When Lucy Stein washes dishes, her cat crouches on a shelf above the sink to watch, white paws to the edge, dark head turned and level with her own.
Street lights shine amber through her kitchen window. “What do you think of all this, Miss Cat?” Animal eyes squeeze into slits. “You're right as always.” Lucy dries her hands and turns up the podcast.
A male voice, which belongs to a 26-year-old named Kendall who moved to Brooklyn three years ago from Pennsylvania, grows in volume. Moving on, let's talk about the curious case of Mae Brady, which is a name you've probably encountered during the past few days if you spend any time online. Dave, you've been following this story.
I have. Dave's voice, with its professional-sounding verbal tics perfected at Brown, rings clear and confident through Lucy's box of an apartment. The entire story sort of exemplifies the dangers and possibilities of media today, particularly in regards to the original video of Mae's assault.
How odd, Lucy thinks, to hear two young men (editors of a Bushwick-based music site) analyze the defining event of her career thus far.
Kendall: Let's talk about that. This was a video of an assault in a swimming pool, which was then shared on social media by a student. My first question is, who would do such a thing?
Dave: Depends on which thing you're referring to. Assault a teen girl or share the evidence? They are two different acts, which is what I find so fascinating.
Lucy envies the distance of the podcasters; how luxurious to be able to treat the incident as fodder, as an intellectual exercise and nothing more. How luxurious to find it fascinating.
Kendall: Well not to be crass, but teenagers have been committing crimes since the beginning of time, and only recently have others been recording them using camera phones. What I don't understand is the impetus to take out your phone and record an act of violence. And to be clear, this wasn't a case of another student recording evidence and handing it over to the police. Rather, a student recorded it and shared it online.
“Leave it to a dude to think violence is natural.” Lucy lifts wine glasses by their stems, water gathering at rims before surrendering into drops, to hang under the cat's perch. The podcaster was talking about Jasper, of course, though he didn't use his name, and he wouldn't use Ethan's either.
Dave: What's critical here is, this is a generation that shares everything online. If something unusual happens in their lives, it's probably recorded, and possibly shared. Now, there's a question of whether it was recorded out of shock or jealousy or what, and why it was shared to a public platform, as opposed to an ephemeral, private one.
Kendall: And whoever shared this was probably intoxicated.
Dave: Exactly. All reports say the students were drinking and smoking and generally not thinking.
Kendall: Good thing we didn't grow up in this climate, huh? Everybody makes mistakes.
Dave: Right? This is an extreme case, of course, but we are talking about standard issue teenage behaviors at the root of it, which is what I find so fascinating.
Kendall: And after the video was shared, a journalist found it, right?
So this is what it feels like to be discussed by strangers: like a doctor diagnosing your reflection. Once, in high school, Lucy had approached two friends only to hear them talking about her (“The problem with Lucy is she thinks she's smarter than everybody else and she's wrong.”) and she froze, clogs fused to linoleum, looking around as if she expected another Lucy to appear and claim responsibility.
This feels a bit like that.
Dave: Yes. Apparently the victim had run away during this time, and the police and local media were all trying to find her, and during the melee a source shared the video with a local journalist, who then wrote about it. And this is where it gets weirder.
Kendall: As if that's possible!
Dave: Exactly. Apparently a newscaster from one of these local stations was interviewing the victim's mother, Mae's mother, when Mae decided to come home, and their reunion was also caught on camera, which of course leads one to speculate...
Kendall: ...about whether the whole thing was staged.
Dave: Exactly. If I were a particularly cynical person, which I'm not, but if I were, I might say that the entire incident was staged for attention. There's evidence this girl was extremely active on social media, not just as an ordinary participant, but as someone who actively sought attention from strangers outside her immediate social circle.
Kendall: But still, implying that a sixteen-year-old girl could stage her own assault is a bit of a narrative leap, no?
Lucy hopes Mae never hears this podcast (unlikely, of course) because if Lucy's reaction is so visceral, how must Mae feel about that video making the rounds, about Lucy's articles? “Oh god, my articles.” She folds in half onto her futon; she is part of the problem; her cat doesn't care. “And the comments!”
Dave: Personally, I think so, I think you're right. But one can make the argument that it's not so far-fetched. Apparently there was a contentious school election going on between these two.
Kendall: Between the attacker and the victim?
Dave: Exactly, and gauging by the social chatter around the incident, there had been quite a lot of rumors and dirty dealing and mud slinging during the election.
Kendall: This is a high school election, right?
Dave: A high school election, yes. And forgive me for this tangent, but you have to wonder where young people are learning these political tactics.
Kendall: I can think of a few examples.
Dave: Exactly. Why should we expect our children to be held to a higher moral standard than our adults?
Lucy silences the men with a tap of her keyboard's space bar. She has been trying to contact Mae all week, and she's not sure why tonight will be different, but she fetches her phone anyway. “I have to try, at least,” she tells Miss Cat, who languidly stretches in response. After a few torturous rings, a robot answers: The person you have called has a voice mailbox that is currently full and is not currently accepting messages. Goodbye.