In a video mirroring and sort-of deepening — but mostly cheapening — the discussion started by last month’s now-infamous catcalling-in-NY video, a girl walks around Hollywood Boulevard with a drink in hand, pretending to be cripplingly inebriated and lost, while someone carrying a hidden camera follows close behind, recording men’s flagrant attempts at exploiting the situation. While the girl in the catcalling video was fully alert — which didn’t stop one man from following her for quite a while — this video further excavates the intentions behind the “innocent catcall” by pretending to weaken the recipient of male attention. So far, this sounds pretty serious.
Yes, as soon as her heightened vulnerability is perceived by men who might otherwise stop at catcalling, their behavior becomes terrifyingly active. In fact, most of the men this woman solicits — to help direct her toward a bus home — try to lead her to their own car, and are very vocal about the terminus of the ride being “their place.” Still sounds pretty damn serious.
It’s so serious that I, the viewer, having unsuspectingly read The Daily Dot (it’s also posted pretty much everywhere else), and having stumbled upon this (just another, perhaps even more dramatic display of the indelicacy of heterosexual male lust!), initially overlooked the fact that the makers of this video had chosen to shoot it on Hollywood Boulevard — a place where, regardless of who you are, just about everyone will try to take advantage of you. They’ll pretend to be your child’s favorite superhero and then try to extort five dollars from your child. They’ll convince poor, unsuspecting tourists that, believe it or not, Ripley’s Believe It or Not won’t be a rip-off. And, it seems, they’ll try to take you home with them, if you’re a drunk girl.
Yes, after my initial revulsion at men’s behavior had been awakened, it took a few moments for me to realize that this revulsion, at least in the case of this video, needed to be partially redirected toward a different, more indirect form of exploitation. The problem with the clip is that the video seems to be gaining momentum from the fervor that erupted over the catcalling video, perpetuating an odd desire to witness the continuation of said behavior. It’s that goddamn proverbial accident on the side of highway. Scarily, there’s an unimpeachable element of it here, too, in these words. I’m here to question — how can I not perpetuate? Here, regardless, are some questions:
Can we really trust a video that seems to be capitalizing on a trend, that selected Hollywood Boulevard (again, pretty much the seediest place in Los Angeles), as its basis for a “social experiment”? Further, the catcalling video was made for Hollaback, an established organization with an agenda to end street harassment. This video was made by Stephen Zhang, who is, according to his website, “a serial entrepreneur, developing innovative ideas and executing methods for online marketing and social media.” Now, maybe Stephen Zhang is the world’s next biggest feminist (maker of viral videos), but something about that last bit of information suggests that the motives behind this video might be murky at best.
And it goes deeper. The video was first picked up by a website called Total Frat Move, a platform geared toward frat boys, which has a column called “Instagram Babe of the Day” (meet Chelsea from San Francisco State University)! It was posted under the headline, “Tall, Hot Brunette Acts Drunk In Public To See How Guys Will React, Every Guy Does Exactly What You’d Expect.” The subheading: “‘Yeah, come over. Oh you need a bus stop? There is one right in front of my house. Here get in my convertible van!’ I’m not sure what this chick expected to find out in this social science experiment, but about 95% of America saw this coming.”
The reasons why this is so fucked up should go without saying. The video was posted to YouTube before Total Frat Move posted it, so it’s not clear that the video’s creator tailored it directly to the urges of the frat-centric website. But the fact that they were the first to pick it up underscores a dizzying slew of problems. First of all, there’s the flippancy of the headings, suggesting, as idiots are wont to do, that heels, a sundress, and inebriation beg, “Take advantage of me, stranger.” Should be “expected,” right?! The fact that the video could be misinterpreted as such shows that content like this — content which furthers a discussion of the hardship male surveillance in pedestrian settings creates for women — is necessary.
But how do you reconcile that with the fact that you’re watching a video by a person whose seeming job description, again, according to his website, is: “he controls an audience of more than 50 million on various social outlets”?
This video provokes a great number of questions — but doesn’t getting outraged by it automatically make us subordinate to Zhang’s explicitly stated “control”? Behind this lurks the rancid fact the creator’s job is to make things that become viral. There’s the fact that, real or fake, there’s a man whose career is thriving on the idea that this treatment towards women continues to exist, who deliberately modeled a web video knowing that this, right now, is what people are craving.
There lies in this a strange confluence: Are we craving social justice, or are we craving more occurrences of injustice to get upset about? Did we just accept the condescension of spoon-fed outrage? Again, without getting too annoyingly self-reflexive, I am fully aware of the ways this post is complicit in giving attention to this video. How, really, can that be avoided, after some website — any website — chooses to get outraged, and then some other website follows suit?
All of these factors, perhaps unintentionally, amplify the ugliness behind the acts depicted in these videos. They show that men not only commit predatory and/or exploitative acts, but that one man in particular turns around and exploits those exploitative acts for the sake of… serial entrepreneurship!? Maybe? This is, it seems, becoming a very complex web of grossness. The solution isn’t to stop discussing the realities facing women who dare to go out in public — the solution is to fully understand both what’s going on in these videos and what’s behind their creation. And who are we kidding? The discussion won’t really be done until Rush Limbaugh admits we have a problem. So get used to the fact that it will be — and probably should be — infinite. Let’s just hope that, within that infinity, we won’t become bogged down by media that exploits the discussion it pretends to further.
UPDATE: Turns out, pretty unsurprisingly, that the video is a hoax. Zhang’s “sidekick,” Seth Leach, posted a message on Facebook: “Heading out to LA again tomorrow and creating some more viral videos for your viewing and learning pleasure…We are the dream team!” So, yeah.