JULIA BAYLY

Big Brother and friends are watching, filming and uploading

Julia Bayly
Julia Bayly
Posted April 05, 2012, at 6 p.m.

Ever since George Orwell warned against the dangers of an all-seeing, all-knowing and all-controlling government in “1984,” a good many people have been leery of Big Brotheresque intrusions into their private lives.

The way I see it, government is not the problem. To paraphrase Pogo, “We have downloaded the enemy and it is us.”

Recent events would seem to bear this out.

If ever there were any doubts about the role the Internet plays in our daily lives, consider last weekend’s incident at the Presque Isle Walmart Supercenter, or what I like to call “The Easter Bunny Smack Down.”

According to the official police report, four young men were involved in an alleged “assault” on a Walmart employee wearing an Easter Bunny costume.

Initially, reports indicated one of the young men was seated on the Easter Bunny’s lap and one or more individuals went after him and the bunny may have been collateral damage.

Further investigation subsequently revealed the young men may have staged the entire thing as a prank specifically to film it and upload it onto a video-sharing site such as YouTube or Facebook.

Instead, the four found themselves facing criminal charges and their names published as part of the police report.

I suspect not exactly the notoriety they were expecting.

Not that they came out of it without a visual souvenir for their efforts — in-store security cameras apparently helped lead to their identification.

It would be easy to laugh this off, but such antics have become endemic in our society as video equipment becomes smaller, easier to use and more affordable.

Where once a camera in a cell phone was considered a James Bond-like extravagance, high-quality video capability is a standard option in today’s smartphones.

In fact, I used the video function on my own phone to film the massive fire in Fort Kent two weeks ago. Had I wanted to, I simply could have pressed a few buttons and instantly loaded that footage onto the BDN website or my own Facebook account.

All around me, people were doing exactly that.

Turns out, in at least one case, it’s a darn good thing they did.

Within minutes of the fire breaking out behind Nadeau’s House of Furniture, photos, comments and video were flying around social networking sites.

Jenna Roy lived in one of the apartments destroyed in the blaze and was home that night — sound asleep in front of her television, which apparently masked the sound of sirens and the evacuation efforts.

Instead, Roy woke to the sound of the text message alert on her cell phone. A friend in Bangor had seen accounts of the fire on Facebook, knew Roy lived in a neighboring building and wanted to make sure she was safe.

Thanks to that message, Roy escaped the building with just minutes to spare.

Videoing events as they unfold is certainly nothing new. In 1991, a home video captured Los Angeles police beating Rodney King, leading to public outcry and riots.

Twenty-eight years earlier, grainy home movie images taken by Abraham Zapruder happened to capture the exact moment the assassin’s bullet killed President John F. Kennedy.

Wars, ticker-tape parades, moon landings, sporting events, speeches and natural disasters have been chronicled on video for decades.

The difference now is the dispersal method.

Where once tapes had to be processed, copied and distributed in fairly laborious steps, today’s digital images can be sent around the world in seconds.

And when there are no events to record, there seems to be no end of people ready and willing to create their own.

This phenomena spawned several “reality” television shows and movies, including the “Jackass” franchise in which participants concocted stunts ranging from balancing on moving cars to standing in front of an activated automated baseball pitching machine.

Participants filmed themselves being injured or humiliated during these stunts in the hopes MTV would air their tapes for the world to see.

Predictably, the stunts became more and more dangerous as more and more people tuned in.

At least one death has been blamed on a “Jackass” stunt imitator and the show was canceled by MTV in 2002 after two years, though it did spawn several full-length movies.

People paying to see other people harm themselves?

I have to conclude that, had the early Romans possessed Internet and digital technology, they would have filmed hapless Christians as they were tossed to the lions and gleefully uploaded gladiator battles and chariot races to Facium-libro (Latin Facebook) and Te-fistula (Latin YouTube).

Certainly I am guilty of uploading photos and videos to my own Facebook page — it’s a great way to share the lifestyle here at Rusty Metal Farm with friends and family around the globe.

But I draw the line at coercing any of the Rusty Metal critters to engage in dangerous activities simply for the sake of a 30-second online clip.

These days, small and easily operated video cameras seem to be ubiquitous.

“Helmet cams” are common sights at sled dog races now, with mushers mounting the cameras on their sleds or helmets to film their dogs as they race.

On occasion those same cameras capture other racers engaged in race-related activities they may or may not wish to have broadcast to the wider world.

In my case, I am ever so grateful no cameras were around in 2010 when I was flying over the Can Am 30 trail on my stomach, hanging on to the dog sled for dear life as my six well-trained and strong dogs galloped down the trail, ignoring my repeated and wildly optimistic pleas of “Whoa!”

I mean, really — did the public need to see how close I came to losing my boots and pants thanks to the friction created by dragging over the snow-covered ground?

I think not.

Likewise, would there have been any serving the greater good had the four young men at the Presque Isle Walmart successfully carried out a scheme to first attack, then film and ultimately upload the Easter Bunny brouhaha video?

I certainly don’t see any.

Years ago my mother would caution me to never leave the house without clean undergarments lest I get into an accident with — well, you get the picture.

That was in an age long before digital imaging and the Internet. But if they had been around, I am quite certain my mother would have added making sure I had well-combed hair and a happy expression at all times, lest some jackass were to catch me on video for an instant upload.

After all, Big Brother and all of his friends are watching.

Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer who frequently submits articles to the BDN. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at jbaylybdn@gmail.com.

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