by Neetzan Zimmerman
NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT
YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.
Roughly 10 years ago, a 14-year-old Quebecker named Ghyslain Raza put a VHS tape into his school's video camera, grabbed a golf ball retriever, and hit record.
The rest is Internet history.
Raza, with a little unsolicited help from some classmates who found the tape and uploaded its content online, soon became the prototypical Internet celebrity: A boy named Star Wars Kid.
But unlike the cyber-fameballs of today, Raza did not seek celebrity nor want it.
"What I saw was mean. It was violent," the Trois-Rivières native, now 25, tells L’actualité magazine reporter Jonathan Trudel in his very first interview. "People were telling me to commit suicide."
Indeed, as Vice's Motherboard revealed some three years ago, the bullying got so bad that Raza was forced to quit school and check into a psychiatric ward with severe depression.
"No matter how hard I tried to ignore people telling me to commit suicide, I couldn’t help but feel worthless, like my life wasn’t worth living," he told Trudel.
(As a sad aside, the same Motherboard article contains a quote from Aleksey Vayner of "Impossible Is Nothing" fame, who recalled the taunts eventually escalating to death threat. Two years later, Vayner passed away of an apparent drug overdose.)
Raza did finally manage to climb out of that "very dark" place he was in to become the president of a local heritage conservation society.
He went on to obtain a law degree from Canada's top university, McGill, and has decided to open up about the heretofore closed chapter of his life in the hopes of helping others like him "overcome [their] shame."
"You’ll survive. You’ll get through it," Raza assured cyberbullied youths. "And you’re not alone. You are surrounded by people who love you."
The full interview is available today in the print versions of both L’Actualite and Maclean’s.
Following are a few choice quotes from Raza's interview with L'Actualite, as translated by Maclean's:
On how the whole thing started:
I made the video in November 2002, when I was a member of the school's television club. I'd been working on a Star Wars parody with other students for a gala. One evening, while I was alone in the studio, I practised the choreography...Most 14-year-old boys would do something similar in that situation, maybe more graceful, but I was goofing around. I left the tape on a shelf in the studio. I didn't think about hiding it. Who would take the trouble to watch it?
On the repercussions of his sudden fame:
Everything rapidly degenerated. In the common room, students climbed onto tabletops to insult me...People made fun of my physical appearance and my weight. I was labelled the "Star Wars Kid." They didn't mean it as a compliment. It soon became impossible for me to attend classes.
On fighting back:
My Dad called the school, but the principal and the teachers didn't understand. They were reluctant to get involved. So my father called the police. There was nothing that they could do. They advised us to get a lawyer.
The lawyers helped us to find a place where I could write my exams, so I wouldn't fail. I did the exams in a high school affiliated with the psychiatric unit of a hospital because it was the only quiet place we could find.
Afterwards, we wanted to know: could we sue the media to force them to stop showing the video? What about suing the school, which failed in its responsibility to protect me? We settled on the idea that, by suing the few who had uploaded the video, we'd send a strong message.
The media's story was that we were greedy...It was crazy! I can't reveal the figures of the settlement, but none of us got rich. It didn't even cover our expenses. The point was to send a message that the media would understand...That people should behave more responsibly.
On "cashing in":
Every single talk show in North America wanted me as a guest...But why were they inviting me? They wanted to turn me into a circus act. Having your 15 minutes of fame, when you've done something truly worthwhile, is one thing. When you earn it for something humiliating, that's entirely different.
On feeling normal again:
You have to learn how to overcome obstacles and keep going. You may only inch forward, but it's important to keep moving ahead. The next year, I was ready to face normal life again. I switched schools.
On moving forward by looking back:
If what happened to me in 2003 were to happen again today, I can't help but hope that things would different...I think that, today, schools feel more responsibility for what happens on the web.
Would I change the past, if I could? No. I wouldn't change a thing, because today I'm happy with who I am...I'm the product of good and bad experiences. Obviously, if you were to tell me that it would happen again, I wouldn't greet the news with overwhelming joy and happiness. But I wouldn't look for ways to avoid it.
Correction: A previous version of this post indicated that Vayner's death was purposely self-inflicted. This has yet to be determined conclusively.
[H/T: MeFi, images via Canada.com]