Shocking the Youtube generation
""Don't tase me, bro!"" may well be the cultural catchphrase of 2007, because by now, most have doubtlessly seen the video of Andrew Meyer, a University of Florida student tasered at a campus forum with Senator John Kerry.
In fact, you've probably watched it a few times, so you know how it goes: Meyer grabs the microphone and jumps into an increasingly indignant preface to his question, beginning with disenfranchised voters and ending with a maniac query about Skull and Bones. After two minutes of pushy speech, someone cuts off the microphone, and police try to restrain him. They drag him to the back of the auditorium, and the crowd applauds as Meyer cries out, repeatedly asking, ""Why are you arresting me?"" and ""What did I do?"" as John Kerry's mellifluous voice drones on unconcerned in the background. Moments later, the student is pinned on the ground by five officers. He utters his iconic line, and in seconds, his obnoxious clamor is replaced with anguished howls and a high-voltage buzz as an officer pulls the trigger of a Taser.
The frenzied exhortation ""Don't tase me, bro!"" made Meyer an instant Internet celebrity - the Youtube video of his tasering viewed an estimated 2.6 million times. Since the incident, the famous phrase has been emblazoned on T-shirts, sampled in remixes, and bandied about the blogosphere. Now, Meyer is trying to put the disturbing incident behind him.
As part of a deal to avoid prosecution, Meyer released several public apologies this week, equal parts sincere statement and coerced compromise. ""I'm so sorry that I lost my cool in that auditorium,"" one reads, and the sentiment seems genuine. In a letter to the university community, he apologizes for casting Florida in ""a negative light."" In one to the public, he admits that ""being adamant and confrontational"" was not the best way to express his opinion. And, in a letter to the campus police department that detained him, he admits that he acted ""outside the proper time, place, and manner."" The letters are a mature response to an irrational incident, and Meyer's words make it clear that he is disappointed that the spectacle of his arrest overshadowed the content of his message. But as heartfelt as his apologies may be, Andrew Meyer is the last student who should be apologizing. The rest of us have committed a far more troubling offense.
It's hard to watch the video
At first, the audience's interest is piqued by the incensed interrogation at the microphone. As the question rambles on, many visibly react with embarassment, turning their heads and looking away from the crazy guy at the front of the stage. It's a natural response to an awkward public situation.
But as Meyer is dragged away, the mood changes. A few cautious laughs, then a spate of ambiguous applause from the audience. As his cries grow louder, the onlookers quiet down, as if eager to watch the sadistic performance unfold. A few students smile, and others turn to look as police drag Meyer to the back of the auditorium. As he struggles with the police, many students crane their necks and sit up in their seats to get a better view. In one video, two students are clearly visible, smiling, snickering and quietly sitting by as Meyer squirms on the floor. And then it's too late ... the isolated and indignant cries from a few members of the audience don't start until the chilling electrical clicks of the Taser begin
Most telling are the actions students failed to take. Where were the cries of outrage? Why did no one join in civil disobedience? How could students be too afraid to disrupt the event to stand, yell or do anything at all? They watched the same way the rest of us would after the fact - as detached from the violence in front of them as if the incident were just another Taser video on Youtube. The most consequential action of any member of the audience? Pulling a camera phone to snap photos of the atrocity unfolding before their eyes.
Meanwhile, the millions of students who watched the incident worldwide have remained just as quiet. An Internet comment here, a blog post there - but we're just as complicit as the idle students in that auditorium.
In his statements, Andrew Meyer apologizes to students, but the members of an apathetic Youtube generation are the ones who should be apologizing to him.
Connor Mendenhall is a sophomore majoring in economics and international studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.