For all of the month of June, we Canadians were force-fed large servings of Luka Magnotta, a young chameleon who has left a long trail of evidence he designed with the intent to taunt investigators and tantalize the media. As details emerged of his outrageous murder (by ice pick) and dismemberment (by steak knife) of a gentle Chinese immigrant student, I must admit I was half expecting the Magnotta story to end with another "suicide by police encounter". But he surrendered without struggle in Germany, and now we get to follow his multi-million dollar show-trial in 2013. I'm not the first to mention that the Magnotta story is a variant of another recent Canadian murder - the Mark Twitchell case. The FACEBOOK Generation is obsessed with drawing attention to itself and too often with turning its sickest fantasies into video productions which might achieve "Mickey and Mallory" style (NATURAL BORN KILLERS) celebrity in exchange for some cold blooded entertainment.
Actually what comes to mind when I ponder Magnotta's work... and it is WORK, is the poetry and art of William Blake. I'm not referring to Blake's Red Dragon paintings one of which gets ripped up and eaten by the serial killer Francis Dolarhyde in the movie RED DRAGON (2002). I refer to Blake's lesser known print and accompanying verse:
"Everything is an attempt/ To be human"
You don't have to be a philosopher or a psychologist to recognize the confusion and anxiety spreading in our culture. The generation behind me is, I think, rather disturbed and some of the evidence of that turmoil is the fragmentation of personality and widespread experimentation with all aspects of identity, lifestyle and kinship. If there is no God.... if Patriotism is bunk... if Family is a dying proposition...if nationality, sexual orientation, and community are matters of whim and wealth.... then what does it truly mean to be human? Isn't murder just a more dramatic form or expression than profanity? Luka Magnotta is a marvellous example of human adaptation in a changing environment. There are thousands like him living in every city in Canada. The 21st Century is just underway and already the U.S.A. has elected two presidents who started life with different surnames, and each of whom through force of will, forged new identities which proved attractive in the political marketplace. Most of us will recognize the callous killers who, like Magnotta (born Eric Clinton Kirk Newman), emerge from broken homes, but we should pay equal attention to the master manipulators who attain celebrity without resorting to to homicide.
I did not choose to write this article with the intent to provoke or to shock. In fact I am still reeling from a conversation I had with a 15 year old student just one week ago, and writing helps me deal with it. The boy, a Taiwanese immigrant, lives with his mother in an expensive home in Vancouver's wealthy West side. His father is "an astronaut" - meaning he attends to his business in far off Taiwan and returns to Vancouver now and then. The boy, I'll call him Randy, attended a big boozer with about twenty of his high school chums. There were five girls present. All are Asian and all come from money. The highlight of the party was watching and discussing the full-length video of the murder of Justin Lin, which one of the Vancouver students had downloaded from the Internet. I thought Randy was putting me on, but he was unwilling to be disbelieved so he ran me through the whole sequence ... from the killing, to Magnotta partially dismembering Lin Jun and setting his severed head to the side .... to his sodomizing a headless corpse. Imagine!
I haven't yet decided which is more ghastly, Magnotta's crimes, or the idea of twenty Vancouver teenagers crowding around a computer screen to watch the heartless destruction of a human life. Randy's girlfriend was present, and I asked him "Don't you think that part of being "a man" is to protect your girlfriend from that kind of horror? Do you think you acted like a man?" His bland reply to me was "Well I was sitting between her and the screen. She didn't see most of it." He insisted that wasn't the worst video he'd seen at a party. They had watched "Al Quaeda videos" downloaded from the Internet in which Westerners had begged pitifully to be spared, but had their heads cut off anyway. Randy said that listening to people beg for life was far worse than watching the Magnotta butchery, although his friends were "really pissed off" that he had killed a Chinese. I know that Randy has been flirting with the gang life, and his mother worries. I asked him if he understood that watching the Magnotta video and similar party tapes had changed him, and that he was more likely to use a baseball bat than his fists the next time someone "dissed" his girlfriend. He rejected my assertion and said that among his tight group of friends only one talks openly about killing, and is cold enough to kill. (A teen who lost his parents to an auto accident and is intensely angry.) One is enough.