The ‘televised’ murder of Lin Jun by Luca Rocco Macotta has, predictably, created a media storm. Daily a multitude of media sources seek to find an angle from which to run yet another story on the horrific murder of Jun by his former lover, whether it’s Macotta’s porn past, the question of whether the “1 lunatic, 1 icepick” video is real, whether Macotta dumped Jun’s decapitated head under the Hollywood sign, or any number of other angles.
A few days ago Tracy Clark-Flory wrote a piece for Salon on the internet response to the murder and manhunt. It begins with a fact: Luca Rocco Macotta uploaded a video allegedly of the murder of Lin Jun, and it is by all accounts horrific; five words in Clark-Flory’s account give a picture of “[m]urder, dismemberment, necrophilia and cannibalism”. Like the author of the piece I have not watched the clip, and I have no intention of doing so, but it is clear not everyone is so disposed. BestGore.com, apparently a site specialising in ‘real life’ horror, reports the clip has been getting 500,000 hits a day (though it may have reason to inflate the numbers).
In the course of trying to answer the question why so many people watch videos like “1 lunatic, 1 icepick” Clark-Flory interviewed some psychiatrists and psychologists. I have no real complaint with what they say but the overwhelming focus was on modern media. Is it not rather the case, I thought, that it was ever thus?
Whilst it certainly had its opponents, notably Cato, Seneca and – perhaps for prudential reasons! – the early Christians, it remains the case that the Roman ‘death spectacle’ of the gladiatorial arena was but an officially sanctioned rendition of the “1 lunatic, 1 icepick” phenomenon, albeit with aspects of social control built into the process (e.g., convicted criminals being combatants).
It is an incredibly disturbing and traumatic truth but it seems to me that whatever the psycho-social reason for the phenomenon it is a constant in human history – this is not a new depth of depravity as some conservatives may claim (longing for a golden age) but the same old story.
The one constant I can see in the process is that the phenomenon of ‘mass (possibly vicarious) viewing’ – as opposed the the actual killers – is premised on an atomisation of the image before them, whether that is the foreigner/criminal/slave of the Colosseum or the ‘pixellated’ image of the victim on BestGore.com.
Perhaps it is that need for the humanisation of victims that is needed to make people reflect on the fact that to view and take pleasure in the suffering of others even if not taking part and even if not done from the privacy of one’s home is not amoral. Perhaps.Powered by Sidelines