The story on “The Conversation”: is headlined, “When exploiting kid for cash goes wrong on YouTube….” and there we have the problem in black and white.
Exploiting kids is wrong to begin with and in all respects; it can’t “go wrong.” The culture doesn’t just get it. This ethics alarm has been sounding at ear-breaking pitch for a long time. Too many adults and media opinion-makers have not just tolerated cruel and abusive uses of children by the very people who are obligated to protect them—their own parents– but encouraged it. In such a child-focused culture,where “Think of the children!” is an all-purpose emotion-bomb employed with regularity to obliterate rational policy arguments, this ugly realm of ethics blindness still thrives.
Ethics Alarms has done its best to cast a light on the cultural scourge from the blog’s beginnings. There were “the Biking Vogels.” There was Jon and Kate Plus Eight. But what chance do I have trying to explain that all child exploitation is unethical whether it is done for cash or not, when a late night TV star, Jimmy Kimmel, has been gleaning fans, applause ratings and YouTube hits by encouraging parents to “prank” their own children to almost no criticism at all? I even started a Facebook page to stop Kimmel from doing this, as he does every Christmas, Halloween, and whenever his child-hating writers have a sadistic brainstorm.
Maybe the exposure, shaming and punishment of Heather and Mike Martin, of Ijamsville, Maryland will finally have some impact, but at this point I am dubious. Yesterday these horrible people appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America to weep, lie, grovel and try to make the public feel sorry for them, as their torture videos threaten to cost them custody of some or all of their children. Anyone who does feel sorry for the Martins is a fool, and perhaps one of the complicit millions of internet viewers who rewarded the couple for using their children as props, dupes and victims. When you make money by torturing your children to attract YouTube hits, that is signature significance. You are a vile human being, with your values and ethics rotting somewhere in your brain like a dead rat in the attic. The Martins are indefensibly ethics-free human beings, though just two of many. How much can the culture condemn them, when an even worse human being is paid millions by ABC—the hypocrisy of the network is staggering—to encourage the same conduct they are now being, finally, attacked for?
The YouTube video that finally served as a tipping point was the one where the Martins poured ink on the bedroom floor of one of their five young children. The Washington Post describes it:
Heather Martin, a.k.a. “MommyOFive,” is screaming. “Get your f—— a — up here!” she yells at Cody, her young son. Mike Martin — DaddyOFive to his family YouTube channel’s 750,000 subscribers — follows along behind with the camera as Cody runs upstairs. Soon, he is yelling, too: “What the hell is that?” There is ink all over the floor of Cody’s room. The boy begins to cry. “I didn’t do that,” he says, his face turning red. “I swear to God I didn’t do that.” For three minutes, the parents scream and swear at Cody and his brother Alex, accusing them of spilling the ink. Suddenly, MommyOFive reveals a small bottle in her hand. She smiles and laughs. The ink was trick ink, she says, it will disappear from the floor. “You just got owned!” DaddyOFive says, pointing the camera in the faces of his children, who appear to be elementary school-aged. “It’s just a prank, bruh!” As the Martin parents laugh, their children remain sitting on the bed, faces still red from crying.
HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! This is hilarious!
With over 760,000 subscribers, DaddyOFive earned between$200,000-350,000 each year from YouTube advertising revenue. The ink prank wasn’t the worst of the videos either, not at all. In addition to the emotional abuse being inflicted on the Martin kids, there was often physical abuse. Some videos showed them being pushed into furniture or walls by their father, or being struck by siblings. Here is a sampling of the videos, as they were promoted on DaddyOFive:
Nice. Although these have all been removed by the Martins or by YouTube for violations of their policies—which YouTube apparently only enforces vigorously when sufficient bad publicity is stirred up—they have been archived here.
YouTube, of course, is also accountable for DaddyOFive. The social media site profits from viral videos. It would presumably pull a snuff film from circulation, but felt that watching parents abuse their children was just good clean fun and lucrative entertainment. Finally Philip DeFranco, a well-known YouTube star himself, decided to focus public attention on DaddyOFive. [Two alert Ethics Alarms readers tried to focus my attention on it weeks ago, but I missed it, in part because I thought it was just a single video rather than an entire child-abuse series, and assumed that it was redundant of the Kimmel posts. I’m sorry, everybody.] “The more I dove into this channel’s history, the more concerned I became,” DeFranco told his viewers as he introduced the first of three videos exposing DaddyOFive last week. Finally, significant public and news media outrage was generated to bring DaddyOFive down, and perhaps even rescue the children.
Viewers of the videos reported the Martins to Child Protective Services and law enforcement officials in Maryland, where the couple lives. A spokeswoman for Baltimore County police said that the department been “made aware of the videos and are currently checking into the situation to find out if any of the videos were created in Baltimore County.” Another investigation is underway in Frederick County, where the family now lives. An online petition asking Child Protective Services in Maryland to “reinvestigate” the Martins has more than 17,000 signatures.
Now there are reports that the Martins have lost custody of two of their children to their biological mother.
When the Martins went on morning television to try to suppress the rising tide of public antipathy against them, they resorted to that old standby, the Pazuzu Excuse, named after the nasty demon who made Linda Blair say disgusting things and spit green glop in “The Exorcist.” “[What] you see on our YouTube channel is not a reflection of who we are. It’s not,” Heather Martin told the GMA hosts.
Of course it is. It is exactly who they are. Who else could it be? Oh…right…
DaddyOFive himself at least didn’t take that approach, saying,
“I made some real bad judgment calls. And when I look back on it now … it makes me sick…I’ve lost my own self-respect. I am completely broken. I did all this for my kids. I thought I was doing the right thing…Because of my poor decisions, now my family’s suffering. I was able to do so many things for my family because of this YouTube channel. We were able to give the kids a college fund … [But] I ended up destroying my family thinking that I was helping my family.”
Oddly, none of this occurred to Mike while he was making the videos, torturing his children, and raking in the bucks. He and his wife shouldn’t be allowed to own a dog, cat or goldfish, never mind be trusted with children. Parents calculating that it is worth exploiting and harming children to give them a college fund—if that is even true—sets new and revolting vistas in the ends justifies the means, competing with the infamous Vietnam War line, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”
Neither Mike nor Heather possess the ethical values necessary to understand what’s wrong with what they did. When they deleted all of the content from DaddyOFive last week, they posted a new one: “Family Destroyed Over False Aquisations” —heh—in which they claimed to be victims of a social media mob, that the videos were just staged and “fake, and their five children, Jake, 14, Ryan, 12, Emma, 11, Cody, 9, and Alex, 9, were willing and consenting participants in their mistreatment.
Oops. That didn’t play well (children that young cannot give meaningful consent, for one thing), so there was a Take Two. The Martins deleted the “Aquisitions” video, and posted a new response, “DaddyOFive Founders Issue Public Apology,” produced by a crisis management and PR firm.
Let us not make the mistake of focusing all the attention on the Martins. They are monsters, but millions of Americans accepted them, watched them, and laughed at their cruelty. Millions also continue to watch Jimmy Kimmel, who was considered pure enough for those paragons of virtue in Hollywood to make him the Academy Awards host this year.
Love Jimmy, love his child abuse.
Philadelphia columnist Brian Hickey, who had written some appropriately harsh columns about DaddyOFive, received this amazing letter from an Ethics Dunce and monster-enabler named Jason Vosberg :
Regarding the “DaddyOFive” incidents, if the State of Maryland’s Child Protective Services comes out and says there is no abuse, that means all the hate he has received is legally unfounded. Will you post an article apologizing for criticizing his freedom of speech and parenting choices?
I want to be clear, I am neither defending nor supporting his actions. I’m not being a smart ass or anything. I’m only asking because YouTube was the reason he was able give his family the better life they have now, and the unproven accusations have done irreversible damage to his reputation and cost him his “job.”
Is it right to publicize your own efforts to save the kids at the cost of him losing his largest source of revenue? It’s like a public, false child rape accusation; it does irreversible damage to your reputation. Who is responsible for the damages to his reputation?
I fear that Jason is not as atypical of the American public as we might wish. Hickey responded that he will not apologize, but his answer was notably insufficient for leaving out the key words, “you insidious idiot.” It doesn’t matter what Child Protective Services says, or what the law concludes: we can see the videos. This is res ipsa loquitur. Jason doesn’t comprehend the distinction between law and ethics; he is completely without understanding of the First Amendment, which has no application to the case; and children who are being routinely tormented by their parents do not have a “better life” so matter how much money their abuse earns.
Being unable to correctly answer Jason’s jaw-dropping question, “Is it right to publicize your own efforts to save the kids at the cost of him losing his largest source of revenue?” would properly disqualify any job applicant or potential tenant. Gee, Jason, what if the Martins were selling their kids as child sex toys? Then would it be right for for Brian Hickey to publicize his own efforts to save the kids at the cost of Martin losing his largest source of revenue? You actually signed your name to this question? That alone suggest cognitive impairment. If you worked for me in any job requiring more trust than I require of a sanitation worker, I would fire you.
And no, it is not like a false rape accusation. It is not an accusation at all. The videos are self-accusing. Who is responsible for the damages to the reputation of parents who torture their kids, expose them to humiliation on the web, and profit from it? They are, you moron. Just them.
Tell you what: Stay away from me.
Our culture just has to stop tolerating child exploitation, which means that we have to stop allowing unethical parents, social media forums, TV networks and Jimmy Kimmel profit from it. This shouldn’t be so hard.
Pointers: Alexander Cheezem, Fred