Psycho Dad Videos and the Spectacle of Performative Parenting

The rant is not my preferred rhetorical mode, but I may in what follows tread perilously close to ranting. I’ll begin, though, with Plato’s telling of the story of the Ring of Gyges. You’ll remember that the mythical ring of Gyges had the power to render the wearer invisible. Plato deploys the story in order to explore the nature of virtue. The question it raises, of course, is rather obvious: What would we do if we knew that no one would see? The implied response is that most of us would behave rather badly. Consequently, we may conclude that it is the possibility of discovery that keeps most of us in line. Anonymity induces vice.

The advent of Youtube, however, invites us to ask another question, one that reverses the logic of the Ring of Gyges: What would we do if we knew that a million people would watch us?

Answer? All manner of malicious idiocy, it would seem.

Consider, for example, the Psycho Dad video genre that has emerged over the last few years. I suspect you’ve seen an example or two. You may remember, for instance, this gem from 2012 in which a dad puts a few bullet holes in his daughter’s laptop after learning that she’d posted some disparaging comments about her parents on Facebook. Thirty-nine million views and counting. Or take this more recent entry, the immediate cause of this post, in which a father plows over his sons video games with a riding lawn mower while the son descends into an extended emotional meltdown.

With apologies to Foucault, we appear to be witnessing the reemergence of punishment by public spectacle. But honestly, to put it that way lends these cases far too much gravitas. These videos strike me rather as being instances of either self-indulgent vindictiveness or, worse, spectacles of emotional torment.

Even if some reasonable case could be made for the wisdom of these actions, even if we assume that the parents are in each case entirely in the right, why, I would like to know, would one feel compelled to publicize these proceedings. It is not as if these are instances of culturally mandated ritual shaming to which the parent reluctantly acquiesces. They are cases of performative parenting for the sake of a virtual audience and at the expense of the children involved.

Do you, as a parent, feel that disposing of your sons video games is the best way to keep him from wasting his life away? That’s probably not the best course of action, but, even if it were, could it not be done without also exploiting your son’s emotional response for the sake of Youtube infamy?

The fact is that I have a hard time accepting that these are, in fact, instances of “tough love,” as they are often characterized. For my part, I’m not sure how, on any plausible account of love, we could justify the public exploitation of the ones we love, particularly in the self-serving work of role-playing some fantasy of kick-ass fatherhood.

But, of course, that’s not the whole story. These videos are made and posted precisely because they get the attention they seek. They get that attention because enough people, enough of us, take perverse pleasure in watching them and then go on to share them with approving commentary on our social media networks. And we do so because we have grown all too comfortable with the casual erosion of the dignity of the human person upon which all of what passes as “reality” based entertainment is premised. That they are ostensibly willing participants does nothing, in my view, to mitigate the moral peril.

One of the more memorable stanzas in Auden’s “The Shield of Achilles” reads,

“A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
Were axioms to him, who’d never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept.”

These lines get at the problem with the psycho dad videos and others like them. They presume a world in which one should laugh and jeer because another wept, and that is not a world any of us want to live in.

12 thoughts on “Psycho Dad Videos and the Spectacle of Performative Parenting

  1. This is the first time I was made aware of these videos and their justification. Nauseating; it reminded me of the old ‘snuff film’ phenomenon. That turned out to be largely an urban myth (fake videos for an underground market), hopefully this will prove so too. Except, of course, it’s not ‘underground,’ indicating some mainstream audience for it. Disturbing.

  2. I have found such videos equally disturbing, though in the dysfunctional example of the lawn mower-video games debacle, I am unsure whether the “psycho dad” in question consented to have this filmed and posted to YouTube. A sibling of the youth being humiliated was recording it, and likely made it public. That doesn’t excuse anyone’s behavior in said video, however.

  3. Oh, amen, thank you for this post. You’ve nailed it all so well. Something else that concerns me in the techie age is that we’re teaching men this very odd concept of masculinity, revenge based, bullying, shaming, as if they can win the game, score some kill points on a video screen. That’s all well and good in the virtual world, but what becomes of us if that attitude is taught and promoted in real life? The you tube videos of dads gone wild are a display of value, a way of declaring identity and power. In real life if you were to behave that way in front of real people, there would be disapproval, family members talking to you, consequences. On the internet your behavior is reinforced with hits and likes and any criticism is easily deleted. It’s like morality by vote, except now you control the votes. Worse, you now compete with others for the most offensive display.

  4. I didn’t have too much of a problem with the first video. Dad buys daughter a laptop; daughter uses laptop to embarrass dad publicly; dad kills laptop and goes public on the venue already used by the daughter. Frankly, I think that’s a pretty sound lesson in consequences for the obnoxious and entitled teen. No malice, no mocking, the daughter’s face wasn’t made public (as far as I remember – I saw the clip some time ago and don’t feel like watching it again).

    But the second one … that made me feel sick. I’m not standing in judgment over the father’s destruction of his son’s video games; I’ve lived with a game addict and it’s really, really hard to know just how to get them out of fantasy-land and into the world of Being A Responsible Adult. But what sickened me was the malicious video – the sniggering in the background, the mockery, and then the added humiliation of going public. That was vicious. Nasty. Cruel. Left a horrible taste in my mouth.

  5. I’m pretty sure the lawnmower video was entirely fake… that said, I agree entirely with your assessment of the situation, however.

  6. In regards to the Facebook Father video, Hannah’s problem is she has it too easy. The father says he does things for her without expecting anything in return, not even respect, which is the least she could give him. As long as he continues to do this, he can expect his daughter to treat him like he doesn’t matter.

  7. Not to kill everyone’s buzz, but the “psycho dad” videos are schetches done with the whole family involved. If you go to the YouTube channel, you will find several videos of the father distorting xboxs and other video game systems in several creative ways. The creator or of the channel has stated that they write the videos together with his father and brother and the brother improvs the reactions.

    1. You do realize the father didn’t do anything wrong. The daughter was warned of the punishment for her actions before she broke the rules. Her parents made good on the punishment and the daughter took it to the extreme because she was a twat and a tart.

      I was 13 when my dad cut off all my hair for breaking the rules. He didn’t leave me with shoulder length hair but buzzed it all off like I was a prisoner in Auschwitz. There was a sign posted on our front lawn about my trespass and what the punishment was and all my friends at school knew what had happened. No one called CPS. I didn’t jump off a bridge. I cried and whined but I learned my lesson and grew my hair out again.

  8. It needs to be said that the “Psycho Dad” videos by the Youtuber McJuggerNuggets (Jesse Ridgway) are fake. He makes thousands a month from ad revenue on Youtube because of the extreme pranks and skits he presents as his real life. Not to mention the thousands he received as gifts (cash and electronics) thinking he was telling the truth.

    The local and state police in New Jersey have been contacted about the content and extreme nature of these videos and they have stated they are fake and for entertainment purposes only.

    The video made by Tommy Jordan where he shoots his daughter’s laptop was turning the tables on her for embarrassing her family with her teenage rant on facebook. The video was originally posted to her facebook account to counter the BS she had posted about being her parents slave because she had to do chores.

    Mr. Jordan has not gone on to post his personal life for profit the way Mr. Ridgway has. These videos can not be compared as you can not compare apples to bananas.

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