The Facebook video of a homicide was surely inevitable.
This isn’t the same as saying that video murders soon will become all the rage, but it was more likely to happen eventually than not.
Forget the suspected killer Steve Stephens, who took his own life Tuesday after a brief police pursuit. If not he, then someone else would have become “that guy who killed an old man while filming himself doing it.”
Shooting 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr. was apparently a random act. Acquaintances described Stephens as a “creep” who, as a teen, used a pet python to try to woo women. But — wait for it — he had a good personality. And he worked in children’s mental health.
Let’s create a monster, shall we? The killer walks around seducing girls with a giant snake that gives lethal hugs, once slapped to death his pet parakeet (according to a neighbor), and likes to video himself committing at least one murder, though he claimed to a friend in a telephone conversation (also filmed) that he had killed 13.
As the Cleveland police chief put it, “he’s got deep, deep issues.”
We don’t know whether Stephens was interested in taking lives for the thrill of the kill, or whether he was primarily interested in capturing himself in the act. But it seems obvious that the video was essential to the murder. This is the modern take on the tree falling in the forest. If no one were to see Stephens’ murderous act, would the experience have mattered as much? Or at all?
The randomness of the victim suggests a lack of intent beyond the placement of a bullet in some person’s head. Imagine. Stephens aimed the barrel of his weapon at Godwin’s forehead, watched as Godwin held up his hands, while looking at Stephens — who was taking moving pictures.
Inconceivable, yet it was posted for all to see.
The banality of the act — random, ruthless and meaningless —underscored the hideous purpose of Stephens’ brief moment on the world stage. Not 15 minutes of fame, but eternity in the viral universe. Godwin was simply there when a roving human eye found him, when the camera lens shuttered into focus, and his 74 years on Earth suddenly became the locus in the crosshairs of an ultimate exhibitionist.
I’ve seen only still shots of the murder and wouldn’t watch the tape if I could. Morbid curiosity has its limits — or should. But for much of the world these days, watching other people performing all manner of activities has become routine. Younger folks who’ve been documented since birth, as well as during, and have never known a mobile-phone-free moment, perhaps can’t fathom why they shouldn’t “share” their every whim, appetite and mood.
For every exhibitionist, there are a million voyeurs. We’re all so riveted to our screens that a moment not captured and telegraphed to our social media “friends” may as well not have happened.
Would Godwin still be alive if Stephens’ battery had died?
I worry that the underlying imperative in our see-and-be-seen culture — one increasingly without even the expectation of privacy — soon leads to the expectation that one shouldn’t have any privacy.
Some slippery slopes really are slippery.
Whatever secrets Stephens took to his Maker when he took his own life, we’ll never know. But someone else’s secret urges or desires are always on the verge of display — and one-upmanship is the coin of the Facebook realm.
Would that the next worst thing were not inevitable.
Reach Kathleen Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org.