Facecrime: Smile Like You Mean It

William Costello
7 min readAug 20, 2020

You see the image and you already know what this is about. You may be suffering from a certain level of fatigue with this story but don’t worry this is not another “what really happened?” piece. Enough has been said in exploring this episode, the way in which it was misrepresented, the “emerging footage”, the half retractions, the double downs and the disintegration of the legitimacy of the “Vietnam Veteran” narrative.

I’m not as interested in the play by play of how the ‘incident’ unfolded, although I do suggest people watch the full video and come to their own conclusions. I am interested in our polarised reaction to the incident and how objectively watching the footage back doesn’t help much. People remain as polarised in their reactions. It’s as if we’re sitting in the same cinema but watching two entirely different movies. We’ve been given two different scripts, two different lenses through which to view the world. We stick to our script with characters cast neatly into oppressed and oppressor, villain and hero.

I am interested in exploring the visceral nature of our reactions to the video, the double standards and expectations we have for young people to deal with hostile situations and the punitive ramifications deemed culturally appropriate for a 16 year old kid should they be cast as villain in our virtue signaling showcase.

I could write a piece about how this is one of the most exemplifying incidents of the gated media I’ve ever seen and how it might ring a death knell for bite size, outrage based media as it bends the knee to the more nuanced long form media that many are craving. I won’t write that piece because, in fitting with the theme of this entire episode, an image proves more powerful and I feel Max Hyam’s Quillette piece sums it up effectively.

Illustration demonstrating media distortion

“In public discourse, an opponent’s identity and experience can matter more than their…

William Costello

Psychology PhD Student University of Texas at Austin. MSc Psychology, Culture and Evolution from Brunel University London 2020/21. Bylines: Areo and Quillette.