10.5.13

Star Wars Kid and Who We Are On the Internet

It's the end of our first week back, and I want to thank everyone for reading The Burnsider's return.

You may have noticed that our tone here is a little more aggressive than the average Christian blog. That's by design. Over the last few years I haven't been blogging, I've been heavily influenced by the writing at Gawker, Deadspin, and The AV Club, my three favorite sites to read. The candor and talent I find on those pages is something I deeply admire, and I find those elements lacking in much of the Christian blogosphere.

But as we set off to stir things up a bit, the most resonant theme this week for me was empathy. This is partly due to listening to David Foster Wallace's "This Is Water" speech for the first time in a while, and partly to conversations I've had. Promoting empathy is one of the most crucial components of following Jesus, and it's a value often lacking in Internet culture.

The story of Ghyslain Raza, aka Star Wars Kid, hammers those lessons home even further. Ghyslain was 14 when a private video he'd created became one of the world's first memes. His life after that video blew up was never the same. Imagine being 14, and then imagine the entire web-connected populace laughing at you, at your weight and your lack of coordination, all for simply acting the way 14 year-old boys act, for having harmless fun alone. It is utterly devastating for me to ponder. Despite a long decade battling depression and suicidal thoughts, Raza seems to be doing well, and says he wouldn't change anything. That takes the courage of a true Jedi.

It doesn't always end that way. Aleksey Vayner was the author of an internet meme far less sweet-natured than Star Wars Kid. His absurdly arrogant "Impossible Is Nothing" video is strewn across the internet, and it's funny. I've laughed at it many times, and read gleefully as he was roundly mocked and vilified. Vayner died of a drug overdose this year at the age of 29, and if you think the meme and his death aren't somehow connected, are you crazy?

I'm not trying to sermonize here. The Star Wars Kid video is hilarious in part because I see so much of myself in Ghyslain Raza. I used to set up a VHS recorder and dunk on a 5 foot plastic basketball hoop, often imitating the NBA players I looked up (and their voices, which could probably be construed as racism these days). I'm glad YouTube didn't exist then. Also, if you can't laugh at "Impossible is Nothing", what can you laugh at.

There's a balance we need to find in this Brave New Internet World, and as this blog unfolds, I hope our community of readers will help keep reminding us, in the words of one of the greatest writers who's ever lived, this is water.

(Aw, hell, just watch it once more without all the video effects.)

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