Making the narrative fit

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 1/24/19

I couldn’t help seeing, numerous times on social media over the past weekend, the provocative image of a teenage boy -- a red MAGA hat atop his head -- engaged in a wordless face-off with an …

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Making the narrative fit

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I couldn’t help seeing, numerous times on social media over the past weekend, the provocative image of a teenage boy -- a red MAGA hat atop his head -- engaged in a wordless face-off with an older Native American man at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The moment, filmed last Friday, went viral soon after.
It was sometime during the afternoon on Sunday when I finally watched the video. I’d been tempted to skip it altogether, but since the story – framed in simple terms as youth in MAGA hat versus older Native American man -- wasn’t going away, and liking to be informed, I watched it.
I admit I was prepared – based on the still image from the video that I had seen – to be upset with the teenager. Not because of the MAGA hat or any perceptions that could be related to it, but because of what looked, in the picture I’d seen so many times already, like a smirk on the young man’s face.
I think I’m right in saying nobody likes a smirking teenager. And I was prepared to get my dander up over it, if I needed to.
But the surprising thing was, I didn’t need to.
Finally watching the video, I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening in it, but it was not the footage I expected.
To me, the young man in the red hat not only wasn’t smirking, he appeared – to my eyes, anyway – to be uncomfortable in the situation.
His “smirk,” or smile, seemed nervous and uncertain, not confrontational, and his eyes, involuntarily blinking with each thump of the drum near his face, further demonstrated his discomfort.
As additional video of the situation emerged, The New York Times ran a story on Sunday titled “Fuller Picture Emerges of Viral Video of Native American Man and Catholic Students.”
On Monday morning, as I listened to the television as I prepared for the day, it was still a major story on the national news.
From The New York Times’ reporting on the matter, and from many other news outlets covering the story, we’ve learned there was, indeed, more to the story than the provocative image promised.
To the credit of the media, the “more to the story” aspect appears to have been thoroughly followed up and all of it reveals, from my view, that much ado was made over very little.
At any given moment in the Washington, D.C., area, there are any number of protests or demonstrations, most of them – and the one captured on someone’s phone at the Lincoln Memorial wasn’t an exception -- peaceful.
The last time I was in D.C., on a cold day last spring, I couldn’t count how many demonstrations were occurring within line of sight of the White House, and how many causes, even some unusual ones, were being represented by those demonstrators.
And though I observed no moments of notable drama on my last visit to our nation’s capital, there was no lack of passion among the hundreds of demonstrators I observed, and no lack of noise supporting them.
To be sure, there are divisions along many lines – political, racial -- in present-day United States, and if this wasn’t already established, a couple of minutes browsing Facebook would clarify.
The weekend’s viral video appeared, at first look, to be a dramatic example of our tensions.
But on closer inspection, the clip isn’t evidence of much other than the omnipresence of smartphones and our seeming need to make the narratives we support fit whatever evidence we have.


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