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Give expunging a chance

I read an article this morning in “Hello!” about John Lennon’s seventieth birthday. It notes that “his life was taken away 30 years ago by gunman ____,” except they filled in the blank with the murderer’s name.

I’m not going to. If you want to know the “gunman’s” name, you can look it up. But I’d rather not give him the recognition.

In the current (near final?) draft of “Too Big to Know,” I touch on Wikipedia’s debate about whether to give each victim in the Virginia Tech murders their own separate entry. I found that I could not bring myself to use the murderer’s name. I don’t think the reader will notice, nor do I want them to. It’s not a matter of principle, although I’m ok with it formulated as one: “When avoidable, do not help make murder a quick way to fame.” Rather, it’s a visceral thing.

5 Responses to “Give expunging a chance”

  1. On a gut level, i am with you on this point.

    Yet the following occured to me: fame is a kind of informational murder too: it reduces our life-long bio-psycho-social complexity down to just this one thing that we’ve become famous or infamous for.

    With this in mind, a mention of a name in this kind of context “informationally” kills a life associated with it. The person becomes forever informationally (historically) stamped and stigmatized. I believe this is exactly the rationale behind age-old social deterrence strategy of making one’s transgressions public.

    I guess, on second thought, I see it both ways…

    be well

  2. I understand what you are saying. But, are you exposing censorship? To not know John Wilkes Booth and who he was and why he shot Lincoln, and the repercussions of that, would edit history and understanding. How do you prevent the assassin unless you know why the assassin is?

    What did I just read . . . “Until the lion has his or her own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story.” Which can mean that not telling the whole story, because you can choose to do that, may not be telling enough of the truth. And truth, like fame, is not a simple thing.

    Just an opinion.

    MM @shooteyeout

  3. In 356 BC Herostratus burned down the temple of Artemis in Ephisus, one of the original wonders of the world, simply for the stated purpose of immortalizing his name. The city fathers had him executed and forbade the mention of his name under penalty of death, but the story was too good and his name is still known.

    The same will be the case for the assassin of John Lennon, though, out of respect, we will not mention his name here.

  4. I don’t really see the problem. I have a certain problem with circulating the Unabomber’s manifesto—of giving someone a true platform—but a name is just a name. Herostratus’ name lived on, but he didn’t. The same applies here. Nobody really knows or cares about the murderer per se.

    FWIW, Booth is rather different. But for murdering Lincoln, he might not be a household name now, but he’d hardly be an obscure one either. Booth also killed Lincoln for a reason—an evil reason, but a rational one and one shared by many others. That puts him in history in a way that Lenon’s murder by a crazyman does not.

  5. I don’t think the issue is the name, but rather the nature of the fame (or infamy). The scarlet letter was intended to punish the wearer, which was very effective in the small, close communities in which it was practised.

    Unfortunately today there are those that seek out criminals as role models, and as examples of justification for committing similar acts.

    I applaud your intentions, but simply the act of discussing or reporting on such heinous events in this information connected world is what leads to copycats and misplaced idolatry.

    I suppose the best we can do is write with compassion and sincerity of the ugliness of such things, and hope that the right lessons are learned.


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