I'm not a big reactor. By that, I mean, I don’t overreact. If I sink a long putt in golf or make a nice shot to win a game of pool, I’m pretty low-key.
Maybe more important, if someone happened to be recording on their phone when the white or black ball disappeared into the cup or pocket, I still would have been chill, as the kids say.
There's reality, I've always claimed, since way back when the first so-called "reality" shows popped up on television, and then there's the altered plane of reality that manifests itself when someone is capturing on camera what is purportedly real life. People act and react differently when a lens is focused on them, plain and simple.
We need to add an eighth deadly sin: Narcism. The authors of the Bible, when they came up with lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride, certainly can be forgiven for not knowing that a time would come when so people would be less concerned with what they see when they look out into the world, and more obsessed with what the world sees when they look at them.
I'm watching TV in our living room the other night. My wife is in our bedroom at the other end of the house reorganizing her closet, when she hears me yell a couple of choice words. She comes down the hall, wondering what has caused me utter such vulgarities.
I'd just finished watching the three-part, three-hour documentary on Netflix entitled, "Don't F**K With Cats: The Hunt for an Internet Killer." It's a true story detailing one of Canada's most notorious murders that begins with a guy posting on Facebook a video showing him, largely off camera, killing two kittens in horrifying fashion.
Facebook-land goes bonkers. But even at this early stage in the show, it's already more about the reactor-narcissists than it is about the kitten-killer. It doesn't take long for their redundant emotions to overtake the actual act. Everyone posts that they’re horrified. Mortified. Terribly saddened. Enraged. They all want to find out who the perpetrator is and bring him to justice, often in particularly gruesome fashion.
Two serial web-surfers, Deanna Thompson and John Green, form a Facebook group of amateur online sleuths, and their obsessive search for the kitten-killer commences. As they spend hours, days, weeks and months in front of their computers trying to ID the perp, he kills more kittens. He gets cocky, too, as he knows people are trying to track him down. Then he ups his ante in a major way; he lures a college engineering major, Jun Lin, to his apartment and murders him. But he doesn't stop there. He dismembers Lin, puts his extremities in boxes and mails them to Canada's two national political party headquarters in Ottawa.
Deanna and John and their Facebook crew eventually learn the killer's name, Luka Magnotta, who is also learning a bit about Deanna, and makes it known in veiled ways that he could be a threat to her, too. Deanna is so shaken that she announces she's backing away from the group. But, of course, after everyone is so sad that she's left and they feel so lost without her skill and determination and kind heart, and they continue to beg her to come back, she relents and returns. Once again, she’s awash in everyone's praise for her unmatched wonderfulness.
Eventually, Magnotta, on the run in Berlin, is captured while looking online at photos of himself in an internet cafe.
Then, Deanna does some soul-searching. She wonders if she and John and everyone else who crucified Magnotta online for killing a couple of kittens somehow egged him on and pushed him to up his game, to the point that he took the life of an innocent human being. Did they give Magnotta attention he did not deserve? Unwarranted notoriety? Did it all add up to further embolden him?
Deanna and John and their ilk, while rightly being upset over a guy posting videos of himself killing kittens, chose to turn the spotlight on themselves in the process of vilifying and savaging him online, and in his unstable mental condition, the extra attention poured gasoline on the fire that was Magnotta's mental illness, and it’s not an outlandish argument to claim a young man was killed as a result.
While an evil, mentally ill young man was on the loose and craving fame for his extreme misdeeds, these people served it up to him on a silver platter, while also fishing for the adulation that narcissists crave in the form of "likes" and complimentary comments. It leads Deanna to ask in the final episode if she and her online obsessees are somehow "complicit" in Lin’s murder. She wonders if they have blood on their hands.
Deanna knows the answer. But asking is part of the performance, it's part of the reason the docuseries was made in the first place. If you think a few kind comments on Facebook can satiate your narcissistic appetite, think of how insanely gratifying it is to have a three-hour TV series made, starring you.
The final episode ends with Deanna trying to spread her guilt around. Are viewers to blame, too? We spent three hours watching "Don't F**K With Cats," after all, she says. We're giving Magnotta extra attention, too, Deanna says. Then she looks into the camera and the credits roll after Deanna says with a lecturing tone: "Maybe it's time we shut off our machines.”
I yelled bad words. I couldn’t resist.
Our society today is saturated with events, some of them monumentally minuscule, that unfold in front of a hand-held digital device. While people react genuinely to things they witness every day, when there's a camera capturing everything and people know there's an audience beyond who they can actually fix their eyes on, they too often succumb to the temptation to overreact, to act almost as if their life is a show, a performance to be viewed by others, and then they grow addicted to the widespread, sometimes even “viral” response.
Deciding to watch a TV show that's sort of about a sick person who did terrible things but ends up being more about people who were mortified by the terrible things and found a way to interject themselves into the story via their online bubble does not amount to complicity on the viewers' part.
Deanna and Jim picked up a stick and digitally poked a seriously unwell bear, who ended up murdering someone. Then Netflix made a TV show about it, starring Deanna and Jim, and, to a lesser extent Luka Magnotta. Deanna can try to make others question themselves by asking why they decided to watch, but she knows the hunger in her is fed by every single viewer.