09 March 2009

Textual Harrassment: Rumors, Techonology, and the Gossip Girl Generation

When I was a catty, teenage girl the greatest threats to my social life were the vicious rumors that were often spread by my so-called friends. Such rumors would distributed through the simplest of technologies, notes passed in class or every one's favorite game, telephone. By the end of a particularly difficult day, Tommy So-and-So would finally know that I had a crush on him, even if he was dating Mindy the cheerleader. Such events could be temporarily damaging, but generally faded after a few days. Today, teens are facing an ever changing environment in which even they do not have complete control.

Social networking sites such as facebook, which I joined with great reluctance, allow for ordinary citizens to become mini-celebrities. People you haven't talked to since elementary school are suddenly your best friend. Actual friends are provided status updates; photo galleries allow for nights of drunken debauchery to be encapsulated in cyberspace for all eternity. While technology such as Twitter and Flikr have viable applications, they are often misused or abused. For today's teens, a brief moment of indecision towards a supposed friend can lead to what may seem like a lifetime of misery.

Technology, while convenient, has created a world in which abusive relationships can thrive in unprecedented forms. As a teen in the nineties, I was witness to friends and boyfriends who were overzealous with instant messaging, phone calls, and even beeper pages. (Yes, prior to the proliferation of cell phones high school students carried pagers). While receiving repeated pages or phone calls was annoying, the person on the other end had no way of tracking your location. Global positioning technology that is currently available in many consumer electronics has paved the way for abusive partner to maintain constant location some one's whereabouts.

During the past month, the airwaves have been jammed with fans who were horrified at domestic dispute between musicians Chris Brown and his girlfriend, Rihanna. Apparently, the incident, which led to extensive injuries and a blood spattered car, was precipitated by Rihanna intercepting a text message that was intended for Chris Brown. Art often imitates life, but in this instance, Rihanna's concern over the female sender of the message led to a period of violence. What fans are finding most disturbing, however, is that she has not public renounced domestic violence or issued some form of statement that is seeking assistance. The fact that both artists maintain a youthful fan base is what I personally find most disturbing.

The Chris Brown and Rihanna incident has sent a very dangerous message to young women who may need to seek help for domestic violence. Thanks to the piranhas at TMZ, police photos of a horribly battered Rihanna have been leaked to the press. The anonymity that is normally afforded victims is apparently forgone when a victim is famous. Thankfully, there are various efforts that are being made to counteract bullying, domestic abuse, and technology abuse.

In an attempt to draw awareness to technology abuse, domestic abuse, and gossiping, The Family Violence Prevention Fund and The Ad Council have launched the website, That's Not Cool. That's Not Cool is a clever site that has provides free e-cards for teens to send to their friends, gossip mongers, and partners about actions that are just not cool. Included in this list is the abuse of instant messaging, posting damaging information on social networking sites, or stalking. This humorous take on these often illegal activities is intended to help create a dialog amongst teens regarding abuse.

As a fan of Gossip Girl, I often marvel at the over-the-top plots, dialog, and wardrobe. Is Chuck Bass really wearing a pink ascot? However, I must admit that I was horrified at a plot that unfolded during Season One of the series. During the episode, Poison Ivy, Blair Waldorf and her cohort Chuck Bass, spread the nasty rumor that one of their flock was absent from school due to stint in a rehabilitation facility. Complete with photographs that are distributed throughout the school faster than a snow chain, this rumor has devastating effects on both the subject and her family members. In true Gossip Girl fashion, there are no negative consequences for Chuck or Blair. It is not until an entire season later that all of the rumor spreading finally catches up with Blair. Perhaps, someone needs to send her character a That's Not Cool message.

The Mean Girl Playlist:

Hot and Cold-Katy Perry

Wikked 'Lil Girls-Esthero

Kiss Me Thru the Phone-Soulja Boy


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