A story will come out -- let's hope it's a good oneI’ve been taken by the story of Texas Judge William Adams and his family. As everybody in the world (or 4 million hits on Youtube as of Friday) seems to know, his 23- year-old daughter posted a six-year-old video of him angrily lashing her with a belt as punishment for illegally downloading material from the internet. In his initial response the family court judge says a story will come out and dismisses the video as “not as bad as it looks on tape,” but just about everyone who comments disagrees. In this case, even the local police chief investigating says that were it not for the statute of limitations, this incident would likely be prosecuted as child abuse. As it stands no state or federal charges will be filed, though a state commission on judicial conduct is still investigating the case.
I don’t believe in vigilantism – initially some viewers had pizzas delivered to his house and the judge has reportedly received death threats. I have mixed feelings about such horrendous behavior being so publicly aired, as did his daughter after she posted it. In an appearance on the Today show she admits as much and goes on to say “I think he has been punished enough just by seeing this go public like this, and I think he just really needs help and rehabilitation."
The internet scares me in that it can make humiliating and shameful moments so public. It serves as a kind of modern-day pillory or stocks with Reddit, Youtube and other sites as town squares. Instead of throwing eggs and rotten vegetables, crowds, including anonymous trolls, hurl comments. Whenever I feel like writing what I consider a thoughtful comment, I refrain after looking at the cyber company I keep. I suspect others feel the same way.
Nevertheless, I am interested in how the internet serves as a forum for public shaming – a place that exposes what Nathaniel Hawthorne labels with the good old fashioned word ignominy, that Webster’s defines as “deep personal humiliation and disgrace.”
In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne emerges from jail with a scarlet A for adulterer, embroidered on the clothing covering her breast. Her secret sin has been made public by the birth of her daughter, Pearl, in the absence of her husband , Roger Chiillingworth, who had not yet arrived from Europe. The scandalous Hester refuses to name the father of her child. Though the situations have very limited parallels, there are some similarities. Judge Adams’ secret has been revealed and his reputation will likely be forever tarnished by an association – an A for abuser unless…..
Unless he changes as Hester did. She reinterprets her A through the regenerative power of imagination and healing. Subsequently over time Hester’s good works make others forget what the A stands for – some suggest it stands for “Able.”
What if family court Judge Adams humbly sought help, engaged in family counseling, made amends and reconciled with his family? What if he acknowledged his dysfunction first instead of lashing out at those around him? This is what Hillary Adams says she would like to have happen as a result of making the secret video public. It seems his ex-wife Hallie, who also lashes Hillary in the video, has begun this process. She has left the marriage, apologized and repaired her relationship with her daughter. People can and do change.
What an extraordinary man Judge Adams might become. A man who might be an example to others. A man others might turn to for advice. A man others might look up to for his good judgment.
I would like to read that story.