When a 15 year old boy scribbled his name into a 3,500 year old Egyptian monument, he probably wasn’t thinking it would lead to an international incident, or an intense internet manhunt. He probably wasn’t thinking about anything at all other than the “heh heh” laugh that 15 year olds do and Beavis and Butthead parody so well. Unfortunately, international incident and intense internet manhunt are what he got.
When the Chinese blogosphere got a hold of pictures depicting a priceless ancient Egyptian artifact defaced by one of their own, they did not handle it well. They launched an intense investigation to ascertain the identity of the idiot who did this. Who they found was Ding Jinhao, a 15 year old Chinese boy who, several years previously, had visited Egypt with his parents.
China has recently surpassed the U.S. and Germany as being the largest spending tourist nation in the world. Each year the Chinese spend around $100 billion on international tourism and that number is expected to continue to rise as a burgeoning Chinese middle class is poised to continue to seek out the comforts and leisure that, until recently, were not financially possible.
This comes with the added visibility that their individual citizens have as tourists and representatives of China. A stigma like the “self centered American tourist” image that the U.S. has so painstakingly cultivated is something that the Chinese are desperate to avoid. Defacing a national treasure is not something that the Chinese wanted and the condemnation was swift.
While I too am saddened by any ancient work being destroyed or damaged due to stupidity, callousness, or oftentimes, for reasons as stupid as jingoism, I don’t think we should be condemning this boy to a life’s worth of punishment. What he did was stupid, but it also reminded me of just how stupid all of us were at his age.
Even the words he chose to write (“Ding Jinhao was here” in Mandarin) scream “I’m a bored teenager here against my will” rather than malice. It’s such an innocent statement, “I was here” that if it had been written on a toilet stall wall and not on a national treasure, it would have been almost quaint. It’s a statement that comes from someone who thinks he is the center of the Universe, and at 15 we all did.
Now, before I get too far, obviously it must be pointed out that not every 15 year old is dumb enough to do this, nor would want to. And I know that at 15 you are aware of right and wrong and have the beginnings of a thing that later in life will make you long for being a 15 year old again: Self Control. But my only point is that, given how many bored 15 year olds are passing by the ancient monuments every day, this was bound to happen.
It must also be noted that because of the relative lack of funds that Egypt has for protecting its ancient landmarks (especially since the Arab Spring ushered in a new government and new level of disorder), there is an almost criminal lack of supervision at many of these sites. This can be seen as good and idiotic. Anyone who has ever waited in line at the Louvre to see the “Mona Lisa” only to get to the front and find that the picture is small, reaallllyy small, and behind a piece of bullet proof glass that’s thick, reaalllyy thick knows the feeling of wishing safety measures didn’t exist. On the other hand, the curators of the Mona Lisa know people like Ding Jinhao are out there. In every school bus that pulls into the Louvre’s parking lot, there are probably several kids dumb enough or cocky enough to ruin it for everyone.
Now, having identified the boy in question, the Chinese hackers appear unwilling to exercise restraint, as the sacred act of “shaming” always seems to fall on to their eager, self-appointed shoulders. Like wolves licking their lips, they pounced. Hundreds of blog posts with his picture and name were shot out onto the web. His school’s website was hacked and in its place was a “message making fun of him.” One blogger wrote:
“It’s a disgrace to our entire race!” said another angry micro-blogger.
Yep. It has went that far. Perspective, never the internet’s strong suit, is entirely lost and hyperbole has replaced it. Far from being a disgrace to an entire race, this is more of a disgrace on the Egyptian government’s part who show little to no effort to keep these priceless artifacts protected. It is also one of those things that will occasionally happen. We need to admit that. This is going to happen.
Teenagers are at a weird point in their lives. They know right from wrong, but they often times don’t care. I think back on my high school years and, if viewed objectively, see instances of behavior from classmates that was borderline sociopathic. None of those kids, as far as I know, grew up to be violent killers or unfeeling monsters. It was a phase. They were occupying a period of life where childhood was behind them, adulthood ahead, and in the middle was a whole lot of stupid acts of bravado and arrogance.
By all means, condemn this act. Call it stupid, or callous, or shameful, but this young boy does not deserve to be a punching bag for the rest of his life because he happened to do something stupid in the Internet Age that manufactures and feeds on outrage, at the expense of human decency. This is no different than a witchhunt or gladiatorial bloodsport; A form of entertainment built around watching a fellow human being squirm, loosely justified (black magic! different god! stupidity!), with audience participation. Well, it needs to stop and it can do that by each of us refusing to fall into the trap of manufactured, self perpetuating outrage. We also need to stop this idea that we are all responsible for “teaching” transgressors a lesson. With hacking, great power comes great anonymity and what results is sometimes vigilantism that is worse than the original offense. With any witch hunt, the justifications are used to give unending power to those employing them, whether that be a church or an internet forum. They deserve this. No, they don’t and it’s not helpful. But do we have the self control to admit that or, on the internet, are we all 15 years old?