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Celebrity Killer Culture: When Grandiosity, Privilege And Entitlement Turn Attention-Seeking Into Violence

August 29, 2015 in Blogs

By Arthur Chu, Salon

We see a pattern over and over again with history’s famous killers

Let me tell you a story. It’s a story inspired by the tragic events of Wednesday morning, of yet another shooting in which two innocent people were killed followed by the gunman shooting himself, all grotesquely documented on social media.

But it’s not a story about this morning. It’s a story about the 19th century.

We all know the story about the first presidential assassination, John Wilkes Booth assassinating Abraham Lincoln in 1865 in order to avenge the South. Much is made of Booth as the first of the neo-Confederate reactionaries that would form the Ku Klux Klan and similar organizations, the legacy of insurgent white supremacy he left behind.

But what’s less emphasized is that Booth was a troll. He did what he did not because he had any concrete plan for re-igniting the Civil War but because he wanted to plunge the Union into chaos and fear. He was an accomplished stage actor, the equivalent of a movie star, the younger brother of Edwin Booth, called by some the most distinguished Shakespearean actor in history. He arranged Lincoln’s murder to be as theatrical as possible, to occur immediately after the act break in the play so that he could heroically leap onto the stage shouting words of defiance, “Sic semper tyrannis” and “The South is avenged!”

He did it, above all, for the attention.

The only difference between our Internet term “troll” and the scary real-world term “terrorist” is the scale of the attention-seeker’s ambitions.

Which is why I want to talk about the second presidential assassination in history, the assassination of James Garfield by Charles Guiteau in 1881. I can think of no clearer demonstration of Karl Marx’s aphorism that history repeats “first as tragedy, then as farce.”

Tour guides and history textbooks tend to gloss over the kind of man Charles Guiteau was by calling him a “disgruntled office seeker,” just like the sanitizing use of the term “disgruntled” about this morning’s murderer, as though murderous violence were a normal response to workplace disgruntlement.

Charles Guiteau was never a serious “office …read more


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