Essay / Culture

Dying for Infamy

There’s a song on the Canadian band Nickelback’s latest album, All the Right Reasons, entitled “Rockstar.” Front man, Chad Kroeger, sings,

I want a brand new house
on an episode of Cribs
And a bathroom I can play baseball in

I’ll need a credit card that’s got no limit
And a big black jet with a bedroom in it

I want a new tour bus full of old guitars
My own star on Hollywood Boulevard

I’m gonna trade this life for fortune and fame
I’d even cut my hair and change my name
Cause we all just wanna be big rockstars.

The basic message of the song is simple: people want to be famous and they’ll do whatever it takes to attain such infamy. I’m sure that many of the people who listen to Nickelback have their own pretensions towards rock stardom. Yet, such aspirations are not new.

In 356 BC, Herostratus set fire to the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The temple took 120 years to build and Herostratus’ reason for burning it down was simply to achieve fame. To some degree Herostratus was successful in that nearly 2,400 years later we are still able to tell his story and his name has even entered into the German language: Herostrat (m): a person in constant pursuit of fame, who plans to commit a crime as a means of achieving fame.

Yet, despite a person’s greatest desires, there is no guarantee that one will achieve fame. Many try in vain to be famous and, at best, memory of them may only last for a generation. In today’s culture, however, there seems to be a sure fire way of becoming infamous: commit an evil atrocity of heinous proportions. For example, the young man who killed eight innocent mall workers and shoppers in Nebraska.

Despite the frequency with which these mass killings seem to be occurring in today’s world, they continue to evoke strong emotions. More troubling, in my opinion, however, is the fact that they garner so much focused attention from today’s media. The Nebraska killer’s “suicide note” revealed that he was motivated, at least in part, by his desire for fame: “Now I will be famous.” Interestingly, this nondescript young man’s picture was on the homepage of various media outlets the next morning. On Wednesday morning, no media outlet in the world even knew who this guy was, but by Thursday morning, he was well known. On Wednesday morning, few people outside of his immediate sphere of influence knew his name, but by Thursday morning, many around office water coolers and in hallways likely uttered his name. In short, did not the media facilitate this young man’s rise to stardom? Did he not get his wish? I purposely do not know this young man’s name yet I know of this desire to be famous because of AOL.com’s front page on Thursday morning. There, staring directly at me was a picture of this criminal with his “Now I will be famous” quote in large, bold letters. If he were alive on Thursday, I think he would have said, “Now I am famous.” Don’t get me wrong, the media is not responsible for what happened at that quiet, suburban mall on Wednesday. The media, however, is clearly responsible for this man’s current “fame.” Why do the media seem to play directly into the hands of these types of criminals? Why couldn’t AOL.com have posted large pictures of the victims with an appropriate quotation related to them in large, bold letters? Why do we all know the names of killers like this young man but cannot recall a single victim’s name?

I vote we ignore the coward who kills multiple people and then himself and focus on the victims instead. I vote that we do not give these individuals their moment of fame, no matter how fleeting it may be. May the names of the victims be forever on our lips while the name and the image of the killer return to the dust from which it came. Harsh words? Perhaps, but I think that fame should be earned by loving our neighbors, not by killing them. There are many things that make famous people truly famous but multiple homicides should not be one of them. May we not forget the victims in Nebraska: Gary Scharf, John McDonald, Angie Schuster, Maggie Webb, Janet Jorgensen, Dianne Trent, Gary Joy and Beverly Flynn.

NB: Today is December 7, the day that will live in infamy. May we also not the victims of Pearl Harbor or those civilians and military personnel who lost their lives in World War II.

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