Christian Bale Flips Out: The Five Stages of Online Schadenfreude

Stage 1: The Source

Yesterday, the gossip factory TMZ released an audio recording of actor Christian Bale cussing out the director of photography on Terminator: Salvation. Recorded last July, the four-minute rant is liberally adorned with the f-word (a full transcript can be read here), and has prompted all sorts of speculation about Bale’s health and mental stability.

Stage 2: The Spread
The lack of a reliable, high-quality option for sharing and embedding audio files means that YouTube is often a default means of distribution for less-than-official tracks. While the Bale clip initially spread as an mp3, it took mere hours for the first of several uploads to accumulate thousands of views.

Stage 3: The Discussion
It’s hard to quantify the shift in tone of Internet commentary, but observing the debates that were waged online yesterday, the comments regarding Bale’s flip-out seemed to shift quickly from “WTF?” to “Well, when you think about it…”

The basic facts are these: a film set is a high-stress environment, and four minutes of audio from said set, completely out of context and without any official explanation as to what led to the incident, are probably not the best basis to judge anyone’s mental health. (Yes, even if you take into consideration that this is from the same period of time when Bale was accused of assault by his mother and sister.)

Not that that will stop anyone from talking about it, or from moving onto…

Stage 4: The Remix
Because while all this discussion is happening, enterprising online video folk are reappropriating the audio and transforming it for various puposes. This drum and bass remix is a little simplistic (and the strobing colors are a little dizzying), so if you’re going to watch one, you have to watch Bale Out by RevoLucian, which has slightly more sophisticated graphics and a much tighter beat.

But the more you watch, the quicker you find yourself at…

Stage 5: The Internal Conflict
A highly public and embarrassing incident like this one might be great fodder for workplace discussions and hilarious online video, but for the people involved it’s not something that goes away immediately. Terminator DP Shane Hurlbut’s professionalism has become a topic of hot debate, and this just cements Bale’s reputation as a difficult actor to work with (even though associate director Bruce Franklin told E! News that it was an isolated incident).

It could be that this sort of poor behavior is simply being rewarded karmically, but should we really thank the Internet for that? Sure, this isn’t the end of the line for anyone involved — Bill O’Reilly’s doing fine despite the embarrassing release of his “We’ll do it live!” breakdown (which has also gotten mashed up with the Bale clip). But at the end of the day, no one comes out looking good, all because the Internet can’t help but feed off these sorts of incidents.

Even in its infancy, Skynet is winning.

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