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

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Assistant Editor: Domestic violence is no petty matter

Siobhan Norton
 

There’s nothing wrong with GM

Steve Connor
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried