CLIFF DUNN: EDITOR
I suppose that I am just as inclined as the next guy to laugh when I see, I don’t know—something like a bucket of water getting dumped onto some poor, unsuspecting soul’s head. There’s something about the unfairness of it all, I guess, that makes us laugh AT the poor slob’s misfortune, rather than with him (trust me, he isn’t laughing with us, either on the inside or out). Scientists say this mild form of Schadenfreude is related to the brain’s ability to dehumanize and objectify others—often with the intent to manipulate, and sometimes to kill or hurt them.
I followed some of the backchat online that concerned the chilling stories about recent bizarre behavior that has been labeled as “zombie-like” in at least three separate and gruesome incidents over the past week-and-ahalf. Much of the blogosphere yapping concerns sophomoric, whistling-pasta- graveyard-type jokes about human cannibalism and “zombies,” and the indignant replies that remind these Adam Sandler-wannabes that real people got eaten, not pork-based props in a made-for-cable series.
I guess that “The Vampire Diaries,” “True Blood,” and the “Twilight” movies franchise have all grown a bit long in the tooth—pun intended— since the culture’s vampire “craze” seems to be running out of steam, replaced in nanosecond-video-clip-speed by a new and—if it’s possible—even more frightening phenomenon than emo twinks whispering to one another, “I vant to suck—your blood!” The tales of human cannibalism and “zombies” have gone viral, with all the appropriate poopooing from police, psychotherapists, officials, and the ever-so-intellectual Chattering Class (“My friends!”) on cable news and opinion programming.
More fascinating to me—and more disturbing—than details about the grisly crimes, are the elements that came together to form the psyche of Luka Rocco Magnotta, the soi-disant “Butcher of Montreal,” who precipitated a worldwide manhunt last week after murdering his boyfriend with an ice pick, then slitting the man’s throat, and committing sexual mutilation and cannibalism upon the naked, bound man—all while videotaping the event for prurient interests and gore-fueled fantasies in cyberspace.
Magnotta, a former gay porn star, further shocked the civilized world (and tantalized the uncivilized part) by mailing severed body parts to the headquarters of both the ruling Conservative Party of Canada and the opposition Liberals. This occurred after Magnotta had already fled the environs of Montreal for the presumably more fallow killing fields of Paris and Berlin.
What was motivating him in this most supreme act of dehumanization, objectification, and disposal of a living person? What happened to him on the road from where he started, to porn star (another example of objectifying a living person), to the fugitive who “terrified” French police, as the daily newspaper Le Figaro described it.
Truly terrifying to me is the question of what “ingredients” went into the systematic metamorphosis of the 29 year old from a human being into something capable of such monstrous acts. The Gendarmerie Nationale description of Magnotta as a “profoundly disturbed man,” “habitual liar,” and master of disguise masks the true Facts in the Case of Eric Clinton Newman (his real name), who wasn’t born a “f***ed up kid”—in the words of one of his former lovers, whom he also told, “I’m afraid when you look in my eyes, that you’ll see there’s nothing inside of me.”
That type of internal disconnect doesn’t come “naturally,” it’s programmed through a lifetime (even one as short as 29 years) of deprogramming ourselves from the very humanity that connects us to all living things. When we base our opinions of one another on the cars we drive, the way we look, or the crowd with which we run, then we dehumanize ourselves as surely and as flippantly as does Fred Phelps, or Tony Perkins, or Rick Santorum. It’s a slippery slope from fantasy to fulfillment. Be careful. The Walking Dead are everywhere.