The Null Device

Ghyslain Raza's second act

Proof that there are second acts in North American lives (or at least in Québecois ones): Ghyslain Raza, last seen eight years ago swinging an imaginary lightsaber around in the notorious Star Wars Kid video, is now president of a nonprofit organisation dedicated to preserving the heritage of the Québecois town of Trois-Rivières.
Back in 2002, a teenage Raza recorded a video that would become one of the most popular viral hits of all time, and one of the first cautionary tales in the debate about privacy on the Internet. In it, he swung a golf ball retriever around as if it were Darth Maul’s double-bladed lightsaber in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and accompanied his movements with muffled sound effects. Four classmates discovered the video and distributed it online. It spread rapidly via e-mail and Internet forums, reaching millions of viewers — a great feat in the pre-YouTube era.
News outlets reported that Raza was so ridiculed for his activities in the video that he slipped into depression and had to take time off from school to seek psychiatric care. His family sued the families of the classmates who leaked the video for $250,000, then settled out of court.
It's somewhat reassuring that he lived that down and got on with the rest of his life. I imagined one's options in such a case would have been to obliterate all traces of one's identity, move to somewhere that didn't have internet access in 2002 (outer Mongolia perhaps, or the depths of the Amazon jungle) or else become an embittered alcoholic.

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