By Eli Toast
A while back I watched a man get murdered on the internet.
The video, referred to as “3 Guys 1 Hammer,” came out of the Ukraine and was shot well before the country erupted into civil war. It was a well known case involving three teenage boys who went on a murder spree that only gas-huffing, Eastern European death metal fans seem capable of. The boys were known as the “Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs:” picture three Slavic teens with cold, pink faces, and translucent post pubescent facial hair in knock-off Adidas jumpers, getting drunk, smoking cigarettes and nailing live cats to pine trees; killing vulnerable people who wait on stone benches, and pregnant women who walk home at dusk next to frozen ditches in the blank evening shade of abandoned buildings. Or, maybe you’d rather not picture that.
The guy they murdered (who I learned had recently survived a bout with throat cancer), was dressed in the clothes that I imagine a lot of humble and avuncular Ukrainians wear: grey slacks, a cotton, green collared shirt, pastoral work boots. Older guy, maybe 50, mustache, riding his Soviet era bicycle into town on his way to buy a loaf of bread, or, help his Aunt’s grandson move a stove. The things a lower middle class Ukrainian gentleman does on a Tuesday afternoon.
In the video (taken in some leafy nook of the Ukrainian countryside where I imagine the drone of cicadas mid-summer would be deafening) one of the boys knocks the man off his bike and drags him into the woods. Then he films his friend as he smashes the man’s face in with a hand held sledge hammer. They covered the hammer in an yellow plastic shopping bag like a sort of forensic weapon’s condom. After the assailant thoroughly flattens the guys face with three or four practiced and swift blows, he goes on with exquisite depravity to put a screwdriver into each of the man’s eye sockets; like the way you would plunge a dipstick into a car engine, holding it between his thumb and forefinger, delicately, but with obvious sociopathic intent. Then he uses the same screw driver to stab the victim in the stomach and root around in his guts, eliciting giggles and naughty approval from the filmers. The victim moans the wilting moan of blunt trauma–a nearly unconscious, beauty melting death-moan into his near surroundings–his obstructed and emergent breath wetly percolating out of the newly broken fractures in his horribly battered face.
It is easily the worst thing I’ve ever seen. Mostly because it lacked any sort of causal back story. No ameliorating intent to blunt the edge of this trauma. This was not a mob killing, or, jilted drug dealers exacting revenge; it even lacked the cushioning glamour of stylized American psycho-murder. It was just straight-up ugly and imprudent murder at the hands of some seriously fucked-up adolescents. It was as sharp as tragedy gets.
I’m not sure why I watched it, and am still unsure of the repercussions. Perhaps I’ve become a detached latter-day-neo-post-modern-mass-media zombie in need of a full-on violent and bleak punch-to-the-liver-reality to jolt me out my indifferent stupor and remind me that life is precious. As if poking a dead guy on the internet is some kind of weak, misdirected reaction to neo-liberalism and the devouring maw of corporate profiteering, the commodification of human existence, the misappropriation of all of life’s cool iconography ejaculated back into our faces as bland advertorial goo.
Bottom line: everyone loves a train wreck (some obviously more than others); and I’m not trying to beat you over the head with post-grad gobbledygook…Anyway,somehow, someway, watching murders on the internet actually didn’t fuck me up that bad.
I reckon the majority of moderate to heavy internet users have seen some kind of murder by now. Whether it be through the emotionally refracted lens of night vision as some war machine strafes armed militants, or, the grainy footage of a predator drone missile exploding a wedding party thousands of miles away, or, perhaps a more intimate beheading that’s popular these days. Those are our drones, by the way, bought and paid for with our tax dollars (if you’re American, I suppose) and commissioned by our elected leaders. The sites that host these kinds of films usually present a sort of portentous and expository devotion to the absurdity and cruelty of the modern condition. A–this is real life, get used to it– kind of justification. There also seems to be an implicit assertion that a modern adult consumer who participates, however abstractly, in the diminishment of life elsewhere should see the imagery they’ve been complicit in manufacturing. And to me, that has some merit.
When I was younger I used to pour concrete out in the American West. There was this old truck driver (forgot his name by now) who drove one of those trucks with the slowly spinning barrels of concrete on back. One day he was telling us about elk hunting with horses. He told me how horses hate the smell of blood, how it freaks them out. So if you have a dead elk you want to pack it out on your horse, the horse needs to be calm. So when the horse is young you collect a puddle of elk blood in the palm of your hand and smash it into the horse’s nose. The idea being that you inoculate the horse to the smell of blood. I tell myself that Internet chaos is a sort of blood-nosing for humanity, immunizing us against the potentially paralyzing array of mutilated corpses we’ll be packing out.
A while back Louis C.K. went on Conan, and in a fit of hysterics, claimed his i-phone was distracting him from an overwhelming sadness; and the next day my Facebook page was plastered with joyous encomiums lauding how “spot on” he was. And he’s right. But I’ve grown wary of internet-sadness-hysteria. I’ve grown tired of people bitching about the mind numbing ubiquity of technology… this hip and emasculating notion of sadness that maintains that we are at the behest of our gadgetry. I’ve grown wary of the ultra-predictable pro and con wars that always erupt around celebrity upheavals i.e. deaths, surgeries, feuds, etc. The gross wholesale distraction from the grist of reality. I’ve grown tired that everyone has grown tired of being tired of being tired of everything. Staring at the internet almost completely caged in some kind of self-reflective feedback loop.
But, I’m torn. If my phone keeps me from bawling my eyes at the bus stop because the oceans are turning into acid, so what?
We’re often reminded by the sages that despair and loneliness, free from technological intrusions, are mandatory if we are to experience the exaltation and transcendence of beauty. I ain’t buying it, and, I can’t help noticing some kind of vaguely religious and imperial edge to these kind of yin and yang homilies. The reality is that life is a cake-walk for a few, and, a nightmare for others and the amount of suffering and ugliness one experiences is not necessarily commensurate with the amount of beauty and love they experience. I imagine some billionaire blithely doling out this sort of zen bullshit to his subjects while chilling his champagne with frozen diamonds, feeding his pet tiger a filet mignon, while his servants dine on hot dogs and Mountain Dew.
The internet. It lets you take measure of it all. If you want to stare into the void? It’s there. Those are real people who you saw covered in beige war-dust, dying in the uneven shadow of a demolished hospital. They woke up that morning and died that day. They never made it to their nephew’s house to help him move the stove, never made it to the bakery, and you know this because you saw them killed on the internet and it made you sad. But, at least you didn’t bawl your eyes out.