Monday, December 17, 2007

Herostratic fame of Mass Murders

I’m not expert on suicide. My life has been touched by it only vaguely (though I do have one direct encounter with a person committing suicide). I do know it goes on all the time for various reasons. Given this is a touchy subject; I will focus my comments on the fame seekers, particularly those who commit mass killings and then take their own life.

As morbid as it is, there are people who seek posthumous fame. Sometimes this happens by copycats in certain social circles (such as schools) after the suicide of one person gets a lot of attention. Other times there is an act to get back at society for some perceived wrong. These people see herostratic fame (fame by doing something horror).

The first great example recorded in history was committed by Herostratus the Ephesian in B.C. 356 when he burned down the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. His name is where the term herostratic fame comes from. When tortured, he confessed he did the deed to immortalize himself. The Ephesians then passed a decree condemning his name to oblivion in order to discourage further such fame seeking attempts. We only know of Herostratus because an ancient historian did mention his name.

Of course in modern times, we have what are called mass murders. These are individuals or groups that typically kill a lot of people in a suicidal attack. There is usually some sort of fame being sought by such people in one fashion or another. In the case of the recent attack by a shooter in Omaha, the killer wrote a suicide letter that specifically expressed his expectation to be famous after committing his heinous deed.

With this incident, mass media is finally questioning the action of publishing the names of these mass murders. A recent AP article sited a media analyst who stated that the media enabled the mass murderer to get his fame posthumously. Additionally, recent articles also have talked about the fact that the new generation growing up right now places much more importance on fame than any previous generation in America.

I personally think it is time for the media to show restraint. It is important to report horrendous events. However, I don’t know the killer. Knowing his name doesn’t change what the killer did, nor does it help me to come to terms with the event. So, why give that person the attention they crave? Why encourage further acts by other persons who are borderline. Right now, someone contemplating a similar act is emboldened by the reporting by the press about the Omaha killer.

Don’t get immortality to individuals who think it can be achieved by committing horrible deeds. One more advantage is that denying immortality to such individuals actual shows respect for the victims and their families. Giving fame to the killer is a bit like dancing on the grave of their victims.

Now, there a disadvantages to keep the name from the public. We live in the Information Age. Speculation would run rampant if names were withheld from the general public. Also, this wouldn’t discourage killers who are more interested in the act of killing rather than fame from it. So, I’m not suggesting mass murders should be completely nameless in the public forum. I suggest that the mass media itself should not name them. I think it is foolish to try to completely expunge a person’s name from the record. If someone wishes, they could look at public records for the name. If a blogger wishes, they can publish the name themself. Either way, only someone who is interested need find the information. There is no sense in feeding the information to everyone, to which knowing the name is pretty pointless. I think this would be enough to discourage people from seeking herostratic fame by the committing of suicidal mass murders or other gruesome deeds.

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