Death in the Public Eye

I was induced to ponder on the curious rise in the notion of celebrity the other day when I received an email from one of my oldest friends who now lives in Canada. She writes exceptionally pithy emails and should be supplying articles for the Guardian about the idiosyncrasies of life in that country. Anyway, her tale involved a child with Asbergers staying at her house, on holiday. He managed to cut himself and had staples inserted. The doctor told him how to remove them when the wound had healed and gave him some device to do this. The primary school aged boy was excited and said he would delay the removal of the staples for an extra week. Why was this? He wanted to do it in front of his class in the Show and Tell session.

Now if we take a graph of normal distribution, a bell curve, where one end is where an individual tells no-one anything and defends his privacy like Harold Pinter or a true hermit friend of a friend in the Pyrenees, I suppose the boy is a bit over half way on the curve towards what we find at the other end. Towards this final graph point we have various sad, sycophantic individuals who only exist as flickering realities in the media and have no worthwhile contributions to make to society beyond their stints in the stocks of public derision. At the very end are those who want, despite their lack of talent and grace, to make one Big Bang in the steady state universe of every day life. Here we have the two boys who intended to reignite the Columbine tragedy in the UK but were caught with the means to do it, just before the anniversary of that American nightmare. Some months earlier, one of these boys did an involuntary Show and Tell in an essay in which he forecast his role in his forthcoming attempted re-enactment.

Every week it seems, punters reveal their grisly intentions or life-culminations on YouTube. I recall, for example, one man goaded by his Watchers to top himself. There have been mobile-phone recorded killings and beatings posted for everyone’s delectation.

When I was a young feller, the most publicity you could get was among your mates in the village or class at school and it lasted maybe a day or two. Despite your wish to become notorious, somehow everyone conspired to snuff out your little fantasies. So you grew up a little circumspect about revealing your inner bits and pieces.

The truly serious stuff remained like a canker in the apple of the local community. I don’t mean the grim, perverse behaviours now related every evening on the news but, for example, the slashing of competitors’ leeks in the annual competition in the North East of England. The act would, like a Shakespearean curse, be carried by blood from generation to generation. Thus, in my village, there was a leek-slasher’s grandson! The poor boy never did anything wrong in his life but people were always suspicious of him and his potential for agricultural crime.

I suppose incidents of media-broadcast acts of destruction, depravation, defamation and the like will continue to rise as those among us who feel aggrieved that they have been left in the long grass beside the highway of the public’s appetite for the macabre, work themselves up into a state of pathological obsession and try to catch our eyes by flinging themselves into the unseeing traffic.

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