I felt irrationally sad yesterday when my friend Tom (aka., “The Blogfodder”) sent news that — after successfully hitchhiking across Europe and Canada — the hitchBOT had been “murdered by America.” According to The New Yorker,
The child-size robot, named hitchBOT, was recovered by its creators in Philadelphia last night after it was irreparably damaged just two weeks into a cross-country trip from Massachusetts to San Francisco. The robot — adorned with a digital smile, an extended thumb, and a sign that declared “San Francisco or bust” — was built as part of a social experiment to study the interactions between humans and robots. …
Though previous good Samaritans around the world had taken hitchBOT to a wedding, a comic convention, a Red Sox game, and even a trip out on the ocean, someone in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, ripped off its head and arms and left it for dead on the side of the road. HitchBOT’s creators had hoped to spare the robot’s young adoring fans from seeing the crime scene, but the image has surfaced on Twitter:
Why would anyone destroy something so whimsical and innocent? My guess is that a couple of ignorant kids happened across the robot and — unaware of its origin or purpose — dismembered it just for fun.
The incident reminded me of another story about “destruction as fun” I’d read over the weekend: A man in Texas had to be airlifted to a hospital after one of three bullets he fired at an armadillo ricocheted off the animal’s bony armor, and struck him in the jaw.
“What drove the man to shoot at the critter? He told authorities he had seen the animal previously on the highway, which — for reasons unexplained — prompted him to draw his weapon and pull the trigger.”
I felt sick that someone would shoot an animal for no particular reason, and wondered whether it was illegal. Perhaps the police would even file charges? Nope. Investigator Bill Smith of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office said, “I really think if they’re going to shoot at varmints and whatnot, maybe use a shotgun … with a spread pattern with a lot less range.” Wow.
Then there’s the story of the dentist and the lion. I can’t add anything to the Internet firestorm that’s already exploded — except for my opinion about why this incident has hit such a nerve: It’s one of the most egregious examples of an American behaving badly. Talk about callous bloodlust and a sociopathic sense of entitlement.
Next time I leave the U.S., I’ll again face the inevitable questions: Why are Americans so destructive? Why do Americans love killing? My culture seems increasingly foreign to my friends, increasingly hard to understand.
I’ll have no answers for these questions, of course, because I don’t understand. I don’t understand why anyone would smash a robot, shoot at an armadillo, or behead a lion and call it “fun.”
But even if I can’t explain any of this, I hope I’ll at least be able to provide some proof and reassurance that not all Americans behave this badly.