Just watched a bit of footage of some lads smashing up a young woman’s car during the violence in Vancouver yesterday. She bravely tried to fend them off, even though they all towered over her. A huge crowd stood around watching and videoing what was happening and not one of them did anything to help. (I’m not going to link to it because it’s disturbing and because the person who shot it was one of those passive bystanders, who didn’t come to her rescue.)
The casual violence is disconcerting enough. But, I’m really freaked out by the weird spectating thing where people just stand by filming horrors as if they’re totally divorced from them, showing no sign of empathy or concern or any sense that they might intervene. I read about it, but actually seeing it, really brings home just how disturbing all those blank, staring people are.
In the footage I saw, this dynamic was played out all over town – small groups of people smashing things and strutting around afterwards as if they’ve done something clever and worthwhile, and huge numbers of other people wandering around filming the mayhem and doing nothing to stop it. In fact, they’re condoning and encouraging it both by bearing witness, (people play up to the camera, so filming them encourages violence,) and by their failure to act.
What’s with that voyeuristic response to the world? Since when does holding up a cell phone to take pictures confer immunity from engagement in what’s going on? Is it a nasty side-effect of the brave new world of social media? Or was it always like this, and am I just showing my middle-aged biases when I think that this detached, leering stance is a new one?