Audrie & Daisy (2016)

Directors: Bonni Cohen & Jon Shenk

This was a really hard documentary to watch. I used it in a course I was teaching this spring, and only now, two months later, am I actually writing about it. The topic of my course engages with the dark side of social media, all those ways in which something that is meant, supposedly, to bring us together and connect us as people, has un underbelly that is horrifying and terrible to look at. We discuss public shaming, punishing before knowing the facts, the effects of social media on self esteem, but for sure the topics raised in this documentary are the most troubling of all.

There is no doubt that being a woman on the internet is always complicated and difficult, often annoying and horrifying, and sometimes terrifying and disturbing. The types of messages women find themselves the victims of, for daring sometimes to just exist and be alive, is hard to even grapple with and acknowledge, because it also means to recognize how horrible people are capable of being just for the sake of being mean. We too often use mythological language, like trolls, to describe people whose acts are, yes, monstrous, but are also very real, with real effects and consequences. These are not characters in fairytales, these are not, as the cheeto in chief likes to say, obese man-children in their mom’s New Jersey basement, these are our neighbors, our children, the men in our lives, doing horrific things online. The most recent season of South Park got it right. It’s your dad. He does this.

Audrie & Daisy doesn’t shy away from the hard topics. If The Hunting Ground looked at the ways in which rape culture affects college campuses, and The Invisible War did the same thing with the military, then Audrie & Daisy is a companion piece discussing the topic with how it affects teenagers, compounded by the troubling role social media plays in the aftermath of a violent attack. We hear the stories of three girls who fell victim to the violent sexually disturbing fantasies of classmates, and the barrage of bullying, violence, and terror experienced when they dared name their attackers. One story results in the victim’s suicide, bringing the most devastating of endings to her life’s story. But even the ones who keep on living, do so in the wake of an initial horrific act, but the all more devastating and painful systemic defense of teenage boys and accusations of the women who had the misfortune of being the object of male desire and the bodies the boys chose to desecrate.

The most horrific aspects of the film are the ways in which technology, social media, and the internet were used to silence, bully, break, and keep hurting the girls who should have been protected, rescued, and cared for by their communities. The fact that not just teenagers, but their parents, and adults of the towns were additional perpetrators of these injustices makes the viewing of the film all the more troubling and difficult. One specific scene, a brilliant one in an overwhelmingly great and affecting film, is pure perfecting and highlights what this documentary is doing: as the camera pans from a bird’s eye view above a town, superimposed tweets above specific homes show what people are saying online about a particular rape victim. The scene is silent, affecting, and tragic – doing exactly what it should: showing how horrible people can be, when they think that they are justified and anonymous.

This film should be required viewing in schools and by parents. Parents need to teach their boys not to commit violent acts, to respect people’s bodies and wishes, to know what a crime is. Schools need to be aware of signs of bullying and when someone is the victim of this behavior. Communities need to rally behind the people who do not have voices, and not serve the interests of criminals in the name of sports, reputation, sexism, or tradition. We need to do better. The only way, though, is to acknowledge where and when we are screwing up big time. This films sheds that light. We need to listen and do something about it. Now. Right now.

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