Exposing the Idiocy of Videocy: Case Study # 4

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Tyler Clementi

In the accompanying video, a young man Steven Polido speculates upon Dharun Ravi’s repressed homosexuality: “Why would somebody,” he says, broadcast a roommate having gay sex unless he was repressing his own homoerotic desire? From a Freudian or Kinseyan perspective of latent homosexuality, that observation seems to go without saying for Ravi as well as those who might have tuned in, but from the philosophical register of finitude that Davis is writing from, the desire to identify Ravi as a gay man in denial propagates the logic of identification that was at the core of the event. Ravi says Clementi’s gay-ness was “just an interesting fact,” interesting enough, curious enough, different enough, weird enough, to rig a camera, point it at Tyler’s bed, and have a viewing party complete with Bacardi and beer.

As we know, the logic of identification is inherently rhetorical. We are persuaded by those like us or those with whom we wish to identify. Ravi, identifying with his friends on Twitter and social media, scapegoats Clementi because Clementi’s sex life makes interesting news to captivate his audience. Ravi is already persuaded by the idea of recording Clementi having gay sex because he wishes to identify with his friends. As Kenneth Burke has taught us, identification precedes persuasion and here we see Ravi working identification to the tune of his Twitter audience. Rhetoric as symbolic action, and a series of unfortunate events will unfold.

YouTube’s videocy exposes our secrets so that people find them out when we don’t want them to, but the problem, we would argue, is the logic of identification or being consubtantial-with that determines what those exposures will mean and how they will be judged and determined. Those judgments impact our, impacted Tyler’s, sense of belonging-with. While many cried over the senselessness of Clementi’s suicide, many also identified with Ravi, seeing in themselves the potential for the same folly. The stupidity of Ravi’s twitter posts and the idiocy of Ravi’s web cam have called many to remember that just as we could mourn the loss of Clementi and identify with his anguish, we could have just as well acted as carelessly as Ravi. On some level, the commentators suggest, are we not all like Ravi and Clementi? Are we not, on some level, a stupid college freshman and a tormented gay man? Are they not one of us?

In “Finitude’s Clamor,” an essay on exposure, stupidity, and death, Davis writes a chilling sentence in light of the Clementi case. “If finitude were foregrounded . . . one thing is clear: No notion of the composing subject would make it out alive” (135).  Ravi’s tools of iChat and Twitter captured and suspended Tyler so that he could only leave that suspension from a bridge.

Over exposed. Too much light ruining the images we make of ourselves. Anyone can doctor or spin our identities. These images reveal more or less but always the inappropriate amount of truth that should suit the balance we try to manage between how we see ourselves and how much we want others to see.

Finitude: We are born. We will die, and we must live with others who share these three conditions with us. What makes this important is that as Nancy has pointed out, these conditions are in no way appropriable. The fact that I was born, will die, and must share this with you is beyond my choice. These givens come from beyond us, they exceed our very existence. My finitude does not belong to me.  It distances me from myself. I exist. I sistare, to stand. Ex. Outside. I ex.ist. I stand outside. I exist in my finitude which is to say I begin by being alienated from myself. I stand outside myself as it were, attempting, perhaps, to look in.  It is my life, but its conditions, its givenness is not mine. I am exposed to it. My finitude is my limit that I cannot own, appropriate, or assimilate.

To expose our finitude Is not to tell our secrets, not to come out if we do not want to. It’s not to build a community that is based on identity, a community of gay teens, of cyber-bullying legislators, of PSA’s and awareness campaigns. The exposure of finitude is a rhetoric beyond symbolic action, and it reaches past identification or different from it. James Clementi wondered whether Tyler would have abandoned his thoughts of suicide if he could have gotten through the “dark hour.” Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project, is a testament of all those who have gotten through dark hours and for all those who may still need to.

But everyone is tormented differently, even if some may not seem to be. And it is this torment, these multitudes of torments that you can now spend a lifetime watching on YouTube, that Geoff Sirc talks about in his essay “Godless Composition, Tormented Writing.” It is through the torment that what Bataille calls communication can occur, but this communication is not one of understanding, or if it is an understanding, it is where we understand that we are alien creatures to each other and to ourselves, an alienation, that no force of consubstantiality, subjectivity, or capture can overcome. “Only by this cry,” Bataille writes, “do I have the power to annihilate in me the ‘I’ as they will annihilate it in them if they hear me” (Bataille 61).  In its reach beyond identification, in its reach beyond symbolic action, a rhetoric exposed to finitude is a hopeful gesture as well.

Finitude is not my death. We might call that finite-ness. Finitude is what Davis calls an exposure to our “originary rhetoricity” (Inessential 3). Should we not ask, somewhat differently but consistently with his brother James, what if Tyler been exposed to his finitude in addition to merely his subjectivity and identity? What if he recognized that his exposure, as we have been suggesting in this essay, followed a double movement? A secondary exposure to the idiocy, absurdity, the joke of it all? To an exposure that knows that we are more than our identities? He might have shrugged it off with laughter.

No subjects will make it out alive. That’s a good thing. People are another matter. At bottom, we share with each other and other creatures the inappropriable uncontrollable givenness of our finitude and our alienation.  Any two or two million people, then, open to the unwavering fact of what they are, can share their alienation, this “inappropriable exteriority” which, to some ears, may not sound like much, and it may not be much, a turn of the eye, a movement of a facial muscle, a hand touching yours unexpectedly. Even a stupid video.