this episode. 

While they all merit discussion, I want to talk about something that got lost in the drama shuffle.  This man kept his “gay for pay” internet porn past a secret because he feared judgment from his girlfriend and his roommates.  He at one point stated that is parents and family didn’t even know about it.  He was raised in strict religious family which no doubt furthered his drive to keep his past a secret.   I want to point out that the roommates freaked out at the fact that he was filmed performing different sexual acts with men, filmed nude, and that he was paid for it.  While MTV doesn’t show nudity, the roommates in the Real World house are doing the same thing, having their lives filmed 24/7.  As viewers we see roommates having sex, albeit under covers and blurred out, making out with multiple people, and are also privy to gay and straight relationships and alcohol antics.

 The differences between the two shows are minor and warrant consideration by both the roommates and the viewers.  Needless to say, the roommates reacted badly to his porn past and even talked about asking him to leave the house because he made them uncomfortable.  His roommate turned girlfriend even said she could never be with a man that had kissed or been with another man (the trouble is that in the preview for the next episode she is shown making out with another one of her female roommates while others watch, including her porn-past ex-boyfriend-that’s another discussion).

So the roommate with the porn past says that he kept his past a secret because he wanted people to know him for who he is not what his past was.  He said multiple times that he didn’t want to be judged negatively for something he did in his past, when he was younger and wasn’t as smart. 

His roommates proved, by their actions that he was justified in his fears of judgment and ridicule.  So what is left for him?  He will forever have to deal with the fact that his naked image, his performing of sexual acts and other pornographic actions will forever be accessible via a Google search.  He will have to forever justify why he did what he did, deal with it during interviews for future jobs, and have to explain it to future relationships and possibly his kids.  When he was eighteen a lot of money was thrown at him.  Being young, poor, and option-less (as he puts it), he made the best decision he could.  First keeping the secret was haunting him.  Now that the secret is out the justification of his actions will forever haunt him. 

As a tween or teen with easy access to the internet, YouTube, texting, and cell phones with cameras, the temptation is there to take pictures that seem innocent enough.  Or the context in which they were taken will never change.  After all, you love your boyfriend or girlfriend so much that they couldn’t or wouldn’t ever use those pictures against you, right?  Your best friend would never become your enemy over another boy or silly fight, right?  There aren’t bullying situations that you have to worry about, right?  There isn’t something called Facebook or accidentally sending the picture to the wrong person, or sharing it because you trust that receiver to keep your secret with you, right? 

Later, you find out that you hate your boyfriend for cheating on you, showing the picture to his buddies in the locker room, hate your BFF because she’s the one that stole your man, or maybe that your phone got stolen or your Facebook got hacked. 

In comes the cyber-haunting.  The secret pictures or videos are out for everyone to see but that’s just the issue right, they will forever be out there in cyberspace waiting for the proper keystroke to have them viewed again or another mass text to be sent out by the next frenemy to come around.

The moral of this story is that my so-coined idea of cyber-haunting is very real.  Most teens and tweens don’t seem to have the life experience to fathom the far-reaching effects of the internet, cell phones, and digital videos could potentially have on the rest of their lives.  The roommate from The Real World TV show is a crazy example of cyber-haunting that unfortunately is becoming more and more a reality than something that we all say will never happen to us or anyone we know.

Teach your teens and tweens about the positives and negatives of the technologies they use.  Teach them to make good decisions about their personal lives, cyber lives, and potential for cyber-haunting.  Personal and parental boundary setting and self-awareness are the keys to preventing cyber-haunting.




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