Imagine having a bad week by Jacksonville Jaguars standards. Such is the fate that has befallen Urban Meyer, the head coach of that star-crossed NFL franchise. Meyer was recently caught on video grind-dancing at an Ohio bar with a woman who was very much not his wife. This prompted sighs of relief from us ’90s kids who were worried the term ‘grind-dancing’ had gone out of vogue forever.
It’s difficult to understate just what a mess Meyer’s Jaguars are. The team is one of only four NFL franchises to have never made it to a Super Bowl. They’ve struggled for years with mediocre quarterbacks (who among us hasn’t been walking down a sidewalk only to accidentally intercept a ball from Blake Bortles?). Meyer, along with rookie hotshot QB Trevor Lawrence, were supposed to turn all that around. Instead they’ve gone 0-5 this season amid the (admittedly very shapely) shadow of a sex scandal.
Meyer thus seems to have adapted to his new Jacksonville environs by becoming the quintessential Florida Man. And while he has yet to fire an alligator out of a cannon into a drive-thru window, he has turned himself into quite the garish distraction. It wasn’t just that Meyer engaged in some extramarital twerking; he skipped the team flight back to Florida supposedly because he wanted to spend time with his grandkids (!). He then took days to apologize to his players, who nearly laughed him out of the room when he did. Rumors swirl that his team doesn’t respect him. He may not last the season.
Yet there’s also more to Meyer-gate than just ‘Sacksonville’ becoming a double entendre. Because on the other side of the ball, so to speak, has lined up the same roster we’ve come to expect anytime anyone does anything wrong: the venting cable news host; the lip-licking tabloid reporter; the half-puritanical, half-voyeuristic Twitter troll who stands on the sidelines sneering.
This isn’t just about Urban Meyer behaving like a lout. It’s about how we respond to people when they behave like louts.
Consider that in addition to the initial footage of Meyer — the Zapruder film of over-the-hill twerking — a second video has since emerged. This one appears to show Meyer not just dancing with the woman but touching her derriere. Upon its release, social media promptly set to work dissecting the footage. Had Meyer committed a holding penalty? Or had his hand movement been more like forward progress? Either way, it called to mind less football than someone peering into the bedroom next door, insisting he was outraged by what he saw only to keep zooming in the binoculars further.
Consider, too, the consequent torment of everyone involved. The woman who danced up on Meyer has been named, her job threatened, her life imperiled. Meyer’s wife has had her every online movement breathlessly tracked, to the point that she’s since deleted her Twitter account. In a tweet, she tried to reason with the mob: ‘We all make mistakes. We are all sinners,’ she wrote. ‘If you think you aren’t? Then cast the first stone.’
Apparently Shelley Meyer hasn’t heard that impromptu stonings are half the point of social media these days. The entire enterprise is like some endlessly repeated sub-grindhouse rendition of The Lottery. And if the medium enables the mob, so too does the rest of our society, where everything can be instantly publicized via the omnipresent cameraphone. Anyone’s misbehavior is thus at risk of being exposed to everyone. Americans rightly bristle at surveillance from their government, but what about the surveillance state we’ve created for ourselves?
What Urban Meyer did is wrong, and none of this should be read as a defense of him. But then we all do things that are wrong. And while we aren’t all public figures like Meyer, videos and photos on the internet have humiliated plenty of unknowns all the same. Certainly it can be fun to sit by the guillotine and jeer — until you’re the one bouncing along in the tumbril, until you got snapped losing your temper at a clerk or drunkenly staggering about or making some awkward remark.
What hope is there, then, except to behave as blandly as possible, in the manner of, say, a North Korean? Meanwhile, for the mob, it’s ever onward, on to the next target, as rumors fly about another man who’s just been caught cheating on his wife. And how much juicier is this imbroglio! These paramours have a secret love nest! They’ve known each other for months; they’ve even done it in public! Yet they can’t hide from the internet’s lens, and so it’s up, up with the video, expose them for all to see, and then off, off, off with their heads!
That’ll teach Winston and Julia a lesson.
A conservative might here lodge a reasonable objection: in a society rife with depravity, couldn’t a little public shame do some good? But again, that’s exempting the offense for the defense. What is moral about bleating for a scalp? What is conservative about self-unawarely holding people to an impossible standard? Does the common good really dictate that we all parse the gyrations of a 57-year-old’s pelvis like Kremlinologists staring at a video of Khrushchev giving a speech?
Or might it be better if sometimes we just didn’t know? Is it possible that in filleting Meyer, and the zillion other Meyers who will thrust and slink their way across our Twitter feeds, we’re really just being self-indulgent? In 1984, everyone is afraid to act out or say the wrong thing lest they get erased by the regime. Credit that old DIY American spirit: we’ve gone and pulled it off without the government’s help.