The “Star Wars Kid” Grows Up

Posted May 13th, 2013 at 10:10 am (UTC-4)
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It’s Still Unclear If The Internet Ever Will

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

Think back to a time before Facebook. Before Twitter.  Before YouTube and Instagram and Vine and every other website yelling at you to splatter your face and life all over the Internet and make yourself famous, even if for a moment.

Ten short years ago, there were no Internet celebrities. People did not Autotune funny clips and turn ordinary people caught at poor moments into embarrassing memes. Videos did not go “viral.” Sure, the online world could be rough, but it wasn’t the place to bully someone else. The term “cyber-bullying” didn’t even exist yet.

Unfortunately for a Canadian teen named Ghyslain Raza, all that was about to change.

Back in 2003, some classmates of Raza found a video tape he had made of himself awkwardly swinging a stick around like the character Darth Maul in the Star Wars movies. Without asking him, they posted it online, and the “Star Wars Kid” was born.

In its original form, and in literally countless mash-ups and adaptations, it’s very likely hundreds of millions of people around the globe saw Raza in what is, frankly, just an honest goofy moment that every teen experiences. The difference is that Raza’s goof was now in full public view.

“What I saw was mean. It was violent. People were telling me to commit suicide,” the now 24-year-old Raza tells Canada’s L’actualite magazine in an exclusive interview (a full English version also appears in MacLean’s magazine.)

Back then, Ghyslain Raza had to leave his school and was treated for severe depression, including suicidal thoughts.These days, he’s an attorney and graduate from Canada’s prestigious McGill University.

He’s never given an interview about his moment in the sun, and he says he’s now happy and successful and what seems like a lifetime away from his Internet derp.

Perhaps if the same video were to leak onto the web today instead of 10 years ago, the reaction would have been different. Internet trends explode into public view in mere moments (anyone remember the “Leave Brittany Alone” kid?) and can vanish as quickly. Internet infamy just doesn’t have the same taint as it once did.

But Raza still remembers it acutely. And he says he has a message for others who experience bullying or just plain humiliation online: “You’ll survive. You’ll get through it. And you’re not alone.”

He should know.

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The Internet, mobile phones, tablet computers and other digital devices are transforming our lives in fundamental and often unpredictable ways. “Digital Frontiers” investigates how real world concepts like privacy, identity, security and freedom are evolving in the virtual world.

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