Snuff Click

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.

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67 comments

  1. I remember the day you found that video. I still have the chat log somewhere, of you telling me about it and offering to send it and then retracting the offer, over and over. I think sometimes it’s like we’re all waiting for someone to tell us how we’re supposed to feel.

  2. Interesting take on the inundation of media via interwebs. I don’t do no SpaceBooks nor have I watched anything die other than boiling some crustaceans alive or watching the ajumma decapitate my live fish. Don’t know if I should observe the violent global realities through this screen or if I should remain in a more content state of ignorance. Thought-provoking. Also, sorry if I didn’t wish you a happy birthday Toast on your MyFace sprawl. I missed that message.

  3. A sage never once said life is a cake walk. A sage would fully recognize suffering. You soooo misinterpreted anything having to do with “yin yang” and lumped the “sage” into one category. Large numbers of monks have disappeared in Myanmar taking action on behalf of the people for example and they have nothing to do with billionaires and doling out advice while sipping Mt. Dew.

    So wow, you like to watch a car wreck and you have empathy exhaustion. And you found a good reason to blame buddha? Yikes…

      1. Mystical symmetry? Obviously you haven’t studied. At least not enough. That’s a very narrow view of eastern philosophies. As well as exceedingly generalized and inaccurate as description or information and so your example betrays you.

        You aren’t annoyed by the “sage”. You are annoyed by your limited understanding of the “sage”. And you are impatient. Not willing to understand and so easily dismissive and that’s the very deadening you are writing about technology and watching “train wrecks” in morbid fascination.

        The sage does not go numb. The sage does the work there is to be done. And it’s not about mysticism, positive affirmations, or religion. You are mistaken if you believe that those elements comprise the whole.

          1. Yeah, I know it was supposed to be about something else.

            Your Chinese fortune cookie says:

            Don’t watch any more snuff films. You are what you eat. 🙂

            Thank you for receiving my comments.

      1. Well, you “think” wrong Megan.

        I understood the authors point as I am literate and able to think.

        It was a well written piece until the botched sage part. But who needs a critic?

        I get that an online “sage” dispensing advice from a “high tower” of privilege is hypocritical bullshit. I even agree with that. But it was written with too much wriggle room.

        Like how the literaturegradstudent’s comment on this page about luddites fall short. If you know what a luddite is and you happen to agree they were “ridiculous” because they were ant- industry then his example works. But if you understand that their jobs were being taken away (hand-crafts) and replaced by machines and that the politics don’t make them “ridiculous” then his example is more “poetic” and not really succinct.

        But why do I need to convince you of my comprehension skills Megan? What’s in it for me? What’s your underlying agenda?

        You call me a “keyboard warrior” as you rush to make the point that I’m missing the point, and this because you are not a “keyboard warrior”? What does that make you then? A keyboard fan-girl? You choose the word. It won’t be “sage”… that’s a given.

        Thanks for your comment. 🙂

  4. I’m not sure what to make of this post. It started out strong and seemed like it was on its way to making a profound point. Then it ultimately said nothing and left me confused, wondering what I had just read. Yes, the internet does contain the realest of realities, more so than our day to day lives. I’m just at a loss as to what your point was about that fact.

  5. If anything I’ve found watching murder/killing on the internet to make me more empathetic. However, I also often find having empathy for people whose experience is estranged from my own to be largely useless. Likewise, guilt for being born a cog in some nebulous neo-imperialism machine is often pretty useless and reductive to one’s own experience.

    I liked that you are dismissive of people who bitch about ubiquity of tech. That half-assed luddite babble always struck me as a cheap tool for people who secretly want to be better than everyone else but don’t want to seem like an elitist.

  6. I enjoyed this. I think it’s always been this way though, or at least for a long time – we just used to have to wait for the evening news bulletins to get our fix. I wonder what it says about us as a species – not only that these horrific and unnatural events occur in the first place, but that the rest of us so often have a desire to package them and consume them as a form of entertainment and/or vicarious suffering.

  7. The elks blood is the part that sticks in my memory. It brought back my childhood of dimness when in the refrigerator was a jar of chicken fat. On a plate chicken kidneys and other gross objects that would be fried and eaten.

  8. ummm NO. I use the internet and have never seen someone murdered. I couldn’t read all the gross evil thngs you wrote…but whatever it was, you obviously shouldn’t have watched it.

  9. Thanks for the piece.. I’m curious as to what your feelings are- now -concerning all the people involved. Do you have empathy for any of them.
    I wonder do we have empathy for one another or is it all a farce.?

  10. You think “bawling your eyes out” is so shameful that you’re willing to feed yourself human and animal torture and suffering in order to inoculate yourself against it? Man, what kind of childhood brought you to this? Who taught you to fear compassion?

  11. I feel like I wrote this. I said pretty much exactly the same thing to a friend just a few days ago after watching a beheading that someone posted on facebook! Why did I watch? Train wreck is hard to look away from.. Thanks for this piece I feel I need to share it and have others nod their heads in empathy.. 🙂

  12. I also watched this when it first circulated. Shocking stuff and rightly so. When I was a ballsy 18 year old film student I took a copy of one of the Faces of Death films in to what was effectively, Show and Tell for teens. I argued that we should be mortified watching such horror and that it was healthy. Avoidable tragedy is not ok and so we mustn’t avert our eyes. I obviously didn’t and don’t mean watching for fun is OK. But a little top-up of drone strike or Agent Orange images once in a while really can keep you mad as hell and remind one not to take it any more.

  13. nicely written. there was an incident here in india wherein a guy went in too close to the tigers enclosure at a zoo in india. He fell into it and the tiger was confused for a bit and then eventually as it fel tthreatened it finally killed and the dragged the body over to a place near its den… now the horrifying part is that some random person from the crowd made a video of the killing and such and this one went viral on the net . What compels us to watch such videos? we are fascinated by blood and gore and thus the fascination for ghost stories, murders , the repeated pattern to get into abusive relationshios etc etc ???

    1. To be honest, I have, for the most part, given up peering into the really dark corners of the internet. But yeah, some of us have a pretty compelling urge to see what the skin covers.

  14. I like the fact that you add the drones into the mix. First, it is a civilian technology stolen by the military and used to kill people in the horrific and unexpected way. Now what is different about a drone flying over to your home and killing you from a bunch of guys slamming your head with a hammer? Well, it is the context. As you say it was the completely absurd situation that made you question why the older Ukrainian guy was killed. On the other hand, we have our state propaganda telling us how the same murderers should be praised. Killing is killing. It ends life. There should be no excuse for any killer. Not even the guy in Las Vegas suburb who works as a drone pilot, killing people on the other side of the globe.

  15. Wow, I read the Wikipedia article on them and u wanted to throw up. I’ve seen cold blooded murders before but just reading about this made me sick. I hope those guys rot in hell for all of eternity.

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