Let Me Entertain You . . .

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I don’t make the news; I just report it.

There’s a guy out there who would like you to pay to watch him chop his feet off with a guillotine. Be forewarned
that you’ll see a little cartoon demonstrating just that when you visit his website.

Update 10/1/01: I went back to the website and all it does now is spawn porn pages. I guess this didn’t happen, however,
at some point, somebody’s going to end up doing something like that, so the ethical issues discussed still remain–Ed.

The person said he had an accident fifteen years ago, which has rendered his legs mostly useless.

I’ll let him deliver the punchline:

Paul Morgan is a man who desperately wants to lead a normal life again. When the accident first happened, the technology was not available for that to happen. While the technology is now available for Paul to lead a better life, the financial burden would be much more than he could afford . Insurance would not cover the amputation and new prosthetics because it is not deemed a necessary procedure.

That is why Paul has come up with the idea to chop off his feet on the internet. By charging a small fee for the webcam access, Paul will raise the money he needs for the operations, prosthetics and rehabilitation.

Just Who Is Sick Here?

What’s a small fee? $20. The gentleman is hoping to get 200,000 to watch this event. Being numerically-inclined, that comes out to $4 million dollars, which should leave him after any and all expenses set for life after his fifteen minutes of fame.

Let’s presume for the moment that this is all true (I’ll talk about this being a hoax later on). Presume that the gentleman takes proper medical care (which seems questionable), the deed looks doable, and from his perspective, seems rational enough.

Now don’t knee-jerk. Think. Put yourself in his (soon-to-be-empty) shoes. If he had the money or the insurance, they’d be doing the exact same thing, and not paying him a dime for it.

From his perspective, he wants to get paid a few million for an operation he needed anyway. That doesn’t strike me as being any less honorable than wanting to go on Survivor.

While the methodology is a little questionable, the Saudis amputate limbs for crimes pretty frequently. Outside of the occasional beheading, they apply local anasthesia and stem the bleeding and treat for infection right away. So don’t think the guy is bound to bleed to death, or suffer nerve damage or get gangrene.

If I had to lose a limb; I’d much rather have a guillotine do it than some guy with a sword who might miss or may have been partying the night before.

No, presuming this is true, I can’t say he’s sick at all. In fact, I see more reason for this than quite a few other entertainments.

No, I do not want to watch this; I would never watch this. After getting some verification of this, I’d rather send him a donation in lieu of him doing it. Any healthy group of people should want to do the same thing.

I think the sickness lies elsewhere. You can’t sell what people don’t want to buy, and there’s already millions of eager buyers of similar products.

The Public Speaks

He’s got a message board where people are registering comments. On the whole, I found that worse than the website.

Some thought it was a good idea.

Many more couldn’t take it seriously, or thought it a fraud, or their brains just short-circuited and they declared that this was just not something one should do.

One posted a purported link to an alleged news article in Geeknotes. DON’T CLICK THAT LINK; it’s a proctologist’s screensaver fantasy that will force you to reboot.

Some were greatly concerned that they might lay out $20, and it would be called off because not enough people would participate.

One person of those who took it seriously even considered the notion of a contribution rather than a subscription.

Why This Is Really Offensive To Some

Is this offensive because of the action, or is it offensive because the message is frankly “the only way I can get money out of you (and incidentally, end up on Easy Street in the process) is to appeal to your sick natures” and people don’t like to be reminded of or tempted by that?

Or is the only problem “I’m not going to pay a lot for this mayhem?”

But how is this any different than a lion tamer, or a guy being shot out of a cannon, or somebody trying to jump eighty-two cars or a canyon with a motorcycle, or auto racing, or boxing? If anything, I’d call this better, after all, the lion tamer or cannonballer or motorcyclist is perfectly healthy and taking some risk of changing that status abruptly, just to entertain you.

If we shouldn’t appeal to people’s tendencies to violence, then why are half the movies massacres with a plot? Of course the movies aren’t real, but why do millions want and crave lots of people dying, as realistically as possible? What does that say?

On a tamer note, why do scores of millions of people watch “Survivor,” which is the professional wrestling of “reality” shows?

(Survivor makes absolutely no sense to me. The network will never let these people get in real trouble, so there’s no need for real teamwork, and eliminations are never based on reality. It’s just office politics and people screwing each other to get ahead in an exotic location. You can’t find enough of that all around you?

And even if this weren’t a rigged game, would you really want to watch people die?)

Isn’t all of this just the methadone rather than the heroin of violence addiction? Shouldn’t we rather ask why we have the addiction and what we should do about it?

A while back, I asked if people would be willing to pay to watch executions. A sizable proportion did, though most only wanted to see killings they could relate to (an American mass-murderer rather than, say, a Rwandan one).

Fairly recently, there was some clamor to see Timothy McVeigh execution video. I don’t see any reason for moral wreaths to be laid there.

Nor do I find any moral superiority in “don’t do it, but I won’t lift a finger to come up with anything better.” If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

Here’s a question for you warez puppies. If it’s sick to watch and pay, isn’t it even sicker to watch and not pay?

A Hoax?

If you look carefully, there’s really two potential “hoaxes” here.

One is that the guy is perfectly fine and this is pure fraud. Such skepticism seems reasonable and justified (and I found it quite odd that no one sought further verification).

The other is that the guy really does have this medical problem, but after raising some money, he turns around and says, “Maybe the hospital isn’t such a bad idea after all.”

If you ponied up to watch this, would you feel cheated by that? I think that would be the true test: were you trying to help the guy, or feed your hunger?

Could you see the lawsuit? “He said he was going to cut off his feet. He promised!!!”

However, whether this particular case is true or not only matters if you’re laying out $20. As I said about executions a while back, sometime, somewhere, this is really going to happen, so calling this a hoax just avoids the question.

Nor do I see any reason outside of social approval for this to be considered unacceptable while other equally risky entertainment is OK.

Letting Others Live Your Life

There’s a common thread that runs through all these activities. They all represent vicarious living. Let the other guy do it.

Even “interactive” pasttimes like gaming are still vicarious. How many people do you know in real life that get killed several times a day and bounce right back up for the next round?

Not quite the same thing as being there, but then not quite the same risk, either.

Not quite a life, either.

I’m not suggesting you sell your computer and buy an Uzi to do some “reality programming” of your own, but rather ask yourself why these things, in whatever form, appeal to you.

Even if it’s nonviolent, why watch other lives as a substitute for your own? Don’t you have a life? Why not do something with it instead?

Email Ed

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