Change, Culture

What We (Don't) Talk About When We Talk About Jake Croman

By Yardain Amron

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So a video of a University of Michigan student verbally abusing an Uber driver went viral last Sunday (here’s some info on what happened).  For those who haven’t watched it, and for those who have multiple times, here it is (again):

Yes, Jake Croman is a privileged, homophobic, lazy fuckboy. Lets get that out of the way. But so what? There’s a depressing mass of ignorance and assholery in the world, we all know it, one might even be our next president! That Jake Croman exists should be neither remarkable nor newsworthy.

And yet …  Buzzfeed, The New York Daily News, Huffington Post, The Detroit Free Press, USA Today, dozens of tabloid news sites — all have published stories about the incident. The video is approaching one million views.

I get it — it’s one thing to know there are many Jake Cromans abusing innocent people everyday in the abstract. Another rarer thing, to confirm and confront the identity of one such Jake Croman in the concrete digital. The video gave us the power to put this kid in his place and we took it without hesitation.

And by ‘we’ I don’t just mean the Uber driver who posted the video; those that made the website and fake Facebook account; the media (although of course they are more directly implicated). By ‘we’, I mean anyone — you, me — that simply watched the video. It’s easy to forget that without a viral video there is no story.

Don’t get me wrong, I think our public shaming of Jake Croman was mostly deserved (especially considering the lie he told about being the victim of “a number of offensive anti-Semitic remarks, that provoked my response,” which disgraces the Jewish people who’s real suffering he’s exploited).

My frustration, though, is with the utter lack of substance surrounding the discourse of this shaming. There’s been just one story and one script: “Michigan Student’s Shockingly Homophobic Uber Rant Caught On Tape”; “Must-See Photos of Uber Abuser”; “Jake Croman: 5 Fast Facts You Need To Know”.

In other words: “Look at this asshole thing this asshole kid said and let us tell you a few other random things about him that we dug up on the Internet. Can you believe it!” And then, or now, just less than a week later, we’ve all already moved on.

But Jake Croman does not exist in a vaccuum. Jake Croman is not entertainment. Jake Croman is not just Jake Croman. At least not anymore. By blowing him into Internet infamy, we made Jake Croman into a systemic symbol. Yet instead of zooming out and talking about that system and the contexts that underlie and create the Jake Cromans of the world; instead of turning the mirror around on ourselves to think through how each of us fit into this context, all we have been able to do is zoom in and pretend this is an isolated case. Or perhaps we said one thing about how he is representative of privilege or Jews or frat culture and leave it at that.

There’s so much more here to talk about!

Let’s talk about diversity, wealth, and privilege. About how nearly half of in-state freshman come from families earning more than $150,000; and three of four out-of-state freshmen come from families earning more than that. About the irony in Jake Cromans entitled laziness when placed in the context of the fundamental and false conservative ideology about how poor people are poor because they are lazy.

Let’s talk about the inconsistent language we’re using to describe Jake Cromans actions. The Michigan Daily called it “insulting”; The Huffington Post called it a “rant”; The New York Daily News called it “harassment”; Buzzfeed called it “verbal abuse”. Which is it?  I’m a big believer in the significance of the language we choose to use and there’s a big perceptive and legal difference between an insult and verbal abuse.

Let’s talk about the scary disconnect between the ease and nonchalance of watching this video and the indistinct effect of watching this video. Of not feeling implicated when in fact we very much are. Can we build more sophisticated tools to better help us understand the effects of our Internet activity?

And let’s talk about public shaming.

About its positive, productive power, which in this case, served Jake Croman what many feel he deserved, and what some might argue more than he deserved. More importantly, this public shaming will hopefully make future Jake Cromans think twice before they abuse the next person. There’s a reason public shaming has been around for centuries. It’s a powerful disciplining tool, highlighting and spurning behavior we collectively agree is not permitted in our society.

But public shaming is a double-edged sword. The tool can also amplify the type of abuse it’s trying to limit. In his most recent book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” Jon Ronson argues that public shaming in the age of social media is both more powerful and employed more recklessly than ever before. His prime example is Justine Sacco, a woman whose life was literally ruined after she tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” The stupid tweet went viral, Sacco lost her job as a senior director of corporate communications, and was so traumatize by all the abuse she received that she moved to Ethiopia for a while. “I…began to marvel at the disconnect between the severity of the crime and the gleeful savagery of the punishment,” Ronson writes. “It almost felt as if shamings were now happening for their own sake, as if they were following a script.” Sound familiar?

So yes, shame on Jake Croman. But also shame on us:

Shame on the media, especially the local media — The Michigan Daily, Detroit Free Press, and (joke of an institution that is the) Michigan Review — for parroting myopic and shallow tabloid reportage; for inexcusably failing to interview even a single student; for thus far, not publishing even one op-ed on the incident. This is undoubtedly the most talked about event on campus this semester — does The Michigan Daily think it’s above it?

Shame on the University, for releasing a single shallow statement that it was “disappointed,” the subtext working to effectively distance itself from this individual student; for choosing to lay low and protect the brand instead of capitalizing on an opportunity to open up a community conversation about the broader contexts of this incident.

Shame on us, the students, for following the public shaming script to a T; for not taking our own initiative when the media and our University failed us; for consuming the video, calling Jake Croman an asshole, and…that’s it? Next thing?

Jake Croman isn’t fooling anyone but himself with his shameful lie. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking Jake Croman is the only thing to talk about here. 

Yardain Amron is an aspiring writer, better Jew, and a senior studying English at the University of Michigan. He likes to tell people he was a child hand model for toys like Bop It, but this is a lie.