Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board. He came to Long Island in 2010.
The first thing that struck me when I saw video of University of Oklahoma frat boys and their gal pals singing a violently racist song was how comfortable they looked and sounded talking about hanging black people from trees and using the N word. It's like they felt it was totally normal and inoffensive. Like no one could call them on it.
The second thing that struck me, and I've been thinking it a lot lately, was that I never would have believed, 25 years ago, I would someday enjoy the Orwellian presence of Big Brother in our society so much.
Again and again, we're presented with video shot in public (or sort of public) settings of people behaving badly. Each time I think, "Man, I'm really glad there was a someone with a camera present to record that horrifying event."
Admittedly, much of my acceptance of the fact that I can assume I'm on camera anytime I'm in public stems from the fact that I'm a sober, married, middle-aged father. My days of regularly committing high crimes and misdemeanors are behind me. Any camera trained on me now is likely to record behavior that's embarrassingly geeky but not criminal.
When I was young and wild and far more adamantly libertarian than today, the idea that there would someday be cameras all over the place freaked me out. I would say things like, "That's how the man's going to keep us down, dude. Constant surveillance."
That anyone who spoke that way would probably do a flawless job of keeping himself down without "the man" didn't occur to me until years later.
But it's awesome that the actions taken by some of the Sigma Alpha Epsilons of Oklahoma are on display. I'm glad university officials could take it in and act. I'm glad top football recruit Jean Delance, who is black, could see it and withdraw his commitment to attend and play for the school.
And I'm glad that during the search for the Boston Marathon bombers, multiple street cameras showed their furtive travels and hideous actions, and the actions of the heroes who responded, too. I'm glad we saw elevator camera footage of football player Ray Rice smashing his then-fiancee in the face with his fist, and then we could react knowledgeably to the response of his team and the NFL. I'm glad we saw what cops did to Eric Garner on Staten Island to understand what happened, and didn't have to rely purely on a grand jury that backed the cops.
So why do I feel so differently now than I did in my youth, beyond the fact that I've become so boring no one cares what I do? Mostly because I now understand what privacy is, and where and when people have the right to expect it.
There's never been any right to privacy in public. If other people, whether they be cops or private citizens, could see you from a place where they were legally allowed to be, then they could look. And listen. And record.
And that's fair.
The case of these young people, of course, was a bit different. They had privacy from me and you inside a bus, but not from each other. I'm sure most of them had cameras, but at least two used them. Rather than giving in to some misplaced sense of loyalty to people behaving so nastily, they publicized what they filmed.
As I said, the most disconcerting thing about what these folks sang on the bus was how comfortable and confident they seemed that they would go unreported and unpunished. The most wonderful thing was that they were wrong. Their frat house has been closed, two participants have been expelled and the investigation continues.
Fraternity, of course, means brotherhood. It was big brotherhood, in this case, and I'm awfully glad.
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.