Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Innocent Bystander: How DaddyOFive Caused Me to Forgive My Stepbrother, and Myself

I'm sure most of you are already aware of the Internet Shitstorm Supreme that is the "DaddyOFive" YouTube scandal. If not, here's a quick summation (I've provided links with more detail, sources and pictures at the end of this post, as indicated by asterisks)




♦️In June of 2016 a man named Mike Martin and his wife Heather began uploading "prank videos" to YouTube under the name "DaddyOFive" (*1). The Martins' five kids consisted of Heather's three sons from a previous relationship (Jake, Ryan, and Alex), and Mike's two kids from his previous relationship (Emma and Cody). The videos were quite popular, and at their height the Martins had in excess of 750,000 subscribers and millions of views...views that were monetized via commercials. As the views piled up, so did the money, and eventually, the scrutiny. A number of YouTubers began to express concern about these so-called "pranks," including the popular news channel run by Philip DeFranco (*4). After DeFranco's video exposing DaddyOFive, many others followed suit, including a YouTuber named "Joy Sparkles BS," (*5) who apparently helped to get legal representation for Emma and Cody's birth mother, Rose Hall, (*3B) who was awarded emergency custody (*1B). Rose claims Mike had falsified records in order to gain custody of the kids after abandoning them for 7 years. She allegedly first contacted police about the videos late last year, but was told the videos were "corporal punishment" and they could not take action (*9B). It is unclear from my admittedly small amount of research at the date of publication whether or not the biological father of Heather's sons will take similar actions.♦️


 




I'd read a great deal about this Shitstorm, and watched some videos about it from a wide variety of sources, including DeFranco and Joy Sparkles. Most decried MonsterDad Mike and Stepmonster Heather as horribly abusive wastes of proper oxygen (*2). Others insisted the videos were "just pranks" and that the kids were "in on it." (*8) The Martins themselves admitted that "sometimes" Cody's reactions to the pranks were real, and sometimes they were "exaggerated"...a claim they would later, in the second of their videos addressing this scandal, retract and replace with the claim that all the videos were completely fake. 


First and foremost: I don't like pranks in general, with the exception of harmless but clever ones in the vein of Improv Everywhere (*11). I tend to agree with GradeAUnderA (*10) that most of them are fake as hell and should be viewed with suspicion. And as an abuse survivor myself, I've grown weary of people yelling "Abuse!" when it isn't warranted; for example, I've long been a veteran of Cafe Mom, where anything from letting a 10-year-old play football to feeding kids frozen veggies can lead to accusations of abuse and neglect. But in the spirit of fairness, I decided to watch some of the videos myself, with an open mind, and draw my own conclusions. 


I got a lot more than I bargained for. 




I started at the beginning, with the first "prank," which opens with Heather giddily telling viewers that she and Mike had come up with a great plan to prank Cody with what she calls "invisible ink" (it's actually disappearing ink). 



 



She poured some of the ink on the carpet, which was strewn with Uno cards. So far, not too bad. I expected them to wait somewhere out-of-sight until Cody went into his room and discovered the mess, and then they'd yell SURPRISE or GOTCHA or whatever.


 




This is not what happened. Instead, immediately after pouring the ink, Heather begins to scream for Cody. Cursing at him at the top of her lungs, she begins to pummel him with accusations, with Mike joining in on the "fun," reducing him to tears and panic as he denied any involvement. One of his stepbrothers attempts to intervene, to no avail. 



Finally, after what feels like an eternity of accusations and berating, they declare "it's just a prank, bro!" They refer to the stepbrother as "just an innocent bystander." No one is laughing at the joke...except for Mike and Heather.


 




I had to stop the video. It was too emotional. Too...familiar. Heather's yelling was too reminiscent of my own Stepmonster, and Mike's cruelty too similar to my father's. The more I watched, the harder it became. The split-second smile on Cody's face when told he was going to his Nana's house instead of to Disney World with the rest of the family (*6); the bruises from being punched and pushed into furniture; Heather referring to Rose's kids as "gingers" and "little shits"; Cody's frequent, desperate pleading to be left alone. I knew how all these felt. I knew what it was like to be derided for looking like my mom, how it felt to be singled out, what it was like to be called a "crybaby" for not taking the abuse in silence. I knew how it felt to be publicly humiliated for my father's amusement..and I know how high the likelihood is that far worse was happening when no one was looking. 


 


The Martins addressed the scandal twice on their YouTube channel. The second video is all that remains on the official "DaddyOFive" channel, as they deleted all the "pranks" (in vain, as many people downloaded and re-posted them). They are two very different videos, and yet, very much alike. 


In the first of the two videos, they claim the people concerned over the childrens' welfare are "haters," directing the kids to agree that they are treated well and enjoy the "prank videos" and all the extra stuff they can buy because of them. They insist that it is the "haters" who are causing "[the] children drama," simply because "they don't get the humor."  


 




I have absolutely no doubt in my mind whatsoever that THIS video was, indeed, scripted...and the kids were, in fact, acting for the first time. It was completing unconvincing. 




 




The second video to address the controversy was made after Emma and Cody were removed from their care and the Martins deleted the "prank videos" from their channel. In it, they attempt to apologize for the "pranks," calling the scandal the "worst week" of their lives. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind whatsoever that THIS video was, indeed, scripted...and the parents were, indeed, acting for the first time. 



 



As a result, the second video was no more convincing than the first. Their apology is especially suspect given that they blame Philip DeFranco, accusing him of conducting a "witch hunt" against them:


     "I'm sorry this all got out of hand. It wouldn't have ever got this out of hand if it wasn't for that DeFranco guy starting all of this, doing all of this to my family. He's responsible for this." ---Mike Martin



 




They also posted an apology on the "DaddyOFive" Twitter feed, and asked for help from their fans:



 



 



 


It's hard to accept these apologies when you've seen the videos: Cody's X-Box being destroyed in front of him; Mike instructing his stepson to slap Emma as part of a "game"; Ryan being taunted with homophobic slurs; Jake being pelted with eggs (Mike objects to this one...not because it's cruel, but because it's "wasting" the eggs); Cody being told he is being put up for adoption. It's plainly obvious that Cody, who is reportedly a special-needs child, takes the brunt of the abuse, with incidents including Cody being slammed into a bookshelf, punched in the arm by his dad, and body-slammed and having eggs thrown at his head by a stepbrother. One of the videos was even titled, "Using Cody for Target Practice!" Whole videos were uploaded to document Cody "ruining" something for the family. 



 



In one particularly disturbing video, Cody attempts to escape by hiding under his bed, only to be pulled out by his ankles while he screams at his tormentors to leave him alone. In one, Cody asks his parents, "Why do you need the camera?!? You don't need the camera for this!" He is, as usual, derided for standing up for himself in an attempt to just make it stop. 


The videos get more and more extreme as they get more and more views, making the Martins more and more money. They even sold merchandise to their fans, doing all they could to rake in the dough at the children's expense.



 




Although I watched several more videos in an attempt to discern whether or not these "pranks" were in fact abusive (they are), I kept thinking about that first one. Something about it would not let me go.


I soon realized what it was: I was not identifying with Cody. I identified with the stepbrother, the so-called "innocent bystander." Cody was my own stepbrother, "Thomas." And when I watched them again from that perspective...I felt as raw and dejected as Cody must have felt over and over again. 



For many years, my father was married to my stepmonster. He had four kids by my mom; she had six from her first marriage to a man I never met or saw even once in 18 years. We didn't have a happy childhood, which is an understatement as big as the Grand Canyon. Mike Martin is a rank amateur compared to my father. The hell we went through, I wouldn't wish on my very worst enemy. It played heavily in my decision to move as far away as I could without hitting an ocean. I had to grow up exposed to that toxic environment. My kids didn't. 


Thomas was a few years older than me. I didn't like him most of the time. I resented him for what I perceived as making bad situations worse. When my father would go off on one of his tirades, Thomas would defiantly tell him to stop, to leave him alone, to back off. My father called him "mouthy" and a "smartass." His "lip" never failed to escalate the abuse, and the rest of us--the innocent bystanders--often paid the price. Just witnessing it was a special kind of hell, even in those instances when the escalation didn't pull others into Dad's wrath. We'd despair when Thomas "talked back," and we blamed him for Dad's predictable reactions. He'd be getting the brunt of the abuse, and like Heather's sons, we would be upset with him! I couldn't begin to count the number of times I silently pleaded with him to just shut up so it could be over already...and the times I verbally begged him to "let it go." 


And for that, I owe him an apology. 


Watching Cody beg, plead, and demand to be left alone, for it all to stop, was a revelation. Nothing he said was wrong. In fact, he was incredibly brave to vocalize his needs, to stand up for himself when it was clear nobody else could or would. I saw Thomas, and saw that Thomas, like Cody, was right. And in his siblings, I saw myself: desperate for it to stop, or at the very least, not get any worse; fear that as it worsened, I and my siblings would be pulled into the eye of the storm along with him; and resentment towards him when we did. By the time Thomas left home at 16, I was torn between hating him and envying him for his escape. I have felt guilty about those feelings, but now, thanks to this Shitstorm Supreme, I realize that just as Thomas wasn't to blame, neither am I. 


In the remote possibility that you ever read this, please know how sorry I am. My anger and resentment were misplaced, a direct result of that horrific gaslighting and abuse we were subjected to. I didn't learn to stand up for myself until you were out of the house, and maybe if I had paid more attention to your words instead of my father's reactions to them...I would have done so much, much earlier. I never realized until now how big a part you played in my own attempts to draw a line in the sand...and eventually, at the first possible opportunity, to escape. When you left, I thought you were a horrible big stepbrother to abandon us like that, when really you were just trying to save yourself while you still could. Something I myself would do several years later.


There are some well-meaning people in my life who, upon hearing that I am completely estranged from most of my siblings, express with some urgency the belief that surely we can all put the past behind us and be a family again. The problem with that--a problem that no doubt Cody and Emma will understand all too well--is that we were never a family in the first place. 


My father took his parenting philosophy from the ancient Roman axiom: divide and conquer. We were all conscripted against our will to be spies against each other, to throw each other under the bus to save ourselves (something Stepmonster was quite adept at), and to view each other with distrust. And because it was far too painful to blame our own blood parents, my mom's kids blamed Stepmonster, and my stepbrothers blamed Dad. In truth, they were both culpable. There was more than enough blame to go around. 


It is no wonder that they want nothing to do with anyone connected to my father, and that we felt the same about their mother. I didn't attend their mother's funeral in 2006; they didn't attend my father's in 2010. 


There can be no reconciliation. There is simply nothing there to reconcile. We are not a family. We are, at best, former prisoners of war. 


From the bottom of my heart, I hope Cody and Emma thrive in their mother's custody and get the help they will need to break the cycle of violence. Therapy helped me tremendously. I hope and pray it will help them, too.




If you or anyone you know is suffering from abuse, please call:


 








*LINKS:



*1: Washington Post articles:


*1A: Full story:


https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2017/04/25/the-saga-of-a-youtube-family-who-pulled-disturbing-pranks-on-their-own-kids/?utm_term=.a636d2fb41ae


*1B: The Martins lose custody of the two youngest children:


https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2017/05/02/these-youtube-parents-pulled-disturbing-pranks-on-their-kids-now-theyve-lost-custody/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.e8d9e09b83fd


*2: A.V. Club article:


http://www.avclub.com/article/full-story-horrible-youtube-family-abused-its-kids-254327




*3: "Good Morning America" Interviews:


*3A: The Martins:

https://youtu.be/AGxDRZ8yOQk


 


*3B: Rose Hall with her attorney, Tim Conlon of The Custody Place:


https://youtu.be/Nd6Y2qHQhNg


 



*4: Philip DeFranco's videos on the Martins:


https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fvoLmsXKkYM

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=jfpzCsXGxQg

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RdNSKxFAk-U


 



*5: Joy Sparkles BS videos on DaddyOFive:


http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5WFr0eFfKeILmImBg0tB1iZDejHqoXfC



*6: Video "A Small Detail Everyone Missed":


https://youtu.be/l_cv0hgXECg



*7: "The Bigger Picture: A YouTube Documentary":


https://youtu.be/eyJF_XF_FVQ



*8: DaddyOFive fans and detractors:


*8A: Fans defend DaddyOFive on Twitter:


https://mobile.twitter.com/mikemartin1982/status/853985891009925120


*8B: Reddit commenters discuss DaddyOFive:


       https://www.reddit.com/r/DeFranco/comments/669st1/actually_intelligent_comment_about_the_daddyofive/



 


*9: Nick Monroe's impressive journalism on this topic:


*9A: Article on the legacy of DaddyOFive:


https://nickmonroestuff.wordpress.com/2017/05/05/the-legacy-of-daddyofive/amp/


*9B: Copy of police report:


https://mobile.twitter.com/nickmon1112/status/860555517684580352


 


*10: GradeAUnderA on prank videos:


https://youtu.be/95flK-IZDYg

https://youtu.be/4uWGCHx9vqo



 



*11: A real--and delightful--prank video, by Improv Everywhere, in which they put out a casting call for men of all shapes and sizes, synchronized their watches, and take off their shirts to mock Abercrombie & Fitch's infamous male models:


https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=jdeBp8J0rqs



 

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