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Vicarious Victims and Emotional Plagiarism

11.04.06 Tuesday
02:35 am - Vicarious Victims and Emotional Plagiarism Previous Entry Share Next Entry
A few weeks ago there was a mass shooting in Seattle. I guess everyone probably knows that. A few of the people killed were involved with a social circle I am connected to. I met one of them a couple times, at most, but could hardly consider him a friend - we might not have even been formally introduced. Some of my friends, however, were really close to the victims.

The week that followed, my LiveJournal friends list was chock full of eulogies, pictures of the victims and discussions of memorial services, funerals, etc. People shared stories of the friends they lost. What initially started out as a news story was transformed into a tragic event as the names of the victims were given life via first-hand testimonies by people I know and respect. That brought the story home.

As such, I can understand why even people who didn't know the victims were impacted by the event. I can understand why people cried, became reclusive or even posted introspective entries as a means of dealing with the implications and aftermath of an event they could identify with even if they weren't directly connected to it.

What made me sick, though, was the realization that a number of the people posting in remembrance of their "close friend's" deaths didn't actually know the victims any more than I did - perhaps a brief meeting or introduction, chance encounters at random parties. In a couple instances it seemed like people were playing up their ties to the deceased in order to gather sympathy, attention or some connection to the media spotlight.

Don't get me wrong - as mentioned above you don't have to know the people to feel connected to these events, just as you didn't have to know the victims in 9-11 to feel the impact. Embellishing or exaggerating ties in order to leach off the tragedy as a means of compensating for unrelated emotional insecurities, however, is downright pathetic.

This isn't targeted at anyone individually. I'm not making any personal judgments nor is this some passive-agressive attack; where and when appropriate I've confronted people on this directly. I don't want to get into a debate with anyone over how well they knew so-and-so. That's not the point. This is simply a reflection of a phenomenon that I found disturbing. It bothered me in much the same way that it bothered me when corporations started putting up billboards after September 11th with patriotic slogans followed by their corporate logo. It felt cheap, insincere and insulting to the people who actually suffered.

{int i; i=74; i++}

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ashlin519 [11.04.06::11:26]
I know what you mean and have actually had this conversation right after it happened. Personally, I didn't know any of the people who died well. And I actually made more of a big deal to people I've talked to about it that I didn't know any of them well. It bothered me I was so bothered what happened until I realized I was upset because of how hurt close friends were and how easily myself and good friends could have been there. Of course then I felt guilty for being thankful that it wasn't any good friends but that's a whole other story
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llarian [11.04.06::12:56]
heh. I was wondering if somebody was going to bring this up eventually. Was it you or Reg I was talking with about this at Jai Thai?

Its a pretty ubiquitous occurance.
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daeverra [11.04.06::01:01]
You did, and I was there. I found it appalling and am thankful Jer wrote this.

I was in a few circumstances where I felt just as bad as the media surrounding and taking statements, feeding off how emotionally distraut they were.

It came to a point where I didn't have much choice to be plunged into the situation. I felt so wretched, so disgustingly intruding on one of the most intimiate moments of their lives.

Eventually I just had to find a way to mourn for the survivors. Yes, it hit very hard, but for my own personal reasons and nothing I wanted to feel nor capitalize on. That's still no reason to take it to heart, not a reason I wanted to revisit, but yet...

I'm still revolted by the quasi mourn.
llarian [11.04.06::01:07]
herbaliser [11.04.06::04:59]
llarian [11.04.06::05:01]
daeverra [17.04.06::03:14]
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tyrven [11.04.06::08:35]
mcfnord [12.04.06::02:19]
doyouhaveaflag [11.04.06::07:18]
daeverra [17.04.06::03:16]
tyrven [11.04.06::08:23]
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tyrven [17.04.06::08:55]
daeverra [17.04.06::09:00]
tyrven [17.04.06::09:42]
tyrven [11.04.06::08:19]
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jawllyholiday [11.04.06::01:09]
Interesting observation. I did sort of notice this myself when Kirby Puckett died recently. For those of you who don't know, he IS Minnesota baseball. An amazing Hall of Famer who died suddenly at the age of 46 just about a month ago. I never met the guy personally, but I grew up watching him play baseball, and he really was the epitome of everything a little kid looks for in a sports hero. Even a personal hero. I felt a little silly for being so affected by his death -- I think I cried more at his memorial service at the Metrodome than I did at my own grandfather's funeral -- but at the same time, I realized that he represented a very special time in my life and it was just another reminder that the innocence of youth was gone, and that even heroes sometimes fall.

Maybe the death of these people in Seattle was more symbolic for some of those who were mourning, and were trying to find any connection to them in order to validate the emotions they were feeling. And there probably were a few who were playing up their relationship to the deceased in order to shine a little brighter light on themselves. Yeah, it's fairly disgusting behavior in my eyes, too, but I guess any event that stirs deep emotional reaction will bring out all sorts of people.
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tyrven [11.04.06::08:59]
I always thought it was bizarre when people mourned for public figures like rock stars. But then when Johnny Cash died I was really sad and it suddenly made sense. I agree with you about them representing a symbol. In a lot of ways that how personal deaths are as well; it's not so much the person we miss as much as what they represent. For instance, my grandfather was that really stable and reliable "rock" in my life; when he died, that really shook up my sense of security and stability, conceptually.

That's also a good point about people's behavior being heavily dependent on their emotions. I think that's part of why I'm so reluctant to judge anyone based on this, regardless of how disgusting I find it.
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monoecious [11.04.06::02:17]
capital hill feels like a community, it comes together when something bad happens, seattle takes care of it's own better than bigger cities, or at least it feels like that.

it hit close to home because that's my community. and they weren't very old. when someone around your age dies it freaks you out. no matter what.

i'm freaked out. i was probably more freaked out than if i still lived there because i feel like it would take me too long to find out if it involved anyone i know.

anyway, ramble ramble.

it's also hard to watch someone mourn who lost someone they briefly knew when you just, say, lost your sister. like it pisses you off because if they're more sad than you it insults your relationship with that person.
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tyrven [11.04.06::09:07]
I definitely agree re: Capital Hill as a community. I felt that way both from a geographic perspective and also from the view that these people were involved with social circles that I was connected to. And regardless, Seattle is a small town; I'm sure everyone in Seattle is one degree separated from one of the victims, even if they don't identify in some way with their circle.

But yeah - it's not the mourning that bothers me. It's more how people who barely knew these people start capitalizing on a brief encounter they had with that person in order to cash in on the communal sympathy. I literally heard people talking about how [victim] was one of the most influential people in their lives who they considered a close friend - only to find out later that they'd only met them once at some party a year ago.

I can understand that perspective with your sister. That must be really hard; how are you dealing with it?
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gfrancie [11.04.06::02:29]
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popcultureicon [11.04.06::03:10]
that's basically why i rarely eat at subway.
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quent [11.04.06::06:03]
subway has a livejournal?
popcultureicon [12.04.06::01:40]
mcfnord [12.04.06::02:01]
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glitterus [11.04.06::04:11]
It's been difficult. The worst though is always the memorial. I have decided I must out live all the people I know or that one tragic head case will stand up at my service, rambling on about me and my impact as if they knew me, saying any sort of trite and quasi-compassionate-fuck-tarded drivel. Please excuse my loss for words.

Another, extremely frustrating thing for me are people's coping mechanisms. I have been mostly hiding away painting and training. For others it's been one more excuse to party like it's 1999. Totally fine, until you run out of drugs and time off, left with your depleted nuero transmitters and bad headache. I of course excuse everyone who always acts like it's 1999. They after all have dealt with the hangover for years now... In my last grieving process when my friend shot his head off I took up drinking heavily and often to get numb. I found that I wasn't so numb any more once I wanted my life back. Being that my first inclination is to want to comfort the grieving, it becomes extremely draining when the friends group avoids it week after week and suddenly wakes up with their avoided feelings staring them in the face as fresh as the first day.

In short, I am directly connected and find that most of my peers are much younger emotionally, than I ever imagined and I am much more cynical.
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herbaliser [11.04.06::04:53]
People's shrinks have actually told them that medication until you are more capable of coping is a good way to avoid PTSD. I think for the people who saw it happen, that's great.
glitterus [11.04.06::05:08]
brothersterno [11.04.06::05:50]
tyrven [11.04.06::09:22]
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brothersterno [11.04.06::05:59]
glitterus [11.04.06::06:21]
brothersterno [11.04.06::06:30]
almosttruth [11.04.06::06:55]
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mcfnord [12.04.06::02:03]
tyrven [11.04.06::09:20]
tyrven [11.04.06::09:13]
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verybadlady [11.04.06::05:57]
like omg jeremy my sister's boyfriends best friend's cousin knew someone in the house who had just met one of the people who died so I am like totally getting excused from high school for a month because I just cannot cope with such loss close to me. I needs me sympathy plz buy me things cause i cannot live in sorrow unless i had a lexus.

It's weird how it seems like so long ago already.
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tyrven [11.04.06::09:19]
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meowlet [11.04.06::07:00]
That bothers me too. I get what you're saying. And it's so offensive to the dead during a time of DEATH. Bleh.
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tyrven [11.04.06::09:26]
Man, you should have heard the stories people who were at some of the funerals came back with... !
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thetathrees [11.04.06::08:27]
In some ways I agree with this point that people magnify their connection to an horrific event in order to get some kind of attention. In other ways, I think there are different types of mourning in different societies. With this particular social network, I would say that boundaries are much more fluid than they genrally are in our society, so no project, gathering or party is any one particular person's party or even specifically any group's party-it's not "Jesiah's" party or "chickenhed's" party or "jeremy's" clowning event--they're open to whomever hears about them and chooses to partake/interact. Likewise, I think that because people either feel welcomed (or want to feel welcomed, for wahtever reason) by this group of people, they want to share that grief that goes along with it. Two sides of the same coin, yes. I mean...people reach out to understand any death/destruction "My husband was *supposed* to have been in the WTC that day." "I would have been at that party except XYZ." "I was in Thailand only 2 weeks before that tsunami." Perhaps it is a habit that should be called out more... or perhaps it is a natural reaction that helps outsiders to empathize (and therefore provide better support/sympathy?) for those more closely affected?
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tyrven [11.04.06::09:31]
Good points. I think that behavior (particularly those quotes - which we've all heard before, if not said) is perfectly natural and I don't see much wrong with it.

The cases that bothered me were when people were milking up sympathy votes for people they barely new. The community needs to come together and support one another, yes - but when people are usurping well-intended support for their own unrelated validation needs it's pretty disturbing.
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crescimento [12.04.06::01:01]
"There's always those people, you worked with 'em a dozen times, you know those people who create their own identity by co-pting other people's pain. You know, they're the person who cares's usually some overweight woman in accounts-receivable. You know what I mean? Patty, with the fucking hunky firemen calender and the dilbert cartoons, tons of gay friends. Some kid falls down a well in Nova Scotia and they're freaking out about it, 'what just happened to the boy in the well!?'
'A guy just got stabbed to death two blocks away.'
'But there's a boy in a well!'"

-David Cross.

took me a bit to semi-transcribe, but it's all i could think of while reading your post.
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colvincd [12.04.06::01:53]
I was initially worried about this event because I could think of people who would be involved of the lifestyle of the people killed and identified with the victims, if only because they were at or around my age.

I have been in a similar situation as the mourners in question as I have personally known someone who was ruthlessly murdered in a senseless act (they graduated from my small high school a year behind me and were killed in NC over some costume jewelry) I am aware of the shock to the system. I never really talked about it because although I knew the person the only way I learned about their death was through the media. Aside from the fact that I knew them the murder wasn't relevant to me. Yet at the same time I felt an opportunistic pull on my psyche, a little voice goading me to cash in on the tragedy. I didn't (except perhaps now, and only for purely comparative purposes) and I suppose it was a sign of emotional maturity.

The human race (and perhaps only in industrialized nations) has only recently passed into an era where violent or "untimely" (except for the occasional car accident) deaths are rare. If I may take the Nietzschean path, our success at preventing sudden death has made us emotionally sensitive to such events, and an apparatus that focuses more on emotion and spectacle than reason and intellect exists to exploit our willing exposition of our grief, as if public display is needed to grant our emotions validity.
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chris [12.04.06::01:56]
This is an interesting topic for me. I was acutely aware from the start of not doing exactly what you are talking about, because I do feel that its pretty fucked up to capitalize on a tragic situation for your own attention. at the same time while I wasn't part of that crowd's regular scene I was more than an aquaintence to some, and we'd shared a few good times together.

In the end I decided I didn't need to rationalize it to anyone, and I wont do that here either. I wasn't trying to capitalize on anything, and I think I felt a genuine sense of loss, and even more for the friends of mine that were really close to these events.
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tyrven [12.04.06::02:21]
I felt very similar during September 11th for very similar reasons; and came to comparable conclusions for myself.
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juliesmagicmoon [12.04.06::04:15]
I must have been one of the few Seatteites who didn't say anything, and barely seemed phased. Could it be because I don't pay attention to local media (which I view as completely sensationalistic), or because violence in America barely surprises or shocks me. I wasn't shocked at 9/11, not even slightly. I was more shocked at the kind of ignorance our community and country has about how we need to invest energy into long term strategies to recognize and address distressed people before they commit horrible atrocities.
ex_dumbgenius [12.04.06::12:13]
Everybody needs a crutch, to cope with their own personal trauma.
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tyrven [12.04.06::06:49]
Woah - hey you! And I agree. I've certainly had my share of crutches and coping mechanisms.
(Anonymous) [12.04.06::07:02]