Saturday, November 22, 2008

Watching Abraham Biggs Die: Does Life Imitate Art?

Did you hear about Abraham Biggs, the 19-year-old who killed himself in front of a webcam and broadcast his suicide via Justin.TV? His death site had hits, viewers who came to watch him kill himself. Some visitors tried to discourage him, but others cheered him on, leaving comments such as "LOL" and "hahaha." Then when the police burst in they typed, "OMFG!"

Sources report the teen took prescribed medication for Bipolar disorder, an illness of dueling moods, mania and depression. You can read about Biggs' suicide at YahooNews, "Kin outraged, distraught over teen's cyber-suicide," an article that tells this tidbit about online suicide:
Biggs was not the first person to commit suicide with a webcam rolling. But the drawn-out drama — and the reaction of those watching — was seen as an extreme example of young people's penchant for sharing intimate details about themselves over the Internet. (Yahoo! News)
I'm wondering is this only about teen suicide and young people's love affair with spilling all online or is it also about human nature, young or old?

CNN als reported this story, and the video's below. CNN reports that the Florida teen blogged about his decision to commit suicide.

When you're traveling through a dark place yourself, such as a touch of depression following the death of a loved one, it's not a good time to comment on humanity because you probably only see the worst. So, I'm not going to comment on how some humans watched and did nothing or waited a while before doing anything as a young man committed suicide online.

I will share, however, that when I read of the incident I thought of the movie Untraceable and its tagline, "The whole world wants to watch you die, and they don't even know you," with its fictitious website.

That movie is not about suicide online but a serial killer who broadcasts his murders on the Internet. Many of the killers' viewers watch and do nothing. Some chuckle. The reviewer at FilmBlather objected to his interpretation of that movie's message, which he believes to be that freedom of speech has gotten out-of-hand on the Internet:
Let it never be said that Hollywood only churns out movies with liberal messages. Untraceable is rabidly, pathologically conservative, coming out swinging against the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, technology, net neutrality, online dating (!), and all restrictions on law enforcement. Its thesis is that the internet is full of depraved, bloodthirsty maniacs who should be tracked down, arrested, and possibly executed. It is outraged by the notion of online anonymity, and anything else that may make it harder for the FBI to find you.

... When the culprit is found, it turns out that he is killing to prove a point -- that people on the internet are willing, even eager, to watch people be brutally murdered. Soon, he says, we'll be seeing executions on network television. For the FBI, he has this shocking accusation: "You let people say and do almost anything they want, and it doesn't matter who it hurts." (Eugene Novikov)
The reviewer says "Untraceable's knee-jerk moralizing is reprehensible and stupid."

I'll agree with Novikov that Untraceable is not a great movie. I sort of watched it on-demand and it bored me quickly. Also, I get edgy whenever anyone suggests we should clamp down on free speech. Who decides what speech to stop? Nevertheless, I believe we should sound an alarm on certain types of speech. Furthermore, I think that if you watch a suicide or homicide and do nothing, you are a murder accomplice, someone who's committed a crime.

While Untraceable is not about suicide but about a fictitious maniac torturing and killing people before an online audience that finds the murders entertaining, the real-life Biggs suicide with audience response is not so far away from the movie's premise. Suicide is self-murder; people watched and some chuckled. Perhaps those who laughed, most likely teens, will say they didn't believe it was real, but I ask is suicide, fake or real, ever funny?

Of course, you never know what will strike a teenager as humorous, and sometimes laughter indicates discomfort or ignorance. It may even indicate fear and a sense of helplessness.

Attempts to evaluate adolescent psychology aside, I'm thinking this afternoon of all the "B-" science fiction and horror flicks of the 50s and 60s, ones I saw on late-night TV as a teen, that we laughed at, thinking them absurd. Some of them seem less laughable and more plausible today with our scientific and technological advancements. And old science fiction novels get a second look as well. At least one documentary speculates that some scifi writers may have been "prophets."

Then you have movies that seem extremely far-fetched such as The Matrix. While it's not not a B movie, consider how easily in The Matrix Morpheus plugged a neural implant into Neo's brain. Someone told me she hated that movie because she was a medical professional and found everything about The Matrix unbelievable. Yet, neural implants, perhaps not Neo's type, are here today.

Come to think of it, people also saw African-American presidents in the movies and laughed. Who's laughing now?

Does life imitate art or does art imitate life?

In the case of suicide and murder, we hope life never imitates art and wish art had no such life to imitate. But you can't always get what you want, goes the song. Yet, an end to suicide and murder is what we need. I guess, we'll keep trying for that day, webcams, blogs, and all.

If you need help recalling Untraceable, a movie that disappeared quickly from theaters, here's the trailer.

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