When Anderson Cooper asked Karen Klein, the now famous bullied bus monitor, if she ever expected the outpouring of support that has so far raised over half a million dollars for her, she responded: "No, never. I mean I don't feel like I've done anything, you know." The fact that Klein didn't do anything to deserve it is just one of many reasons why she should decline the money raised in her name.
A fundraiser on the crowd-sourcing site IndieGogo has currently raised $567,068 for Karen Klein, the Upstate New York bus monitor who was filmed being brutally harassed by a bunch of shithead kids. Now the windfall is overshadowing the harrowing video that sparked it. The story of the bus monitor has turned from heartrending tragedy to uplifting miracle, thanks to the internet. Everyone wins, right?
But the thing about huge sums of money is that it's never just about the money. After appearing on every major news outlet and dominating blogs for a day, the expectations of millions of people, donors and spectators alike, are tied up in Klein's fund. Taking the money would make Karen Klein rich, but it would also transform her from blameless victim to effectively the most highly-paid reality television star in history: The Jersey Shore cast made $100,000 per episode in season four. Klein would make more than five times that, for a single 10 minute video. It's not worth it.
It's fundamentally unfair. Karen "deserves a vacation," reads the description on the Indiegogo fundraiser. Sure, well all do. But she certainly doesn't deserve over half a million dollars any more than the latest Powerball winners deserved that $640 million prize. Or, you know, orphans.
There is also the bizarre idea that showering Klein with cash is teaching bullies everywhere a lesson. "People realize you just cannot bully somebody else like that," dough-brained Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy said to Klein when she was on his show this week. It is highly unlikely that the world's bullies are now awake to the reality that every time you you bully someone, a viral shitstorm will open up like a raincloud and pour money onto your victim. If bullies have learned anything from the Klein episode—and they haven't; bullies are stupid—they've learned that you don't upload video evidence to YouTube for the entire internet to rage over. Be an analog bully, and at most you'll have the lengthy suspension these kids deserve.
The half-million dollars is not fair, and it's not useful. It represent two highly unreasonable impulses: One is the admirable desire of people to do something when faced with the kind of visceral suffering in the video. The other is a desire to wipe away the shame of wallowing in this suffering.
Because the video is nothing more than cruelty porn, a bit of random reality notable only for the lurid fascination it inspires. Like a celebrity sex tape, the events of Karen Klein's video happen every day and become a story only when captured surreptitiously on film and posted to the internet. The power of both stems from the extreme and private vulnerability of their subjects. In her sex tape, Paris Hilton is captured green-hued in splayed, head-lolling ecstasy. Karen Klein looks pitiful as she's helplessly taunted and poked by tiny monsters. The feelings inspired by a sex tape might be a bit more, um, personal than those inspired by the bus monitor video, but they're all voeuryistic at their core, covered with a sticky coat of shame.
By chipping in $20, or $5, donors are paying off Klein for the violation of watching a gang of awful lilliputians tell her they are going to kill her family, which they did for entertainment, while bored at their desk during lunch. And if Klein accepts the cash, she'll accept that logic and turn into a professional victim, compensated amply for doing absolutely nothing.
This is her prerogative, of course. But in taking the money she's inviting an obnoxious level of scrutiny for the rest of what will surely be a very dull life. When Ted Williams, the homeless man with the golden voice, was arrested for fighting with his daughter after he rose to viral stardom, it became a national news story. Viral stars are even more owned by the public than traditional ones, since they owe their fame completely to a mass of faceless internet users. Turning the money down would give Klein a stronger case for privacy. And privacy, as anyone who has lost it can tell you, is priceless.
But more than that: Klein has repeatedly said it was never about the money. That she's speaking out because, "Nobody should have to put up with that." The best way to prove this would be to donate whatever ridiculous amount of money she ends up with to an anti-bullying charity.
If the outpouring of money is supposed to teach bullies a lesson, what would Klein accepting the money teach bullying victims? That no matter how senselessly you suffer, no matter how public your humiliation, there is always some dollar amount that can make up for it. It gets better, for a price.