Racism, we all remember. But do we remember privacy? Are you sure? - The Buffalo News

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Racism, we all remember. But do we remember privacy? Are you sure?

Leave it to Janelle Ambrosia to infect the unlikeliest places with her verbal toxicity.

In covering the story of Ambrosia’s horrendous viral YouTube video on its 11 p.m. news, Channel 7 was very careful to black out all racial epithets and all pictures of the ranting woman’s innocent young children. It was, unfortunately, not so careful about her racist tirades’s equally abundant carpet-bombing of the most traditionally censorable Anglo-Saxonism of them all, the still most reflexively banned of all George Carlin’s Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV.

The four-letter word and some variants have been around for centuries. In the past century – where a 12-letter compound acquired enormous street popularity – it has become a commonplace in intemperate speech, both high and low. It was in seven letter form – where the letters “ing” were added to the verb to make an adjective – that the word, in all its naked shock, slipped into Channel 7’s snippet of Ambrosia’s uncontrolled video explosion.

Channel 7’s anchor Keith Radford – a man of impeccable public propriety and foursquare reputation – immediately apologized for the leak of that ancient word onto the news’ airwaves. He explained that it should have been edited out along with the racist epithets but slipped through by mistake.

I’ll say.

By now, the number of the viewers of Ambrosia’s vile eruption on video has no doubt exceeded the population of some small Central American countries. That’s what happens to YouTube videos when they hit Reddit and the International Internet Freak Show of the video age.

Salty language in our time is ubiquitous. Friends and co-workers would no doubt be eager to tell you that they wish my own were considerably more guarded and buttoned-up than it usually is. Undoubtedly, I read too many Miles Davis interviews early in life.

The racial epithet that Ambrosia tossed around is another matter entirely. I don’t say it. I don’t think it. The only time it ever comes out of my mouth – or out of my keyboard – is in quoting someone else or in a semi-scholarly discussion of the word itself, its history, usage and implications.

My abhorrence of it, I’m certain, is commonplace.

The only time I’ve spoken it aloud in the past 15 years was in a recent public interview I did with Buffalo-raised author Ishmael Reed at the Burchfield Penny Arts Center as part of its excellent “Words” celebration (which also featured poet/editor Ed Sanders of The Fugs.) I was quoting to him something written by Reed himself about his youthful encounters with racial hatred. In asking him the question, I had enough trepidation about using the word that I steeled myself to it in advance and pronounced it loudly and clearly to prove that, with such words, context is everything.

Or should be.

In the case of the now-famous viral video, Ambrosia was filmed by Narvell Benning on his phone who confessed to News reporters his surprise that Ambrosia stayed around raining racist invective on him in front of her kids long after he was obviously recording it on his phone and told her so.

And that, of course, is one of the first questions most of us ask while trying to watch the complete video (It’s almost impossible not to turn it off in disgust after a minute or two.) To wit: if you’re being photographed and recorded at one of your life’s more extreme and intemperate moments, why don’t you just shut up and walk away? Why do you keep on talking and fueling your own rage?

She has blamed it, in part, on being bipolar. And this is where the whole thing begins to tell us so much about the disappearance of privacy in the age we live in.

Marshall McLuhan and his friend, anthropologist and media theorist Edmund Carpenter, told us this was coming.

Is there anyone in America who doesn’t know that disgusting racism still exists in every American city? Is video evidence of that fact outside of a Family Dollar store “news,” however illustrative it may be? Or is it rather video evidence of increasingly popular freak show social lapses which, in our digital world, we have turned into the snobbish “entertainment” of all who might be seeking confirmation of their own superiority (See, along with the Internet, various different Kardashian, Tori Spelling and “Real Housewives” TV shows.)

So prevalent has this stuff become on the Internet and “reality TV” that an out-of-control woman doesn’t even seem to think to get hold of herself in front of her own kids and remove herself from the encounter.

Yes, I know you can also see on the Internet photos of biologists rescuing bears shot with too much tranquilizing drug and in danger of drowning. But such stuff isn’t an equivalent viral smash on the Internet.

This racist explosion isn’t a Donald Sterling case here, i.e. a public figure recorded privately revealing ridiculous prejudices about those who share the skin color with the majority of those on the very team he “owns.” (A kind of crash course, in and of itself, in some of the issues in the very idea of “ownership.”)

To postulate that viral videos don’t constitute “news” – as Channel 4 tried to do in the midst of the viral video explosion, while, literally, millions were viewing it – is to reject the real world of 21st century information, in which we are feeding on stuff which Allen Funt never dreamed of when he gave us “Candid Camera.”

What would First Amendment apostle Thomas Jefferson have to say about all this, I wonder. What would he think about democracy as revealed by the “comment” sections of online newspapers, magazines and websites, where all the once-private uglinesses that used to reside out of sight are now paraded before the world with apparent total pride in the amount of hostility with which people identify themselves to the world?

A lot of us always knew this stuff was there. Almost everyone in public life over the last few decades has received “hate mail” that can be truly unfathomable.

In the digital world, people regularly reveal their most horrible and wretched selves to the rest of us so that others can laugh, moralize, and feel completely superior.

The digital world’s lessons in democracy don’t exactly seem to be what people thought they’d be, when they first arrived, do they?

I hope someone has an idea what actual human beings can do about dignity amid all this because I sure don’t.

email: jsimon@buffnews.com

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