Oh, she may claim she’s taking her newfound Internet fame in stride, but it’s been a rough couple of weeks for Miss Teen South Carolina, Caitlin Upton. How relieved the 18-year-old must be now that her infamous geographic soliloquy’s been replaced as the Internet’s Viral Video Favorite by the Jerry Lewis Labor Day “f-word” faux pas.
In case you missed it, during the Miss Teen pageant, Caitlin responded thus to an alleged poll result that revealed a fifth of Americans can’t locate the United States on a world map: “I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some people out there in our nation don’t have maps. And I believe that our education, like …” blah blah blah, ha ha ha, look at the blonde beauty queen, she’s like, totally stupid!
Laugh at Caitlin’s cyberspace humiliation at your peril. Now that everything electronic comes equipped with a video device, the question is not “if” you too will be the star of a YouTube Most Viewed/Top Rated/Most Discussed/Most Linked Favorite video. It’s “when?” Your only choice is to become a perfectly poised automaton for the rest of your natural life, or plan ahead on how you’ll handle your eventual Internet ignominy with grace.
There’s a third course of action, but pretty much only if you’re the King of Thailand. Earlier this year, some jokesters posted a video poking fun at the ruler, and the Thai government decided to ban YouTube from the country. That is, until YouTube’s proprietor, Google, agreed to allow Thailand censorship on the video site. But for those of us at the state and local level, bending the Internet to our will just isn’t an option. Fortunately for us plebs, we’ve got other role models to show us how to — or more precisely, how not to — handle our inevitable uploaded abasement.
Surely you remember the Star Wars Kid? That chubby Quebec teenager, Ghyslain Raza, who on the fateful day of Nov. 4, 2002, videotaped himself swinging a golf ball retriever like Darth Maul’s double-bladed lightsaber. Some other kids found it, and proving that even Canadian teenagers are jerks, posted it online. The two-minute video quickly morphed into the ultimate meme, parodied and referenced into infinity. By some estimates, the Star Wars kid is the most popular viral video ever, and viewed over one billion times.
Meanwhile, poor Ghyslain, devastated by his sudden celebrity and the relentless teasing that came with it, dropped out of school and reportedly finished the semester in a psychiatric ward. His parents sued the families of the teenagers responsible for the video’s world premiere, in a suit that maintained, "Ghyslain had to endure, and still endures today, harassment and derision from his high-school mates and the public at large." Also, he "will be under psychiatric care for an indefinite amount of time." It also stated that the stigma could make it difficult for the kid to continue his education, find employment, and might necessitate that he change his name.
Dang! The heart breaks for this kid, who, being a kid, wasn’t equipped to deal with international embarrassment. Still, you have to wonder if things might’ve turned out differently had his parents been T.S. Eliot fans, or at least familiar with this one Eliot quote that’s better than “Cats”: “You will find that you survive humiliation and that’s an experience of incalculable value.”
Of course, that incalculable value isn’t as much, or at least as monetary, as the undisclosed amount Ghyslain’s parents settled for in their lawsuit. Still, what’s money when, instead of dropping out, you can proudly walk your high school halls, answering every verbal Jedi jab with a handgun finger point and a cheerful, “That’s me! Right back at cha! No autographs until lunch period!” Don’t ever let ‘em smell blood. That’s School Survival 101 — something to remember when your YouTube moment rolls around.
Another Internet phenom, Gary “Numa Numa” Brolsma, made it through his moment in the cyberspace spotlight relatively unscathed. Overwhelmed at first by the media explosion following the Numa Numa Dance video he himself posted online, Gary eventually embraced his celebrity — though here’s hoping he’s not letting it define him.
Superficially, Miss Teen South Carolina seems to be taking to her ill-found fame as only someone who came of age in the era of reality TV can. Despite her botched response, Caitlin came in third in the Miss Teen pageant. Rather than shying away from her humiliation, Caitlin appeared on the Today Show, where she enthusiastically (and comparatively articulately) explained her blunder.
Yet, as Caitlin’s Facebook page reveals, she has yet to absorb that incalculable value TS Eliot was talking about — or even comprehend that the Internet never forgets. This then, is the other thing to remember when yours is the viral video of the hour: Be graceful, self-effacing and humorous, and remember, sooner than later, some other buffoon will replace you in the spotlight. Unless, of course, you do like Miss Teen South Carolina and post this on your Facebook wall:
“ok to all the jealous girls out here
this is for you
i am not stupid
that question that i got at miss teen usa was not the easiest question and with ten million
people watching me LIVE, i was nervous
yeah like you wouldn't be
so to you girls out there.
get a life and stop being so mean
i did not even have time to think about it
i am smart, not a dumb blonde like you think