On Halloween, a 22-year-old woman – whose name I will withhold to protect what little privacy she has left – decided to dress as a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing. This entailed dressing like a regular marathon runner but with fake blood on her extremities. And, as young people do, she posted the picture online. She could not have expected that her photo – which she no doubt thought was clever and innocuous – would go viral and make her the object of national scorn.
Here’s what’s happened since then: she lost her job. She had been threatened with rape. She has received death threats. Her parents have received death threats. Compromising photos of her – far more intimate than the photo that started the fracas – have been circulated online. (Admittedly, those photos were reportedly likewise posted online by her in the first place – another example of her poor judgment – but that doesn’t excuse those who searched for such pictures and then publicized them in order to denigrate her.) She has since closed all of her social-media accounts in a probably-futile attempt to gain a little calm in her life.
I won’t defend her choice of costume. It was in poor taste. But the reactions are not commensurate with the offense. It would be perfectly acceptable to call her out for this online. Call her stupid or heartless, fine. I’m not a fan of ad hominem attacks but I could see name-calling as within acceptable response parameters for this particular lapse in judgment, which is no doubt very painful to survivors of the bombing and the families of those killed. But to call for her death? The death of her parents? To encourage acts of sexual assault against her? She’s not a terrorist but it sounds as if some of her online respondents are!
This is why I like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.
For those who may not know, the Power Rangers are a bunch of teens (played by 20-somethings) who don colorful costumes and fight fanciful, child-friendly monsters. There have been umpteen incarnations of Power Rangers over the years, but when my children were young, they were “Mighty Morphin’.” (It may interest you to know that the show was introduced to America by two Israelis, Haim Saban and Shuki Levi.)
The Power Rangers had martial arts skills. They also had robot dinosaurs that they could pilot like vehicles. These five vehicles could join together to form a giant robot. (Did I mention that this show was imported from Japan? Yeah, there’s that.)
So, why am I talking about Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers? Because, while some parents no doubt considered the show too violent, I applauded that they always used an appropriate level of force in response to the threat at hand.
First would come the foot soldiers, called the Putty Patrol. The Power Rangers would fight them with their martial arts. Then the real enemy would come, often Goldar, a winged gorilla in gold armor. That might justify calling out the Zords – the aforementioned robot dinosaurs. Then Rita Repulsa or Lord Zedd would throw a staff from the moon (hey, I didn’t write the show!), which would cause Goldar or whoever to grow to giant-size. When that happened, it was time to join the Zords together to form the Mega-Zord.
What I appreciated about the Power Rangers was that they saved the “big guns” for the big threats. The Power Rangers never called on the Mega-Zord to stomp on the Putty Patrol. This shows restraint. They weren’t pacifists (or passive fists); they reacted when necessary. But they reacted appropriately.
The young woman with poor taste in Halloween costumes made a grievous error in judgment. She needs to grow up. She needs to develop empathy for others. She needs to learn a lesson but she doesn’t need “to be taught a lesson.”
There is real evil in this world. The actual Boston Marathon bombers were evil. The Tsarnaev brothers intended to harm innocents and they succeeded. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed trying to escape, which represents an appropriate use of force on the part of the authorities. Some people thought that the Rolling Stone cover of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev glamorized him. One may not like it but it’s not evil. Those who were offended called for a boycott of that issue. That was an appropriate response; blowing up a building would not have been. This young woman is not evil. Her offense was akin to Rolling Stone’s but the reaction has been as if she was the Tsarnaev sister. She isn’t. Leave her alone.
There is a saying that when one wrestles with monsters, he runs the risk of becoming a monster himself. (Yeah, I know. Nietzsche’s not too popular with my target audience but that’s who said it.) Becoming monsters ourselves is a threat against which we must be diligent in our fight against real monsters. We should never even have to consider the possibility of becoming monsters in the fight against kids who do dumb things, but that’s exactly what happened here. Or, to put it in Power Rangerese, never call your Mega-Zord to stomp on the Putty Patrol when a karate chop will do.