A university soccer player’s reprehensible fouling becomes an instant Youtube hit. Reality show villains are the topic of “did you see…” discussions the next day at workplaces all over. The actions of ball players and politicians, pop stars and actors, on and off stage or field or legislative floor, become the stuff of moral outrage. They also become the stuff of moral lessons: for adults and for children.
On moral YouTube*: Is the Internet our new teacher, parent, and pastor?
The video above, just one version of dozens of the incident, got 2.4 million views on YouTube.
We used to share moral lessons through stories: “the boy who cried wolf” and so on. More and more, it’s up to real and fictional characters in modern entertainment, to instruct us through their actions.
And with Youtube and other social places on the Internet, the choices of what moral lessons to share and emphasize are in the hands of crowds. Do we vote by viewing? By sharing or linking? It’s not a pastor with a parable who is teaching us through moral stories, it’s a Facebook friend or an officemate, sharing a link.
What may be the biggest change in this is the directness of the connection between people and stories: instead of a pastor, an editor, or an author intervening, what gains widest viewing is what gets the most buzz, and gets to us.
We don’t yet know what it all adds up to. Is it a good mechanism for forming and strengthening our cultural and social norms? Or does it weaken them? We may never know–it will be hard to tease out the effects with all the other changes in society. No matter what, we’d better understand what people are seeing and sharing, even if it means dipping into new media, and following the trails of buzz where they lead.
*this title rips off the title of John Gardner’s 1978 book, On Moral Fiction, which offers a detailed argument about how and why fiction, in particular, and the arts, in general should assert morals.