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06.10.2008

October 02, 2008 (the date of publication in Russian)

Marine Voskanyan

THE CULT OF SUCCESS AND ITS VICTIMS

The desire to "become popular and famous" spawns bloody tragedies

VIDEO-RECORDED CRIMES

Last week, global media highlighted a tragic incident in Finland, where student Juhani Saari started a chaotic shooting in Matti College, killing 9 of his roommates and a lecturer. The subsequently published details of the story revealed that Saari was a friend of a certain Pekka-Erik Auvinen who committed a similar crime in the Jokela college in November 2007. The two guys got acquainted while playing in one team in the Battlefield computer game. According to the investigators, Saari and Auvinen were armed with similar pistols, obviously purchased in the same shop, and behaved in a common manner. The investigators concluded that the two crimes were definitely interrelated.

Before committing their crimes, both young Finns exhibited b-rolls with threats of murder in the Internet. By today, Finnish police has already detained five young men who posted similar threats on web blogs. In the neighboring Sweden, police detained a 16-year youth from Choping who exhibited a video clip with threats of violence.

The principle of the search might seem strange: traditionally, a person, planning a homicide, intends to conceal the details of his plan. In the described case, on the contrary, the young assassins advertised their intentions on YouTube, with explicit compassion from their close friends. This behavior would be absurd in case the purpose of the plan was, for instance, an intention of revenge to a particular person. However, the Saari case exemplified a different motivation, like many other similar crime in schools. The criminal is perfectly convinced that he is going to be killed, or deliberately reserves his last bullet for himself. At the same time, he is perfectly convinced that his person, as well as the fact of his personal hatred towards a teacher, school or mankind, will be known to the whole world; that his name would surface in dozens of TV channels, as well as in a myriad of blogs and internet forums.

Russia is not immune from this self-destructive race. There are plenty of young criminals in this country who record their "heroic deeds" in the Internet, and unfortunately, their video production appears already after the brutal act is committed.

On thee same week when Europe was trying to conceive the background of the tragedy in the Finnish college, the Moscow City Court convicted a gang of skinheads who had been identified on photos they exhibited in the Internet. This was the very gang that victimized Sergey Nikolayev, a well-known chess player (master) from Yakutia. Among the exhibited cadres, one could observe the scene of clobbering a pregnant woman. A recent criminal news program featured one more b-roll recorded by a handy camera: two teenagers were beating up a pauper, who later died in a hospital. Unlike the "idea- driven ethnic assassination, this murder was committed just for fun. Exhibiting such cadres in the Internet, the young villains intended to get famous; moreover, some of them not only boast with what they have wrought but deliberately plan an assassination for getting a picture that would shock others.

Novye Izvestia reports about a gang of three teenagers from Magadan who also used a handy camera for recording killings of helpless pensioners; as they explained after being arrested at the place of the second murder, they were going to exhibit the scene in the "shock video" Internet rubric but did not have enough time.

Psychologists, commenting on the actions of "assassins with video cameras", single out demonstrativeness as the major motivation of such crimes. Young criminals, being proud with what they had done, wish to share their pride with others. For aggressive teenagers, an exhibited picture of this kind is a proof of superiority at least above a helpless person, and thus a way of self-affirmation.

 

THE DEGRADING SELECTION

One could argue that Internet is not to blame, as bastards and maniacal assassins have always existed. However, the opportunity of video recording multiplies the audience of witnesses in a lot of times. Meanwhile, the informational medium is becoming morally neutral: it is believed that one has a right to exhibit everything he likes and the more details, the better.

The desire to make a multimedia subject from any event has entered the technology of journalist work. Traditionally, the text was supposed to be written by a reporter while the photo was made by a cameraman. Today, the video sequence and the text are usually produced by the same person, like in the blogosphere. According to iToday.ru agency, the AFP agency distributed small light cameras among reporters; BBC has established a special desk for collecting packages of news and issuing multimedia stories; CNN, in cooperation with a cell phone producer, equips its correspondents with facilities that enable them to write stand-ups without a cameraman and even enter live air at arm's length. On the one hand, this practice enables to operatively deliver information to the spectator. On the other hand, there is a question: should any bounds of decency be drawn?

In fact, a murder, an air accident, and a dirty scandal could be equally b-rolled. Exhibition of murders and accidents in criminal news and reality shows where characters perform a gripe session before the camera, provide the same effect, overstepping all possible marks. Cozying before the TV screen, a spectator is peacefully having dinner, idly watching teenagers clobbering a vagabond to death; drinking tea while police operatives are telling how many times the victim was stabbed with a knife; curiously ceasing a talk with a friend to watch the place of an air crash.

In fact, there is no sphere of life that cannot be transformed into a video chewing gum. Moreover, TV programs displaying deaths, tortures and fatal diseases, are in the top list of popularity. This practice of relishing brutality downgrades the genre of tragedy which, by definition, supposes a catharsis. Today's informational medium pursues an opposite task: no catharsis, not emotional recast, no compassion: just surprise, fear, and shock. In any case, a shocking report will be followed with TV ads – that according to specialists of the relevant market are most efficient if combined with horror movies.

Cinema critic Daniel Dondurei identifies this phenomenon as "reducing selection". He believes that the intention to "liberate" the spectator from any moral taboos results in deterioration of "the capital of values" that is more pernicious than the economic crisis. Today, a taboo does not mean anything extreme, as what was unacceptable yesterday is common today.

Take the notorious video surveillance. Quite recently, life under control of a video camera was recognized as the destiny of a convict. Nowadays, under the pretext of fight against terror, citizens of major cities unwillingly found themselves under the microscope. Interviewing a top manager of a leading global producer of database facilities, I found out that the industry of video surveillance is the major consumer of these systems: cameras are installed everywhere along with electronic archives. Companies wish to monitor their personnel, while ordinary citizens monitor their children. Last week, a TV report from Kazan, Russia, triumphantly described a surveillance device allowing parents to watch their kids in the kindergarten through the Internet. The innovation was substantiated with "transparency of pedagogical process" and the lack of time for adults to watch their kids. The issue whether work and play under video control humiliate the human personality, was not even raised.

 

NON-RICH AND NON-FAMOUS

Even excepting extreme occasions in which the Internet becomes a tribune for mentally unstable criminals, the desire to attract attention to oneself, at least for an instance, to become a drop of information in the global ocean, motivates millions of users to register everything they witness or exercise with their video cameras and handies. The hit counter of one's b-roll, photo, or blog readers is becoming the real yardstick of popularity. I produce content, therefore I exist. For a huge number of people, the virtual world becomes a place where they can win their "minute of fame" and prove their significance to the universe. Most of the Internet's forums are used not as means of information exchange but as a huge electronic vanity fair, where everyone boasts with what is he is able to achieve. Teenage knuckleheads boast with records of clobbering; a bobbysoxer with photos of new threads; history-lovers with erudition and knowledge of sources. "See, I made a new purchase on E-Bay. "And I got a new love affair through the X dating site". "And I traveled to the exciting countries of Y and Z". Relaxing office employees interestedly watch the scene of fastening a Xmas tree to the ceiling or a set of most funny street ads. The Net absorbs revelations on our family life, photos of the beloved auto and the beloved cat, accounts on a vacation, a birthday, or a recent dream, all this followed with a discussion, opinions, "pluses" or criticism of old friends or occasional guests. Internet diaries, designed for a narrow number of visitors, are a rarity. Most of the Internet users share their so-called content with the universe.

This vanity fair is greatly fostered with the ideology of success permanently cultivated in public mind. As it is obvious that not everyone is going to become a cinema star or an oligarch, this luck is replaced with a whole system of surrogates, the "minute of fame" among them. Let me be not a hero in real life but I've got a fancy Livejournal page. Let my name tell nothing to the world but on my Internet forum, I am a renowned expert, or a popular wisecracker, or a flaunting eccentric. The main task is to provide an impression with one's remarks, photos, and b-rolls. On the one hand, the Net has provided a possibility of fruitful communication for millions; on the other hand, the number of pursuers of virtual victories is so immense that one could just wonder why the virtual space has become an indispensable field of self-realization, and generally, why it is so essential to remind about oneself from a PC screen, spending much home or office time for this purpose Ц the time we ostensibly so terribly lack.

 

SUCCESS BY ANY MEANS

Certainly, the Internet is not the reason of this phenomenon but just a tool. In their everyday life, people are pressured from all sides with aggressive propaganda of personal success. Every ad you see from the window of your auto or a bus, is addressing your vanity. You are supposed to get off immediately to purchase the most fashionable suit, watch, auto or flat, in order to prove that you "have a right" and respect yourself. If you fail to win this race in reality, you are welcome to the virtual fair.

Success is presented to the audience Ц including Russians Ц not in the definition of "primus inter pares" but in the appeal to "stomp on the heads of others", as otherwise you're a loser. TV manager Sergey Solovyov, author of the iconic ASSA movie, harshly expressed his attitude to this phenomenon in a recent interview: "There is no really good movie in the world that speaks for bourgeois values. One has to differentiate capitalism as an economic system, and the bourgeois system as a set of values. What we are facing today is a disgusting and wild petty bourgeois society, with a classical petty bourgeois mindset which drove Tolstoy crazy, which drove Alexander Blok crazy, among others. We managed to develop this into a national priority. We decide, for some reason, that the main criterion of a self-actualized personality is success. What could be more disgusting, just in terms of the human calling on the earth? We din into the ears, day and night: success, success, success! But isn't it clear how to be successful? Mount the corpse of your friend, and you'll become ten centimeters taller. That was invented long before us Ц and that is the only formula of success!" He added that that despite his hate of censorship, he would not go out into the street, banging a spoon against a saucer, in case authorities introduce anti-bourgeois censorship for some time.

Not surprisingly, when the recipe of success is presented as a choice of "being a nonentity or having a right", someone would illustrate this literally, stomping on physical corpses. In this regard, the tragedy in Finland and it Russian analogues are not an exception but unfortunately, a direct consequence of the ostensibly life-asserting idea of being successful.


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