File this one under “Only in America”: on February 4, a Florida teen named Penelope Soto flips off a judge at a hearing for a Xanax possession charge, which earns her a 30-day contempt of court sentence. The moment is captured via courtroom video. The video goes viral and becomes a story on CNN and CBS. Soto generates another cycle of news by issuing a tearful apology on February 8, which creates the perfect story arc and more mainstream media attention, including coverage from The Huffington Post. And, wouldn’t you know: she gains attention on social media, too, with a Facebook Fan page and Twitter feed making her out to be a victim of the U.S. “war on drugs and the poor.”
Mark my words: Soto is going to land an agent and a deal. She’s photogenic. She’s obviously sassy. She lives in the right place to capture attention. She is controversial. Her behavior, while causing many to shake their heads, has an audience in the post-Jerry Springer era when people behave shamelessly on reality TV shows.
Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago says that “Soto could stand as the poster child of a flaky celebrity-worshiping generation that believes it is entitled to flaunt its lack of respect for authority regardless of the circumstances.” But the incident also inspired criticism of the Judge Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat, too, such as this comment from YouTube viewer risingabovesurface that accompanies YouTube video footage:
The judge did reduce the bond back down to $5,000 and also dismissed the remainder of her jail sentence on Friday after she apologized. He let his emotions get the better of him, and he should not have doubled the bond to $10,000. She acted like a fool all the way through giving her testimony, but a judge raises bail or sets bail high only if the defendant is threat to society or isa risk of being a no show at his/her trial. He shouldn’t have doubled the bond. She should not have cusrsed [sic] at him.
To be clear: I don’t condone Penelope Soto’s behavior. But whether we like it or not, Penelope Soto is a celebrity for the digital age: creating a memorable moment at the right place and the right time.