Virtual Desire and a New York Police Officer

There’s a really interesting article in the New York Times today about a police office who was being charged with brutality in a criminal case. The suspect was caught carrying a gun and was purportedly punched by the officer while he was in cuffs. The Times reports that, “Officer E. said he has never been disciplined for brutality.” In other words, according to him this was his first offense.

The interesting thing about this case is how he was finally convicted with the brutality. The day prior to the confrontation the officer posted on his myspace page that he was feeling “devious.” And an earlier facebook status revealed that he had been “watching ‘Training Day’ to brush up on proper police procedure.”

The officer was quoted as saying:

“You have your Internet persona, and you have what you actually do on the street,” Officer E. said on Tuesday. “What you say on the Internet is all bravado talk, like what you say in a locker room.”

(From About New York – A New York Police Officer Who Put Too Much on MySpace –

The usual way to look at this would be to see the internet as a place where people escape to, where they go to let off steam: The virtual is the space that keeps us from doing these things in “Reality” or what they fantasize about. But I think a better understanding, or at least more interesting read of this situation (following Žižek), is this: what happens on the web, in the virtual or dreams or fantasy, is where comes closet to the real of our desire. In other words, reality – the day to day of our existence – is where we escape to in order to hide from desire. If this is (at least somewhat) accurate, far from devaluing the experiences we share online, in the virtual, we see just how important these expressions are. It’s not two selves represented: the one in reality is the true one and the one in the virtual is the false one, rather, it works the other way around and we can use reality to masks our  desires.

This seems to be exactly what happened with this officer. All the bravado in the locker-room is who he really desired to be, it reflected in a sense who he really was, masked beneath a self-controlled (he’s never been convicted of brutality before) enforcer of law and order. He was unable to control the flux between the two and his desire flowed into his physical action. The problem is that instead of repent and be reconciled for the destructiveness of this “kernel” he masks it, covering it in yet another layer of fantasy. The Christian response is not to cover up the kernel of our desire but to redirect, hand it over, to God. If our desire becomes destructive it needs to be unmasked, not hidden under another mask which is how this officer is dealing with it:

Officer E. said he is now being careful to mask his identity on the Web and that he has curbed his tongue because of the acquittal. “I feel it’s partially my fault,” he said. “It paints a picture of a person who could be overly aggressive. You put that together, it’s reasonable doubt in anybody’s mind.”