Roll-your-own roadsigns!

“Ghyslain, I am your father.”

You may recall the saga of Ghyslain, the 15-year-old French Canadian kid — otherwise known as “The Star Wars Kid”. Using recording equipment at his high school, he taped himself performing a complex — if thoroughly bumbling — Darth-Maul-style light-saber battle, using a golf-ball retriever. He accidentally left the tape in the camera, whereupon it was discovered by some other kids at the school, whereupon it was scanned and put online … whereupon about two or three billion people downloaded it and laughed hysterically at this exquisite display of dorkitude. Sure, you and I have probably, at one time, embarassed ourselves in front of our peers. Ghyslain humbled himself before the entire planet.

I actually think this incident may be the most humiliating thing that has happened ever, to anyone, in all of recorded and unrecorded history. Imagine Ghyslain logging on to discover various remixes of the video set to music, an animated ASCII rendition of his moves, and an entire online store devoted to selling t-shirts and bumper stickers commemorating his cringe-inducing performance (including the above image).

Now there’s a petition to actually turn Ghyslain into a Jedi — by getting him a role in the next Stars Wars film. It’s online here, and I quote:

Yes, we’ve all had our dorky, private moments, but this poor kid is living the nightmare of having his private dorkiness projected across the world to giggling Web users.

I’m never entirely sure how to feel about these things. Sure, people are laughing at Ghyslain — but it’s clear that a lot of geeks, myself included, spent our teenage years doing things even dorkier than he did, and so we sympathize. Thus, most people say the Ghyslain fan material is quite affectionate: We’re not laughing at him, we’re laughing with him.

Except that Ghyslain himself doesn’t appear to be laughing. Indeed, he doesn’t appear to have come out from underneath his bed for about six months. The Globe and Mail reported that he’s under “psychiatric care” over his experience, and when the BBC called Lucasfilm to get a comment about whether they might really include the kid in the film, spokespeople said:

Lucasfilm, who make the Star Wars films, told Newsround: “Obviously there has been a tremendous show of support for Ghyslain with tens of thousands of fans rallying around him.

“However, we are deeply saddened by the current situation and any difficulties this unwanted publicity might be causing him and his family.”

Yikes. “Deeply saddened?” Lucasfilm has, I gather, intuited the extra layer of irony hidden inside this particular onion of humiliation. To wit: 1) Many people like to laugh at dorks. But we like to pretend this cruel fact is leavened by the corollary: 2) Many more people sympathize with the dorks. But this itself is ruined by the secret third rule: 3) Even more people like to hide their genuine scorn for dorks by pretending they’re sympathizing, while actually, just, you know, laughing their heads off.

Post-irony! It’s not just for breakfast any more.

(Thanks to Slashdot for pointing out the petition!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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