In a twist, this Unethical Website found me. Smosh’s despicable montage titled by the ethically clueless creep who concocted it, Will Weldon, “19 Funniest Examples of Kid Shaming” includes, among its hilarious examples, the photo above from an Ethics Alarms essay I posted about a year ago, with a link back here. Weldon appears to have stolen his post idea from an earlier version of it on the website Heavy, this by an equally warped wag named Elizabeth Furey. Heavy would have been an “Unethical Website of the Month” if I had known about its post last May, and everything I write about Smosh applies to Heavey, just as everything I write about Will applies to Elizabeth.
In the linked Ethics Alarms post, I specifically condemned the practice of parents forcing children to hold up a sign “confessing” some transgression, taking a photo of him or her*, and posting it on the web. I wrote:
“I think any aspect of a punishment that outlives the effects of the offense and a continues to do harm long after the original wrongdoer has reformed is unfair, abusive and cruel. If, as seems to be the case, the boy’s parents added to his punishment of having to return his Play Station 3 by first photographing the kid holding a sign describing his transgression, and then memorializing his humiliation by posting it on the internet, they took the lesson into unethical territory. Punishing their child for his spoiled and ungracious behavior by taking away a cherished gift is a legitimate exercise of parental authority, if a bit excessive for my tastes, especially at Christmastime. Turning him into the web poster child for ungrateful and spoiled children everywhere is, I believe, an abuse of that authority.”
I was feeling uncharacteristically equivocal that day, it seems, infused as I was still by the holiday spirit. Let me be more assertive now. Dog-shaming using this device is a “thing’ on the web now, and such photos can be funny. Needess to say…or rather, it should be needless to say, but apparently I need to say it for people like Will and Elizabeth…children are not dogs. Dogs can’t read, won’t be humiliated by photos on the web (if they could be humiliated, poodle owners would have to sleep with one eye open), and don’t live long enough to have one bad moment haunt them on the web for decades. Parents who force their children to pose with signs that describe some misconduct or supposedly amusing escapade so millions can view it on the web, laugh at the kid, use the photo for idiotic features on low-rent websites like Smosh, and do so long after the kid is old enough to be embarrassed by the photo in his job, personal life and career are…
1. Engaging in child abuse.
2. Using their kids as props, a classic Kantian ethics violation.
3. In the same class of unethical parents as the fools who follow the exhortations of ABC late night host Jimmy Kimmel, who regularly uses cruelty to children to get big laughs from his despicable fans, encouraging parents to play practical jokes on children too young to understand why their folks lied to them to make them feel bad, and then to post the uproarious videos of the kids crying on YouTube.
3. Ignoring the Golden Rule, since such parents would be mortified if a photo of them as children standing by, say, this sign…
…followed them around on the web for the rest of their lives and beyond.
In most of the alleged “hilarious” photos, the child involved is too young to read or know what the web is, and is thus not old enough to be shamed. The parents are not really punishing the child to improve his or her behavior or teach a lesson, but simply trading in the child’s future dignity for laughs, at least from callous individuals like Will. Will describes himself thusly on Smosh:
“Will Weldon is a comedian from Canada, a country you may recognize from any map and/or atlas of the world. Now residing in Los Angeles, he goes on stage and either complains about or mock (sic) things around him, often to laughter! He’s also appeared in a number of tiny roles on television and in commercials, and generally enjoys not taking things too seriously. So relax, bro!”
Apparently they like exclamation marks in Canada. He writes, as an introduction to these rib-tickling examples of child abuse and exploitation,
“Kids have a lot of talents, but the one thing they’re all VERY good at is ruining their parents’ lives. Sometimes, though, the parents get to strike back! No, this is not a pitch for a new action movie, where a disgruntled parent goes around beating up kids. It’s just parents shaming kids for their terrible behavior. YEAH!”
Stop! Oh, stop, Will, my sides are splitting from your witty Canadian humor! Apparently kids ruin their parents lives, in Will’s view, by being kids, raising the question of why such parents decided to be parents in the first place if children behaving like they have since the species evolved will “ruin their lives.” Oh, I know, Will’s writing something this stupid is justified by the endless mirth it causes. Those Smosh editors were screaming, let me tell you! After all, what could be more uproarious than a parent posting a photo of their baby with this sign (From now on, I think I’ll use Will’s face to hide those of the web-shamed children):
Then there are the incidents that really are a bit amusing, but certainly not 40 years later when a day care accident is used to infantilize them as you’re running for Congress or trying to get appointed CEO of a major financial institution. But then, as Will points out, those vile kids still ruined their parents’ lives, so taking revenge on them was only fair and appropriate…like this…
And what could be more hilarious than going to that extra extreme, forcing your child to carry a sign in public, and then posting the photo of it online so his identity will forever be defined on the web by one of the worst moments of his life (actually, parents who treat their children like this are good bets to inflict far worse as the years pass):
Will is obviously aspiring to be the next Jimmy Kimmel, and recruited Smosh to help by encouraging parents like the child-abusers who took these 19 photos to find ways to “strike back” at their teens, kids, toddlers and infants for “ruining their lives,” by ruining (or at least scarring) theirs, on the web, forever. Good work, Will! That phone call from ABC may come any minute.
*NOTE: I want to thank the commenter, crella, who suggested that I blur the child’s face, which was not done in the photo the parents posted, and also the reader (was it you, Jeff Hibbert?) who sent me the altered photo that now accompanies the article on this site.