I admired Terri Irwin for watching and then destroying the footage of her husband Steve being attacked by the stingray that killed him. I felt glad for her that she didn’t sell her husband’s death to the highest bidder, but I was also disappointed - I felt jibbed of the spectacle.
I don’t usually seek out violent or vicious films, but when I read that a video clip of two schoolgirls fighting had been removed from YouTube, I was again disappointed that I hadn’t had a chance to see that clip. I am a YouTube member with nearly 60 videos posted on my profile page, and have an avid interest in the random homemade videos I come across on the site and, in this case, the clip that had been removed from it.
Having watched a number of disturbing clips I was intrigued as to what had caused YouTube to remove this one. I wondered about the process that took place from the clip’s posting to its deletion. I thought about making and uploading an offensive clip of my own, to find out about the removal process from a user’s perspective; but I feared having my account suspended, or my films removed.
The content of my YouTube films includes: family members blowing out birthday candles and cutting cakes, my boyfriend’s son standing up on his skateboard for the first time, and one of my chooks venturing into my home. They are a photo album, a video diary of small life moments, but ultimately meaningless to somebody else.
I managed to track down the film of the two schoolgirls fighting. Compared with the choreographed violence we see depicted in movies, this real life clash was more of a scuffle than a fight. The girls punch, grab, and kick each other clumsily. Both the action and sound lack the theatrical overstatedness of a professionally produced film; nothing is slowed down for the camera or exaggerated for the benefit of the viewer.
When I typed the words “bitch fight” into YouTube, nearly 17,000 search results are returned. Some of the clips are of girls slapping each other, while others are of full-blown fights that are just as violent, or even more violent, than the one that was removed.
Clearly, watching something in real life differs from watching it on a screen or from when you are filming it - not only because you experience the action via the view finder or screen, but because you have already left that moment, and are conscious of constructing it and how it will be re-lived.
Good question. What I think is an equally good question is: what would compel someone to video people fighting then post the footage to the public sphere of the web? To safeguard evidence? For proof of the event? For the thrill of the spectacle? The Romans built immense arenas to view gladiators do battle, which evolved into modern day sporting stadiums. Today though, the violence of sport has been sanitised by its commercialisation in a way that the arena of YouTube has not. At the heart of my inquiry is my inability to understand that someone’s first reaction to witnessing a fight is to take out his or her phone and film it. Even though I too am a recorder of the ephemeral, I struggle to understand this motive.
I live in a small rural town where I limit my exposure to the things I abhor: overt consumerism, advertising, traffic congestion, fast food, chain stores and violent acts. Perhaps if violence were a part of my everyday life it would seem normal to want to film it and share it with the world as I do the incidentals of my life. And, perhaps if I subscribed to the violence Hollywood promotes, I might welcome a fight taking place in the mundanity of my every day, to bond me to the glamour of the big screen stars. Though maybe the motive is innate, and harks back to ingrained memories of fighting for survival, food or a desirable mate.
During the 16 years since I left school, I may have forgotten the intensity of the need to fit in. The economy of insecurity relies on the social currency of one-upmanship to prosper. Filming two rivaling schoolgirls equates to such capital because it is this kind of insider information that influences social positioning.