Archie Bland: People hurt other people; sometimes it's that simple

FreeView from the editors at i

Share

A little after 8 o'clock in the evening of 22 September 2010, Tyler Clementi, a gay student at Rutgers University in New Jersey, posted a status update on Facebook: "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry."

A few minutes later Dharun Ravi, the roommate who had watched him kiss another man via webcam and later attempted to stream another sexual encounter to his friends, sent him a text in which he said that "all his actions were good natured". He sent another, insisting he had no problem with Clementi's sexuality. But it made no odds. Clementi's things were later found on the edge of the bridge. He had jumped.

When the story first emerged, it was swiftly mythologised into a tale for our hyperconnected times: it became a commonplace that Ravi had put a sex tape of Clementi on the internet and that he had outed him. Neither claim is true. But now Ravi is on trial accused of hate crimes and other offences, all of which he denies, they will no doubt spread again. In fact, as a masterful piece in the New Yorker by Ian Parker makes clear, the truth is harder to be sure of. Ravi's behaviour was appalling. But the law is ill-suited to adjudicating simple bad behaviour and the weightier question of criminality is far less clear. At the heart of this case, as at the heart of all of the cases that haunt us, is a void.

Texts, Facebook messages and emails attest to the process that led up to Clementi's decision. But there is no record that can tell us what went through his mind before he leapt. The jury has to try to reach a verdict. For the rest of us, any such conclusions are fraught with difficulty. The dangers are visible in those myths about the sex tape and the outing: they suggest a public sphere obsessed with attributing tragedy not to people, but to things; a world that can't bear the idea of something unknowable and sad, and is instead preoccupied with explaining it, and hence explaining it away.

These days, the internet, being new, is the most fruitful repository for those explanations. If a killer rings his victim, the case is not known as a TELEPHONE MURDER; substitute the call with a Facebook message, on the other hand, and the interaction takes on a heavier burden.

The truth, of course, is the same in both instances: the medium did not do the thing. The person did the thing. I have no idea whether Tyler Clementi would have killed himself before the advent of the internet. But I know this: for as long as there have been bridges, there have been people standing at the top of them, with no sense of an escape route and no hope of help on the way.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine