It may be the most legendary monument to the internet’s 15 megabytes
of fame – or unintentional infamy: eight years ago, private footage of a
heavy-set teenager, spinning nearly uncontrollably while wielding an
imaginary-lightsaber, as if in an audition tape for Star Wars, was
uploaded to the web and passed around. Within days it was well on its
way to becoming the most popular viral video of all time. It’s
since been viewed by over 1 billion people.
Not as many people know the rest of the story: Ghyslain Raza – or to
the internet,Star Wars Kid –
didn’t feel famous, or funny. He felt harassed, the victim of the most
visible bullying in history. Ghyslain dropped out of his Quebec high
school, was diagnosed with depression, and checked into a psychiatric
ward for children.
Ghyslain and his parents would later sue the families of the three
classmates who leaked the video in 2003, for around $250,000. According
lawsuit, which resulted in a settlement, “Ghyslain had to endure,
and still endures today, harassment and derision from his high-school
mates and the public at large.”
But after eight years of laughs at his expense – and a few
campaigns in his defense – Ghyslain is back. Now in his early 20s,
as the president of the Patrimoine
Trois-Rivi?res, a conservation society that aims to preserve the
cultural heritage of his hometown of Trois-Rivi?res.
Revenge of the Sith this isn’t, but he’s putting his litigious
experience to some use, getting
his law degree at McGill University in Montreal.
Making fun of people on the internet is something I think about a lot. I more or less get paid for it, after all. As I’ve pointed out, nerds can be pretty ridiculous, and it bears mentioning sometimes — and I don’t say that as a bully, but as a fat nerd who used to wake up at 5am on Saturdays to go wait in front of Toys R Us in the mere chance of buying new Star Wars toys (i.e., “not cool”). So what’s the difference between the shit that happened to the Star Wars kid, and me poking fun at the teen wolves on the news last week?
Well, a lot of it is about privacy — by which I mean those ridiculous teens agreed to be interviewed on TV with their wolf tails on and talk about how they’re werewolves who don’t want attention. Ghyslain Raza (who’s looking pretty sharp nowadays, as his pic above shows) had no choice in his internet infamy, and that sucks. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t watch the video when it came out, or didn’t laugh at it, out of some moral superiority — but ever since I knew that Raza’s video was uploaded against his will, I’ve felt genuinely bad about it. He never had a choice.
When it gets down to it, I don’t really wish any nerd ill (well, maybe some of the FFF authors). I think those werewolf kids will be dreadfully embarrassed of their teen selves later in life, but if they’re happy now, more power to ’em. And if Ghyslain Raza is happy now, he deserves it, and I couldn’t be happier for him. You rock, sir. May the Force be with you… always.