The man snorting cocaine on the Tube may have been stupid - but does he deserve to have his life ruined?

The crime of 'being an idiot' doesn't merit this punishment

Click to follow
The Independent Online

We are being watched, all of the time. Everywhere you go, cameras are waiting to catch the unchecked stupidity, the embarrassing stumble, the drunken babble. One moment of thoughtlessness can be recorded and instantly shared with hoards of salivating and sanctimonious voyeurs across the world, before being logged and indelibly inscribed on our history. But rather than some form of 1984-style government surveillance scheme come good, the watchers are… us.

The latest victim of the camera-phone is 23 year-old Tom Osborne, a City worker who was filmed apparently snorting cocaine on the Northern Line. The video was sold to The Sun, with one eyewitness helpful telling them:  “The guy was completely out of it. It was like something out of The Wolf of Wall Street, but on the Tube. There were loads of passengers on the train. It was a Friday night and the Tube was packed. This guy was just being an idiot.”

And the punishment which we have collectively decided that the crime of ‘just being an idiot’ merits? A ritual public humiliation, complete with a statement from his employer, pictures of his family home splashed across the papers, and old ‘school friends’ tracked down for juicy quotes. 'He's had a really hard time recently’ one told the Daily Mail, with absolutely no sense of irony.

Quite clearly, taking drugs on public transport and then offering to share with your fellow commuters would be an utterly moronic thing to do, albeit daft rather than dangerous and ultimately harming no one but the user. But Osborne’s name may now join the ranks of far too many others whose futures will be defined by one brief instant of insanity. For our own voyeuristic amusement, this young man’s career has been dismantled, his personal life laid bare for us to idly pick over, his reputation questioned and linked with a moment he may now count as one of his lowest. What a comedown.

It is deeply depressing that someone in that carriage could have watched Osborne’s antics and decided that the appropriate course of action was to start videoing. Based on the clip, it’s hard to the believe that the person behind the camera had any sort of good intentions aside from a desire to ‘go viral’. Consider this: did they intervene to get a man in need some help? Or did they simply use his problem to make a quick buck, exchanging his shame for cash? 

The lack of compassion or empathy involved is staggering, but I wonder whether the response might have been different if Osborne wasn’t dressed in a ‘dark blue suit, light grey shirt with shiny black brogues’, and clearly on his way home from a job in finance. Perhaps we are so inured to the idea of a ‘City Boy’ being a callous tosser that we fail to recognise someone in need. But a lucrative career, expensive shoes or cossetted upbringing are not enough in themselves to protect from mental harm. A healthy bank balance can provide many things, but a shield against public ridicule it is not.

Or perhaps the false sense of distance afforded by an iPhone screen allows us to separate ourselves from the reality of what is happening right in front of us. After a mother and her 16-year-old daughter fell in front of a train and died at Ealing Broadway station on Tuesday night, a station announcement was required to remind witnesses that taking photos of the scene was in rather poor taste. What those snapping were planning to do with the pictures once they got home (is there a suitable Instagram filter for a corpse?), or how they would feel when stumbling upon them months later in their phone’s memory is beyond me, but the saga illustrates an interesting point about the dehumanising effect of life viewed through a phone.

Filming strangers behaving foolishly doesn’t make us act any better or the world a nicer place to live in. Instead, it makes victims of the most vulnerable, and excuses the rest of us from actual, real-life interaction.