Saturday, August 29, 2015

Killing for attention

Arthur Chu links narcissism and privilege in his Salon piece "Celebrity killer culture: When grandiosity, privilege and entitlement turn attention-seeking into violence".

It makes a disturbing amount of sense to me. I've long accepted the cliched observation that sensationally destructive acts are "a cry for attention", but Chu makes a compelling case that a lot of our most notorious murderers are linked by a much more specific characteristic.

[There is a psychological] trait that’s part of some mental illness diagnoses (like bipolar disorder) and some personality disorder diagnoses (like narcissistic personality disorder) but that I’d argue goes beyond either one. It’s called grandiosity — the idea that you, personally, are the center of the universe, that people ought to be paying attention to you, that you’re entitled to take up space in other people’s lives and their denying you that space is an injustice.

Grandiosity is joined at the hip with privilege. It festers among the subset of our culture that’s taught to take up space, to assert themselves, to make themselves important.

[link in the original text]

I'm skeptical of quickie psychosocial analyses in mass-culture publications like Salon, but this one rings true. It makes sense not just of Dylann Roof and the Columbine killers, but of a host of other white and Asian "public-spectacle" killers as well as Vester Lee Flanagan, the ex-TV reporter who murdered his former colleagues live on TV.

Chu also implicitly suggests that as long as we keep mindlessly showering attention on such killings, we're going to see more of them. Maybe we can minimize the destruction if we instead suggest that a spectacular suicide (that doesn't involve homicide) is even more attention-getting. At the least, such a development would complete our society's transformation into the uncomfortable dystopia portrayed in Paddy Chayefsky's Network.

Or maybe we can change our culture so that a subset of men is no longer taught that the rest of the world must make way for them.

Hmm. Why do I think it would be easier to convince them to commit suicide?

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