**Warning: This article contains some adult themes and language**
In 1992, when I was 13 years old, my parents put a lock on my bedroom door. I was a good kid by all accounts and truthfully, the possible horrific scenarios in my new fortress of childhood were minimal and hardly catastrophic, so looking back I fully understand the liberal thought process of my mother and father. While some kids may have seen this as an opportunity to smoke pot (I never did) or worship Satan (I never did, although I did hang up a Jose Canseco poster), I basically just saw it as an opportunity to masturbate (I always did). Pretty harmless stuff. And now I could do it in private. (No more public masturbation!)
It’s now 2011; I’m 31 years old and have just hit the one-year mark in my current relationship. Most of my friends are married and a number of them have children. As I approach the part of my life that I can no longer deny is “marrying age” (no more public masturbation!), the idea of re-producing is fresh on my mind. And I have to be honest: I don’t think I’m going to have kids… and the main reason might be the webcam.
When my parents put that lock on my door, allowing me to explore my body, the Internet was just a whimsical idea set public in Matthew Broderick’s somewhat forgettable War Games. The World Wide Web didn’t exist and the possibilities of ruining my life in front of millions of people were minimal. In short, Jessi Slaughter didn’t exist yet.
Born Jessica Leonhardt, Jessi Slaughter is the name the Florida resident took on when she signed up to start posting videos on YouTube at 11 years old. Jessi crafted the persona posting on her favorite band message boards (like an electro group called Blood On The Dance Floor that I’ve never heard of because I’m ancient) and recording videos from her bedroom. What started as somewhat innocent behavior from a quirky little girl and resulting attention from viewers who found her ridiculous quickly developed into undeniably egocentric teenage behavior, clips of attention-seeking rants and rumors of sexual behavior.
Before every kid’s lives developed solely on the Internet, we just called that “gossip”. Her spiral into responding to “haters” and her growing addiction to any attention became humorous fodder for the Internet masses and a favorite punching bag for websites like 4Chan and StickyDrama. But it was when someone posted an accusation that Jessi had sex with the over-18 Blood On The Dance Floor’s lead singer that she became Internet folklore, because she posted this NSFW video that didn’t necessarily proclaim the singer’s innocence.
While spewing a diatribe to the “hater bitches”, she drops gems like “pop a glock in your mouth and make a brain slushee” (which by the way would make a kinda awesome Lil’ Wayne lyric) and “Suck my non-existent penis,” Jessi basically took an African safari tour while wearing a pant-suit made of raw steaks and to no surprise, the Internet attacked. Intellectual observations like “You’re ugly” and “You’re stupid” served as comments on every blog and website that posted her videos. And rather than ignore the cyber-bullying comments and go back to being an 11-year-old, Jessi fueled the fire, responding to ever faceless commenter, who ignored that behind the aggressive YouTube postings was a crying pre-teen being called names at the most fragile part of her life. And then she posted new videos that not only exposed that crying pre-teen but also introduced us to her father and a few sayings that will forever have a place in the Internet meme Hall Of Fame.
In the surreal video’s aftermath, anonymous postings of her phone number, address and Twitter account ran rampant as the views reached 1,000,000. The prank calls and bullying emails were endless, once in the form of $3,000 worth of pizzas being delivered to her house. Her family was blindsided by hatred usually reserved for child molesters, relatives of Adolph Hitler or Jose Canseco. Her parents alerted the authorities of the death threats they were receiving, which in turn became an investigation into her father’s rage and the accusations of Jessi posting child pornography of herself online. Her school even had a bomb scare, which resulted in Jessi posting cryptically suicidal messages on her Facebook, leading police to her house again. When officers arrived, Jessi had calmed down but officers did report that Jessi said without being on the Internet, she had “nothing to live for”.
All she had to do was turn off the computer and yet she couldn’t. As her father’s quotes like “consequences will never be the same” or “I backtraced it” were recited like Beatles lyrics and the hatred multiplied, she continued to post videos, falling deeper into an attention starved black pit, even changing her YouTube account and starting a Tumblr blog when her parents and police erased her old screen name.
Techno remixes of her mental breakdowns scattered the Internet, as did recorded prank calls to her mother, as Jessi was quoted on saying “any type of fame, I’ll take”. Ridiculous rumors of her father giving her PCP or her parents molesting her started to spread and ABC News picked up the story as a feature on “cyber-bullying”. Her local police department constantly surveyed her house and continued their investigation into the actions of the actual family. When the cops threatened to discontinue Internet service in her house, she threw a temper tantrum screaming she would lose her fame and threatened to stick “a butcher knife in the [officer’s] ass”.
Obviously, Jessi continued to be on the Internet 24/7 chatting and posting videos despite the fact that every action the family took was now under investigation for possible criminal charges. Jessi became the Internet’s version of a drug addict whose fix was ingested through broadband. Hungry viewers even saw a family meltdown occur in the background of a Tinychat session, where her father screamed “the Internet is what got us where we are” after he attempted to unplug her computer and she lied about broadcasting live. As you can see below, this chat may have changed everything, as it alludes to the fact that some very serious abuse started to take place in her house.
And with that, Jessi’s father Gene Leonhardt was arrested for felony child abuse in early 2011 for slapping Jessi during an argument, leaving the now 12-year-old with a bloody mouth. Reports say that Gene was also most likely drunk during the incident. Jessi’s videos abruptly ended and the “any type of fame” that she wanted disappeared as quickly as it came. The Internet focused on other memes like Rebecca Black or Nyan Cat as the silence alluded to more serious problems for the young Slaughter and things got too sad for “LOL”.
On the morning of August 6th, 2011, Jessi Slaughter, addressing herself with the name Jessica Rose, posted her first video in months on the account of what seems to be a classmate. Addressing the video to members of her favorite band (still alarming) Blood on the Dance Floor and their “spectrum”, Jessica explains, in a calmer manner that seems slightly inspired by Lexapro, that she has been locked up in many mental institutions and is now in foster care. Jessica, who looks healthier and more in control, apologizes to the band for the allegations and for “everything I’ve done”. She admits that she now has no computer privileges but professes her love for her “idols”, the member of BOTDF and doesn’t mention her family once. Later that day, Jessica’s father died of a heart attack at 53 years old while awaiting his upcoming trial. His death was announced on many of the same sites that followed the madness of Jessi Slaughter but this time there were only 4 comments – 2 were genuine, 2 were snarky.
When analyzing Jessi Slaughter it’s easy to become lost in her mesmerizing and insane YouTube videos employing a drawl like Alicia Silverstone’s character in Clueless on Sizzurp or scoff at the idea that an 11-year may have been advertising (or posting) “n00d” pics of herself on MySpace. I admit that wholeheartedly. But please let’s not forget, she was an 11 year-old girl. If I had a YouTube account in 1992, the inevitable video of me rapping MC Skat Kat’s part in ‘Opposites Attract’ in my locked bedroom may have just ended up with 3 million views and changed my whole life. Call Jessi’s videos whatever you want, but they were genuine, naïve and innocent, all from a girl who obviously had mental issues and needed some parental help that extended beyond the abilities of her mom and dad.
Jessica is now part of a foster care system riddled with issues and lack of funding, with a dead father and what seems to be an incapable mother. I wish I could end the article with some sort of snappy sentence saying that without this family’s exploitation on the Internet, life would be great for the teenager, but I can’t. It’s possible, and somewhat likely, that this family – especially the mentally unstable Jessica – would have run into problems no matter if War Games was released in theaters or not. I can’t blame everything on Jessica’s webcam but I’ve seen Gwyneth in Sliding Doors enough to know things could’ve been different. Most teenagers in my high school wouldn’t have used that bedroom door lock as innocently as I did. Most ran into some issues, mentally and criminally, during puberty and most survived that phase, s**ty parenting or addiction, living comfortably in their 30s. I can’t imagine results like that are possible with millions of people watching, commenting and making jokes.
In the end, I’ll probably have children, mostly because everyone does and I’m egotistical enough to convince myself to create a little me. Do I think I’ll be a better father than Gene Leonhardt and make sure my female offspring are lead to the Slaughter (no disrespect to the departed)? Yes. But I also realize that every confused and still growing 11-year old girl is one viral video away from her whole family appearing on an episode of Maury. I will continue to think good thoughts for Jessica, since we can all agree she is a victim of bad parenting, addiction and the Internet era. Jessica, like my eventual daughter, should have never had a webcam, and most likely should’ve had a lock on her door, because like my parents believed, some parts of your childhood need to stay private.
Featured image by Logan Fitzpatrick