Humanity Check: The Uppercut as an American Teaching Moment

It was the punch heard ‘round the country, an incident recorded by phone-equipped amateurs showing an altercation between on-duty Cleveland bus driver Artis Hughes and 25-year-old Shi’dea Lane. The barely intelligible argument escalated to violence and virally became national news. And although acts of violence on public transportation routinely surface on the internet, the fallout of this conflict has exposed more about Americans than any incident before it. This Thursday’s Top explains the 4 ways in which an act of violence has exposed more truths about the national community than the individuals involved.

‘Black is Beautiful’ didn’t last.

Yes, Ms. Davis; we are embarrassed, too.

The ‘Bus Driver Uppercut’ video exemplified the oft-discussed generation gap within the black community. Hughes, 59, spent his teen years in the 1960s, a period of widespread social unrest during which the effort to strengthen the black community was a prevalent concern. Lane, 25, based on her behavior in the video, does not carry the importance of that period with her, forfeiting respect for her elders and her self in order to protect her ego. Lane’s behavior pre-uppercut shamed all black people who recognize the continuing importance to represent the race in a dignified way. But because of continued systemic disenfranchisement in working-class communities, the conflict between Hughes and Lane demonstrated how closing the rift between the generations is highly unlikely.

This is not (post-racial) America.

You were saying, urban liberal college student?

Anyone naïve enough to think that racism evaporated when President Obama was sworn in only has to scan the YouTube comments of the ‘Bus Driver Uppercut’ video (or any video featuring people of color). Internet trolls may be imagined as harmlessly homebound, bookish types, but if the comment threads are any indication, there may be some Aryan tattoos beneath those Mountain Dew-stained t-shirts.

Electing a black president may have been a watershed moment in American history, but it has done nothing to defuse the millennia-old toxic energy that leads people to grossly simplify situations in hatefully racist terms. The Hughes-Lane incident is just one example of how digital anonymity brings out the darkness in (presumably) white people, and the irony is sickening.

The Job Creator of The Year Award goes to…The Internet!

Chris Brown is piiiiiiiissed.

If President Reagan ushered in the Me Generation, then it’s the Meme Generation that has flourished under President Obama. And current events are becoming internet phenomena at an unprecedented turnover rate. This expectation of instantelligence is such that this article posting a month and a half after the incident will render it irrelevant to most.

But within days of this story going viral, creative opportunists developed merchandise to commemorate the event. The “You Goin’ to Jail Now” t-shirt followed the Antoine Dodson template of meme merchandising, except it’s probable that neither Hughes nor Lane will profit from the enterprise.

From the looks of it, the marketability of public domain content may be the leading source of private revenue generation per capita; anyone with an internet connection and a working knowledge of Photoshop can boost their income if they stay current on YouTube buzz. So in an age when Republicans accuse President Obama of failing small businesses with its “oppressive” regulation and tax policies, the reality for entrepreneurial web surfers paints a more hopeful picture (for their bank accounts, at least).

Newspaper publishing is dying, taking first-rate journalism with it.

“FIRST!”

As news outlets have shifted from print to digital, the drop-off in the quality of journalism has been significant. The pressure to do more with less has contributed to a cultural shift in which being first takes precedence over being correct. And the Hughes-Lane incident exemplified the impact such a compromise can have on the public.

One detail altered the context in which many people formed opinions on this story: Shi’dea Lane’s age. Originally described as a teenager, Lane amassed sympathy by not only the “no man should ever hit a woman” contingent, but also the “how you gonna hit a kid” camp. But once further investigation proved that Lane was 25, the latter group underwent an ideological shift, not necessarily absolving Hughes for striking Lane, but questioning Lane’s behavior leading up to the violence. And in the process, YouTube’s most instantelligent took to their webcams and spread misinformed opinions that could have produced tragic results if online mob mentality found its way into our analog reality.

The responsibility that American mainstream news outlets like CNN and MSNBC have forfeited in the interest of maintaining viewership through pop culture sensationalism only hints at the irony that will ensue as unprecedented access to information results in the highest concentration of know-nothings since before the printing press.

Lane recovered from Hughes’s punch, but how will America respond to cultural decay that her pain exposed?

About lemarmclean

I am a writer born and raised in New York City.

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