I was on WCPO earlier this week discussing the viral video of the Covington Catholic students interacting with a Native American attending a rally near the Lincoln Monument. The gist of the WCPO story was the speed with which information zooms around the internet. The participants in the events – students, protestors and bystanders got caught up in a viral tidal wave that appears to have taken on a life of its own. And to the extent that is because too many people shared the video and/or offered instant analysis based on incomplete information, that is unfortunate.
But another aspect of the whole thing is how the video served as a kind of Rorschach test. The Rorschach test is where people are shown a random ink blot and asked to describe what they see. The idea is that the answer will reveal the person’s unconscious thoughts, motives or desires.
And while the viral video was not an ink blot, it kind of worked the same way. It seems to me that any number of people, seeing a young white man in a MAGA hat face to face to with an elderly Native American, made some pretty hasty, if not unconscious assumptions. That is unavoidable I think. We tend to react to visual stimuli. But the problems arise when we immediately post those reactions online. And especially when we present them as conclusions.
And that process sparks a counter Rorschach response going the other way. For every poster who sees white privilege at work in the original video snippet, someone else sees a “snowflake” at work in the post commenting on the video. And so it goes. And that process doesn’t constitute “engagement.” People aren’t talking to each other online any more than the Cov Cath students were engaging with the Black Hebrew Israelites near the Lincoln Monument. Shouting past one another – whether in full throat or via keyboard clicks is many things, but it’s not a meaningful exchange.
And that is one element of this mess that has gotten lost in the mix. There is a longer video out there which shows a little more of the lead up to the events, including the interplay between the Cov Cath students and the Black Hebrew Israelites, who initially taunted the students. Nathan Phillips – the Native American — says he put himself between the two groups to diffuse the tension.
The video adds context for sure. But I’d suggest viewers not stop watching once the Cov Cath students depart. At about the 1:33 mark of the video, another group of young people actually engage with the Black Hebrew Israelites. And there is dialogue. No taunts, no “cheers” – just an effort to understand one another. I wish that were the part that went viral.