It felt weird to not have my phone, to be out in the world without instant access, without instant contact. I smashed my iphone last week, along with my face, when I careened into a sidewalk pothole and didn’t make it successfully out the other side. The fall definitely rang my bell, nothing broke, and I was a little banged up, but the phone in fact suffered most of the damage.
Being without my device wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I had my laptop, and my old iphone, which while it doesn’t work as a phone, works perfectly well as a camera. It’s mostly C’s, with his games and books and things on it, and he was proud to share it with me.
We were in Kent, CT, visiting my Gram. We wandered out into the little town armed only with a wristwatch and a paperback, just like it was the 90’s. Before we left Gram’s house in the morning, to head out and see what we could find, I scrolled through Facebook on my laptop.
As I scrolled, a video automatically started playing. It showed a young woman fiercely smashing her toddler with a pillow. The person who shared the video commented that we needed to do something about this, that this is what child abuse looks like, and something needs to be done.
I couldn’t get the video out of my head all day. Amidst the tall trees, the perfect breeze, this video repeated in my mind. The woman’s back is to the camera, and she sits on her knees, with her feet out to either side, w style. Her hair is long and tied back in a loose ponytail. She sits on a bed, her baby on the other side of the bed, against the wall. The woman holds a pillow, brings it up over her head, and smashes it down hard on the child. The baby falls onto the bed, and she continues hitting her with the pillow.
A note of description under the video says ‘gangnam style,’ so I imagine the video with that song as the soundtrack. Also from the description I got the idea that the people in this video were in Malaysia, and that the mom was a teenager.
It ran for only a few seconds before I regained myself and scrolled past it. The beating was shocking, not what I was looking for when I logged in. I’d wanted to see what people were up to on this sunny weekend, to see photos of friends’ smiling children, witticisms and philosophical briefs. I moved past the video and don’t remember anything after that, so I closed the laptop, found the sunscreen, and took my son out to play in the sun.
But I thought about the video all day, it played and played like a stuck song. Because I didn’t have my phone, I couldn’t just log on to fb or someplace else and bury the post in the continuous mental feed. I thought about the child, I thought about the mom, I thought about the person shooting the damn thing, and I thought about the person who shared this on their feed, the person who, in sharing, asked me to do something about it. They’d already done something about it: they’d shared it, they’d commented on it, they’d demanded action. Their conscience was clear, but now it was up to me.
I examined the facts:
Somewhere in the world, someone recorded a woman beating her child, set it to music, and posted it to facebook. This was perhaps in Malaysia.
People who saw the video were outraged. This outrage caused them to shared it.
Lots more people shared it. Telling those they shared it with that ‘we need to do something’ gave them the feeling that they were doing something.
We need to do something.
There are lots of children who get abused. There are lots of viral videos.
There are lots of things that need to be done.
It’s been three days and I can’t get the video out of my head. I resist the urge to go find it on fb, watch it all the way through, find out if Gangnam Style is really playing behind it.
There is no action I can take to prevent Malaysian teenage mothers from beating their children.
I weigh that in my mind. What are the actions I could take? I could give money to an organization that attempts to prevent child abuse in Malaysia. I could give money to an organization that attempts to prevent teen pregnancy in Malaysia. I could give money to groups that attempt to prevent those things here in the US. I could petition my congressperson to pass laws that designate more money to organizations that attempt to prevent those things both here and abroad. I could go to Malaysia and find this woman and ask her to stop. I could adopt abused children and not abuse them, and love them, instead. If there are more things I could do that would be considered having done ‘something’ I can’t think what they are.
I come to the conclusion that: I’m not going to do anything about this child being abused.
My having seen this video has not even raised my awareness about child abuse. I knew about child abuse. I knew how bad it was before I saw this video. I didn’t know about this specific child, or this specific mother. I knew already that not everyone in the world is having a nice time being alive. I knew that. We know that. There is nothing we can do to make sure that everyone in the world has a nice time being alive. Being kind to the people around us does not ensure that everyone in the world will have a nice time being alive. There are lots of lives that suck to live.
What am I supposed to do with this video playing non stop in my mind? It would have been better had I never checked fb at all than been stuck watching this video play against the backdrop of my closed eyes for days.
I sat looking at my child, sharing chocolate and apples together, and I saw this woman beating her toddler, heard the music playing. I held his hand as we looked both ways and crossed the street, and the child in my mind stopped moving, the pillow smashing down, again. We chose some books at the used book sale and I kept imagining this child, reaching out for his mother’s love, and being denied that love over and over, with every hit. I held my child tight; would that I could have held her child tight as well.
The thing I’ve liked most about fb is seeing pictures of friends’ and family’s children. Games, events, parties, smiles, missing teeth, ice cream cones, beach pictures, vacations. The next best thing is hearing about people’s art projects. But the thing I don’t like, as of this auto-play video, is raising awareness. My level of awareness is already pretty high; any higher, and I can’t live my life.
I’ve logged on to fb since the video incident. But I’ve been super careful, and haven’t scrolled very far into the feed. I’ve been scroll-shy, not wanting to see the myriad pictures of missing children, like so many milk boxes clustered together, or reports of horrible treatment, death, disfigurement, malnourishment, abuse, hatred, greed, neglect.
I know about all that stuff, I know about it all the time. But I can’t go around feeling so much, for so many, on a screen. I can’t just have my open heart be continuously ambushed, but I don’t want to close it either.
The iphone has been repaired. But I’m keeping fb off of it. That way I can avoid the little pings of agony every time I check it, and see a problem I can’t solve, a person I can’t help. There’s no resolution here except to not force myself to go through the mental exercise of disentangling myself emotionally from the world’s problems, at least not via mobile, at least not twenty times a day.