Every now and then you find your self blank when you’re attempting to write significant pieces on social issues. Sometimes it feels like every thing has been said and what is the point of adding one more opinion to the mass of opinions that are already out there. I preface this piece with that because I felt I couldn’t ignore the spate of fire challenges I’ve seen recently. But as I think on it and prepare to write about it I am beset by the notion, is this really something worth addressing? It’s clear and obvious that it’s a behavior bent on attention seeking, thrill seeking, and trying at the concept of invincibility. The behavior itself is timeless. Many of us have climbed trees, snuck into buildings, or executed double dares all in attempt to keep boredom at bay and earn the respect of our peers. I’d venture to say that its a rite of passage as you make the transition from childhood to adolescence and then on to adulthood. But what is so disturbing about these fire challenges is that the ages of the individuals aren’t always 10-16 years olds. Frequently they appear to be over 21 and the videos frequently feature not one blessed attempt at safety precautions when attempting something so potentially dangerous and catastrophic. They are disturbing because they are appearing more frequently online, not as a viral video, but as a temporary culture sensation to copy and because it seems to be young black kids who are doing it the most.
It reminds me of when MTV’s Jackass was popular and while the program always said you should not attempt the tricks or stunts at home, kids and young adults tried to anyway. With the advent of social media sites, and particularly Youtube, anyone can become a quasi celebrity for a few days and these teenagers and young adults jump at the chance. I started this piece out by saying that I felt unsure about what to write and as I list some disturbing features of these fire challenges I am still beset by what to say. That internet celebrity has taken over common sense. That young people seem proud of their stupidity and we have no one to thank for that but everyone who has ever engaged in the shenanigans known as reality TV and its lasting culture impact of attention seeking, of any kind, regardless of outcome, bodily and psychological harm, and soiled reputations. Or that this particular social menace is out of pandora’s box forever and we can’t seem to stuff it back in.
And regarding the observable feature that this fire challenge is being taken on by young black kids in particular, I’m left with something scrolling across my mind like this: “OMG, why young black kids? Why?!!! Don’t you know this is a distraction? That your economic integrity is being assaulted constantly? That your voting rights are in danger? That there are looming global catastrophes heading our way and the last thing you should be concerned with setting yourself on g–damn fire!!!! Whattttt isssssss wrongggg with youuuuuu?!!!” This is an incredibly frustrating issue to try to address because the internet, Youtube, and the concept of viral videos isn’t going away anytime soon because they’re primary methods of communication now. I mean Egypt over threw a dictator through social media. It’s that powerful. These technological tools are awesome in what they can help people accomplish. But they can also be incredibly destructive tools because as humans, we crave variety, sensationalism, stimulation, and entertainment. And we often times do not have discerning tastes in how we get these needs met, hence kids setting themselves on fire, not unlike court jesters in medieval courts.
It might be high time to really police the content we expose ourselves to. And by police I don’t mean government action, but really taking the time to think on what entertainment you consume. When we see videos like these, it’s frequently in a feed along with other types of information and entertainment. We click on it knowing it’s going to be silly, stupid, or ratchet, but we don’t stop doing it. We see these dangerous behaviors, we get shocked, awed, maybe even disgusted, and then we share this horror with our friends and acquaintances. And the irony of the whole thing is it’s in our nature to not be able to turn away from a train wreck and then share the harrowing experience with others. But with the internet, a share means thousands of potential eyes watching and in doing so we unwittingly fuel the worse of attention seeking behavior all over again. I’m purely spit balling here, but maybe we don’t click on the link. Maybe we don’t share it. Maybe we rain all over the self destructive behavior parade. If there was ever a time to be a wet blanket on purpose, I think this qualifies.