Life is not a reality show. (And death is forever.)

Tyler Clementi

On Wednesday afternoon, September 22, 18-year old Tyler Clementi went to practice with the Rutgers Symphony Orchestra. He’d been at college just three weeks and was a serious violinist, expertly playing pieces by Berlioz and Beethoven. Thomas Jung, who shared a music stand with Tyler said, “He loved music. He was very dedicated. I couldn’t tell if anything was wrong.”

Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei

But after practice, Tyler  went back to his dorm, posted a goodbye note on facebook, went to the George Washington Bridge, and jumped off. His roommate Dharun Ravi (with friend Molly Wei) had been secretly taping Clementi’s intimate encounters  with another boy in the dorm room, and streaming them live on the internet. Apparently, the shame, humiliation and pain of it became too much for this shy, fair-skinned, redheaded boy with a passion for music and theatre. So he killed himself.

I hate this story so much I can hardly stand it. It makes me sick at heart. I want to insert a conversation with a friend, a call to his parents, a punch in the mouth to stupid Dharun – anything to make it end differently. I want to stop thinking about Tyler’s parents living with the knowledge of how desperate their sweet son must have felt, standing alone on that bridge. And I want to believe that the two jerks who created the secret videos are malevolent skinheads who hate gays and should be locked away forever. But in reading about Dharun and Molly, it occurs to me that they probably weren’t out to destroy Tyler or cause him agony– they probably  just wanted to be on MTV.

Yeah, life is like this.

My kids are the same age, and I can tell you: no generation has ever been so obsessed with fame and celebrity, and less in touch with reality. They’ve grown up on reality TV, reveling in the exposure of people’s most intimate, scalding, (scripted), dysfunctional and embarrassing behavior (where cameras are in every bedroom), yet their own experience of reality is decidedly skewed. Music is free, movies are free, TV is free, photos are free – because you can download them all and get away with it. Post something wincingly personal or outrageous on youtube or facebook and you don’t get sued, you get famous. And hate – spewing out 24/7 from the mouths of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck – has become the lingua franca of mass media. There’s no civility, no boundaries, no consequences.

Bullying- we need zero tolerance!

So it becomes okay to denigrate, exploit and dehumanize someone. And if that someone is gay, it’s even more salacious or “acceptable.” The statistics are searing – gay teens are four times more likely to commit suicide, and 9 out of 10 report being harassed. High school is often a gauntlet of bullying for gay students, which is why last week, columnist Dan Savage started the It Gets Better Project on youtube, following the suicide of 15-year old Billy Lucas in Indiana.

It was too late for Savage to tell Lucas to hang in there, but by posting his own video (with his husband Terry) talking about their horrible high school experiences and periods of despair – and the healthy, joyful lives filled with friends, family and pleasure they are leading now – Savage is hoping to give gay teens hope for a happier tomorrow. And keep them off the bridge.

The site has exploded with hundreds of other It Gets Better videos, downloaded by celebrities and ordinary people, including this one  from The Trevor Project.

My $100 today is going to The Trevor Project, the only nationwide, around-the-clock crisis and suicide prevention helpline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth,  promoting acceptance, mental health and positive self-esteem for these kids. I only wish Tyler had called.

You can donate here, or text 85944 to donate $5 to the Trevor HelpLine.

17 thoughts on “Life is not a reality show. (And death is forever.)

    • Ron — This is SUCH a moving piece … it completely brought me to tears. I had no idea you knew him! Everybody should see it; and I’m so happy I had a chance to promote the Tyler Project on October 1!

  1. We didn’t hear this story in the UK, and it literally made me cry. Because of course we have – and our teenagers have – exactly the same problems and idiotic obsession with fame at any cost. As adults we must find ways of countering the destructive messages coming from magazines, TV shows and websites, that tell teenagers it’s ok to act in a selfish, cruel way to get ahead. It’s not. Whatever person or group is being vilified. This is a great message, and I’m so glad the Trevor Project is getting the good stuff out there too.

  2. Betty:

    Totally impressed by your writing/blogging and your giving plans. But what is prompting me to respond is your posting today about Tyler Clementi as I, too, am sick about it. Having joined Facebook two months ago for the sole purpose of remaining in touch with a number of high school students who just graduated with my child (and whom I know and care about deeply), I posted a “call to action” to every young person who reads my Facebook post. This madness must end.

    As a special education consultant who has spent the past decade+ helping parents maneuver through special education, I can state without hesitation that bullying/harassment of children with special needs (hidden or otherwise), gay/lesbian children, smart children…all of them is so out-of-control that while education is today’s *hot topic* (and rightly so), this is truly the issue that is affecting our children — and they are “our children.”

    They are under enormous stress at the hands of their peers. In school. On the bus. On the internet. Webcams. Cell phones with cameras. The pressure to always be “on” and to not be different is beyond anything that most parents recognize. We absolutely must mobilize and take action.

    • I completely agree with you, DSchafer — and I’m glad that you are reinforcing the point about zero tolerance of bullying. Our schools and playgrounds and neighborhoods
      should be safe places for ALL our children, and the messages of tolerance, empathy and compassion must be spread — hopefully in the same places (internet, tv, etc.) where the other messages of ridicule, hatred and an obsession with celebrity are being endlessly paraded. And THANKS so much to everybody who commented!!

  3. I think this commentary is far too forgiving about the motives of Ravi and Wei. There is no defense for this unspeakable invasion of privacy. They could have had only one motive, and that was to humiliate and shame an obviously wonderful young man. At a minimum they are guilty of gross stupidity. I think Rutgers should expel them, the DA should prosecute them, and Mr. Clementi’s parents should sue the perpetrators of this outrage and their parents for intentional infliction of emotional distress and any other claim a good lawyer can think of. I can think of other things I would like to have happen to them, but they border on revenge, not justice and accountability.

  4. Thank you so much for this post, Betty. I blogged about this story yesterday.

    One thing I mentioned in my own post about this story is that one thing is going a bit ignored in all the coverage about Tyler Clementi: there is another young man involved here, the one that Tyler liked, whose privacy was violated, too. I am worried about him. Besides feeling violated himself, how must he feel, knowing that the boy he was just kissing killed himself after the fact? I hope with all my heart that he doesn’t succumb to the same despair that destroyed Tyler.

    I have not seen his name in any of the coverage, and so I hope that he manages to keep his anonymity. More than that, I hope that he is reaching for and getting the support he deserves.

  5. Betty, Cynthia Baber is a mutual friend of mine, who sent me this moving blog you wrote. I blogged about this yesterday at http://debrahaffner.blogspot.com Tyler is one of 5 teens we know of who have killed themselves since school started because of bullying related to their sexual orientation. Part of my work is to help faith communities welcome and include LGBT people, including providing sexuality education to youth. You can read more about our efforts at http://www.religiousinstitute.org Thank you for your important words, Rev. Debra W. Haffner

  6. Betty, what a beautiful essay, and what lovely posts. I’ve seen too many ugly posts about this story — racist and homophobic and sexist and just plain hateful — and everyone on your site seems instead to understand how deeply tragic this is for EVERYONE involved. Your point about reality TV, the essential callousness of so much of what the older generation has produced for the young on TV and the internet, is so apt. Empathy is what is missing in so much of what kids watch, and it is heartening to see it alive and well on this site.

  7. Thanks, Betty. And I appreciate your providing statistics to help folks understand more. Please, I beg you and all to take a look at Devona Walker’s article:
    http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/09/30/homophobic-bullying-takes-another-child%E2%80%99s-life/
    It will give even more names, faces, and stories to help deepen understanding.
    And I beg all to learn more, even if through statistics, such as homelessness and the drug and alcohol abuse of LGBTQ teens. The suffering is monumental.

  8. Hugs to you, Betty, for expressing my thoughts with such passion and eloquence. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, it is easy to forget how alone and isolated many young gay people feel. Sooo sad. Kudos to The Trevor Project for reaching out to them!

  9. Betty this post made me cry. Thank you for writing about it.

    My sincere condolences to Tyler Clementi’s poor parents.

    I hope that the publicity over Tyler’s death will help other LGBTQ kids who are being bullied. They are not alone, and there’s help and support for them at places like the “Trevor Project”.

  10. Oh Betty I am so with you. I can not imagine the anguish his parents must feel. Thank you for giving me yet again some place positive to focus my energy.

  11. Thank you Betty. As you always do, you’ve hit the issue squarely. I didn’t know about The Trevor Project or the It Gets Bettery Project and am so happy to learn of them. I’m spreading the word.

    Judy

  12. Beautiful, brilliant, and sad, but so important to spread the word about the dangers LGBTQ youth face. Thank you Betty once again for putting a human face on an issue so important for all of us!

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