The Dark Side of Cyberspace

Age advisory 18+ I have a new friend in a nearby village called Priseltsi (Bulgaria) who has a successful business in Varna selling very stylish and often flamboyant hats. The hats are actually made in Priseltsi and sold in Varna. Theater groups use her work as well as individuals. Both my wife and I are proud owners of one hat apiece. Mine is a white cowboy hat and Liuba's looks like something Daisy Fay would wear in "The Great Gatsby."


So I give English lessons to Lora and her ten-year-old daughter. Lora is 37. She is a sharp, tightly-focused little business-woman with bright red dye in her hair (Bulgarian style, it seems), very motivated and quite attractive in the way that well-kept, serious women who lack the more superficial aspects of 'glamor' often are. In other words, she is a winner, one who drives the ordinary into the beautiful.
She is also very decisive about how she views marriage and raising children. Before our lesson, I had read an article which I can offer you as a link.

The author of this revelatory text describes her encounter with the Musical.ly application that her own ten-year-old daughter begged her to install so she could make "funny lip-synch videos" along with her friends. So the mother/author checked it out under the account name of "gummibear9" just to make sure that everything was cool on this website. What she unearthed, she found horrifying. Lots of porno stuff, etc. But that was just the start, and I will leave it to you to read the link on your own if you wish. What amazed me, however, was that among the mature Russian students I have shared this with, the only thing they found startling was the shock expressed by the Mom (who goes by the blog name of "Town Prude"). To my students, it is common knowledge that the internet is full of such material, and that kids (a bit of surprise here on my part, I confess) have ways of accessing it anytime they want. Parents appear helpless or, unfortunately -- as seems to be the case too often -- simply uninformed or indifferent.


In short, 9-or-10-year-old Boris, Jimmy, Mimi or Sveta can watch virtually anything, and by this, I don't mean simply some guy getting his chopper gobbled. They can watch snuff films, suicide adverts, engage in cyberbullying, or be taught the joys of anorexia, just to name a few. So I don't think it's enough to say, "Ah well, they'll find out about sex soon enough anyway, so what's a little intro course on the internet?" These kids are going down far more sinister paths than seeing naked titties.
I have long thought that the reason so many people grow up with self-mutilating (figuratively) sex hang-ups is because of two things: religion and stupid parents who were themselves bent into sexual deformity by their own preachers and parents. So by all means, I have often said, let's get sex out of the sordid, smelly back-rooms of the psyche, let's be open and honest about it, and at least display (if not teach) its normalcy and beauty...
After all, one of my lifelong questions has been: why (or maybe it's only in America ?) do people always scream that there is too much sex and violence (that's how they put it -- not 'sex and violence', but "sexandviolence" as if it were one single entity) -- on TV, in films, etc. In other words, is blowing someone's head off the same as making love? I have always thought that, whereas one option makes you dead, the other just makes you feel good.
But apparently, it's not that simple. Anyway, the reality is that the violence gets a pass -- you can see it any time -- and the sex is censored. Go figure. However, even here, we are still talking in terms of sanity, however flawed. But in the world that Town Prude unwittingly entered, sanity got left at the door. That was what she found shocking.


Let me put it this way (indirectly). I saw a film once about the infamous American mass murderer Ted Bundy. The thing about Bundy was that he was a very handsome, articulate, charming guy. He was actually a law student at a big American university, and in America, lawyers are the cream of the crop sitting at the top of the hill... So the film begins with the young, playful Ted in the office where he was interning, joshing (Americans love to "josh") with the older guys at the firm. Ted is on his way out the door and, as he leaves, the older fellow who is his mentor and who really thinks highly of Ted -- a bit like a surrogate father, no less --, sort of grins and shakes his head affectionately, as if to say "Well, these kids!!"


But then, in a masterpiece of cinematography, the film instantly shifts and we see the same Ted, only this time he has a hood over his head and a wild, malevolent look in his eyes, hovering in some stark alley... Now he is the psychopath, the murderer, and mutilator of young women. We see it in the blink of an eye: the devil flashes out at us.


I would suggest that this is how the internet and all the various apps at all the various sites can lure the unwary into hell: Snapchat, Instagram, Musical.ly, Facebook, Marco Polo, Yellow, SayAt.me, and Monkey, etc.
It all seems OK until...it is not OK. The lip-synching gives way to pathology, to 10-year-olds posting things about "rough sex", to children feeling so tormented over their appearance and over such nonsense as failing to get enough "likes" on something they posted, that suicide becomes a real and terrifying option.
It is when the outer world with all its appearance of order and at least moderate serenity dissolves into the twisted labyrinths and rubber rooms of child psychosis. Children walk blindly into situations they can't handle, and where are the parents?


Look, kids are not really my cup of tea. Even babies used to be hard for me to stomach. Now I kind of like them: In Moscow, I had some students who were the parents of newborns and I watched some of these babies become toddlers. There was something really wonderful about their goofy, inquisitive faces. But I could always leave before the screaming and shitting began. So I liked them OK. But I stick to the notion that if you've seen one baby, you've seen them all. A litter of puppies is much more endearing.


Modern teenagers mostly leave me cold. All they want to do is piss around with their gadgets. Generally, they are the most boring creatures on the face of the earth. Nothing impresses them; nothing really takes their breath; the natural wonders of the universe make them yawn. But hand them a GADGET !!!! -- and watch the lights come on! Watch the Games begin !! Otherwise, doing an English lesson with a lot of these kids is like trying to breathe life into a rock. Or bring an adolescent zit to its head when it needs a few more days to fester and ripen.


But, or so it seems, giving up and leaving them to the apps and gizmos is not necessarily the right thing to do. They can become jaded. They can get sick. They can fall into a trap, some of them at least, that they have no idea about.
Parents have two choices: either get tough with these indolent little prodigies and force them to put the gadgets away, or else just throw them to the cyberspace wolves that await them in that strange and bending forest where trolls and demons and bogeymen -- some imaginary, some not, and some with seriously evil intentions indeed, will be happy to devour them and harvest their minds.


It is something to think about.
So, as I was explaining this to Lora, my Bulgarian friend, student, and mother of two, she motioned to the young girls, 9 and 6, and their 9 year-old-cousin, and then she pointed to the grassy area outside the window.
"That garden is their internet," she said. "They will reach the age where I can no longer control them, but for now that is their internet."
No smart-phones either. Just childhood. No anorexia. No likes or dislikes. No thoughts of suicide or self-mutilation.


Just the grass and the wind, the spaniel dog that is always on hand to run after them, and, above all, their rosy cheeks that bespeak the very soul and substance of health. Come to think of it, a bit like my own childhood 60 years ago. And my cheeks are still rosy, and my muscles hard, even after a hundred thousand gallons of beer.

===Eric Richard Leroy===

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.