August 30, 2007

Kyle Darocca was pronounced dead at 4:51 p.m., Wednesday, August 22. The Dallas Morning News reported the 15-year-old was killed in the parking lot of his grade school while friends videotaped his attempt to create the world’s largest “Ollie”—a no-hands aerial trick on a skateboard. Kyle was holding to the side of a speeding vehicle, driven by a 16-year-old friend. When he lost his balance, the Ford Explorer ran over and killed him as tape rolled.

Joe White, a high school senior from Topeka, Kansas, suffered a severe head injury and partial paralysis after jumping from a moving car just last year. He may never progress beyond the level of a 10-year-old.

A back flip from a vending machine, landing face-first, rewarded Mike Gaboff with a severe concussion, three broken cheek bones, a compound fracture to his right knee and a tripod fracture to his left foot.

All of these stunts and more may be seen on YouTube and other Web sites eager to “cash in” on the fun: kids stapling their mouths shut, jumping off cliffs, drilling screws through their arms and setting themselves on fire. What’s going on here?

Well, for one thing, “Jackass the Movie” and TV series has inspired a generation of daredevils eager to imitate. The movies’ stars perform these kind of stunts one after the other. On some level, it is hilarious. But Jackass is full of disclaimers, and for the actors you’d better believe precaution is taken and medical care readily available when required.

Marc Leroux, age 14, poured gasoline on his pants and ran through a flaming railroad tie. Trouble is, his buddies forgot to bring anything to put out the fire. Marc screamed and burned for 40 seconds as the camera caught it all.

Kids have always done dumb things: they stick their hand into flames; their tongues to solidly frozen surfaces; hammer their fingers; and run into the street. And parents tell them, generation after generation, not to do these things because they could get hurt. That basic lesson has evidently not been absorbed by lots of American teens. But then again, maybe it was never taught. Maybe this is the natural result of absent parents not nurturing, instructing or protecting their children into adulthood. Could this also be the awful result of more progressive parenting where we let kids “decide for themselves?”

As I watched the video of Mike Gaboff standing on a ladder, demolished by a speeding car as he jumped over it, I couldn’t help but think “where is his mother?!” Good parents can have kids that do stupid things, but not on video over and over posted on the internet for all to see. Not kids who repeatedly come home with injuries, excitedly planning their next escapade and purchasing film and camera to capture it all. Where are those parents?

And what makes kids take these kinds of risks if not for a dangerous cry for help? “Pay attention to me, Mom. Watch me, Dad. Love me enough to stop me. Let me know I have some worth.” Cameras rolling … silence.

Mike Gaboff says that like other daredevils, they do it for the “adrenalin”—for the thrill. But there is something more sinister that sets this apart. When Evil Knievel crashed on his motorcycle, we didn’t ogle his broken body or listen to his groans of pain. When NASCAR drivers flip their car and burn, cameras don’t zoom in to capture their misery.

Not so with the amateur videos on YouTube. When Mike Gaboff lands face first, the camera catches his unconscious ramblings as his injuries are described on the screen. It follows the needle inserted next to his eye repeatedly and the paramedics placing him on a body board. When he breaks his nose, it zooms in on the injury and the bloody towel to capture the gore. “Did you get that?” shouts a daredevil buddy as Mike lies cursing in agony.

It’s one thing to carefully prepare to do a stunt; to avoid undue danger by good preparation and fitness and then find thrill in the execution. But this is not the victory of a well executed stunt. This is playing to a dangerous voyeurism. The success of the gladiators in Rome was the unquenchable thirst of the audience for blood. This kind of thirst doesn’t end with small cuts or injuries but takes more and more to thrill until the bloodlust is only satisfied with more blood, bigger injuries and even death.

Is this a new twist on the barbarism of the past? A cultural transition from moving heaven and earth to save life to the thrill of watching it ebb away?

In spite of the pleasant premise of “Evan Almighty,” God did not destroy the world through a flood so we could extend random acts of kindness. He destroyed it because it was corrupt and filled with violence. We were created in the image of this God and He has made known since the beginning that destroying others or ourselves is a serious offense to Him.

Ironically, these boys would probably recoil at the thought of videotaping the destruction of a new car they just purchased, yet they treat their young, healthy, God-given bodies as though they had less value. They don’t. They have incomparable worth. Where are the parents to tell them that?


Sandy Rios is the host of the “The Sandy Rios Show,” heard daily on WYLL in Chicago. Contact her at srios@salemradiochicago.com