Ian Parker, writing for the New Yorker, has an absolutely must read story that goes in depth into the tragic story of Tyler Clementi and Dharun Ravi.
People may remember this story from about a year and a half back. Tyler Clementi was a freshman student at Rutgers University in New Jersey who was sharing a room with another freshman Dharun Ravi. Ravi discovered that Clementi was gay, and when he requested use of their room to have sex with another guy, Ravi set up his webcam to capture them and tweeted about it like it was a joke. Clementi found out and committed suicide.
The story provoked huge sorrow and outrage at what people saw was misuse of techonology by uncaring and unfeeling young people to out someone closeted. As it happened the suicide happened just when Dan Savage was launching his It Gets Better video campaign aimed at persuading gay kids not to commit suicide, and the campaign got a huge boost from this.
Ian Parker from the New Yorker goes into the story to show that it was a bit more complex than it seemed, though no less tragic. Clementi wasn’t quite closeted, but he was socially awkward and shy, especially compared to the much more outgoing and confident Ravi. But Ravi wasn’t entirely the homophobic jock he was made out to be, though certainly rather stupidly unthinking and brash.
At the time there was also something of a racial subtext to the story since Ravi, and the friend he roped into this, were both fairly privileged Asian ‘model minority’ kids, while Clementi was from a not-as-well-off white family. Again here Parker shows that this was a simplification, though some class angle probably did play in: he shows that Ravi had a rather ugly prejudice against ‘poor’ people. Ravi, incidentally, has Indian citizenship, so one reason why he is refusing to accept a guilty plea bargain is probably because that would lead to deportation.
But overall what comes out of this story is how shockingly normal so much of it us, but also how normalcy can so easily spin out of control. You can easily identify with Clementi, the shy gay boy who struggled to make friends (though, interestingly, he seems to have been more sexually confident than Ravi).
But you can, if not exactly identify, you can see where someone like Ravi is coming from – confident, brash, self centred, but also young and with so much to learn. Can everyone here say unequivocally they were never in a position where they bullied someone a bit? I can remember I was and I’m not proud of it, but I grew out of it without, I hope, causing much harm. Ravi wasn’t so lucky.
All this really makes the story worth reading, and I’m curious what people feel about it. Where do your sympathies lie – obviously with Clementi, but is any due at all for Ravi? What sort of punishment would be fit? And what does the story say about the role technology now plays in our lives?
An earlier version of this post originally appeared on the LGBT India mailing list. It has been reproduced with consent of the author.