Friday, June 17, 2016

Of Selfies, Social Media, and Sociopathy

It was radical Islam.  It was LBGTQ/QI+phobia.  It was our culture of guns and our celebration of violence.  A brutish, angry, abusive loner.  A repressed gay man.

These, at least, are the dominant narratives, the explanations that we present to ourselves to explain the horrific massacre in Orlando, yet another in the series of horrors that America cannot yet bring herself to diminish.  There may be some explanatory power, interwoven, in each of these narratives.

Yet there was something else there, a peculiar set of details that caught the eye of my soul.

Perhaps they mean nothing.

I see pictures of the shooter, one after another.  There he is, wearing a Muslim prayer cap.  This plays to the
narrative of him as a jihadist, although I've not seen many ISIL fighters with that "hey-wassaaaap-gurrrl"  expression on their faces.

There he is, wearing an NYPD t-shirt.  And there, an NYPD long-sleeved shirt.  This doesn't seem to cohere.  A jihadist who's into the NYPD, to the point where he seems to have multiple purchased wardrobe items that celebrate the 9/11 first responders?

It is...odd.

And here he is, dressed up to go out on the town.  Natty.  Tie.  Looking like he's ready to go clubbing.

Every picture, in a mirror.  The same essential pose.  The same smartphone.  Every picture, in the form and for the purpose of the classic mirror-selfie.  "Here I am, observing myself, and sharing this moment of myself with the world.  Affirm me!  Respond to me!"

There are, of course, reasons for this peculiar, repetitive posing coming in front of our eyes.  This is a net-standard, easily skimmed by news sources from the virtual presence of an individual.  It's part of the cycle of self-sharing and self-regard that defines our mediated interrelation.  It is a standard feature of net-era adolescence, a mark of the peculiar solipsism of that point in our personal and social development.

Yet in its familiarity, so very much a part of this moment in time, it remains alien to much of the rest of human history.

There is, in this, another detail from the social-media era, one that's interesting in the way that horror is interesting.  It came as an aside in a report, heard in passing on the radio.

Law enforcement had done a full review of the shooter's net activities, looking for communication with terrorist cells.  They found this: In the middle of the massacre, having already butchered dozens of human beings, he stopped and did a search on Twitter for a couple of hashtags.

#Orlando and #Pulse.  To see if he was trending.

The sociopath, seeking social affirmation.

So peculiar.