A Letter to Robert Hawkins: On Being Famous

Robert, yesterday you shot and killed 8 people in a mall in Nebraska. The report from the Associated Press notes:

Eight people were killed and five wounded before the shooter ended the horror by taking his own life. He left behind a note that read, in part, “Now I’ll be famous.”

I don’t think you thought that through. Of course, it is possible that this little statement about becoming famous was part of an insightful essay on fame. Or it could be a joke that the AP did not understand. There is however no evidence available to me that supports the notion that it was anything else than a statement expressing the expected outcome of the actions you were about to commit. You were about to head to the mall to shoot people and you thought that action would make you famous. When you wrote, “I’ll be famous” you thought that the actual person referred to by “I”, the person writing those words, would become known by millions. You were mistaken.

Robert, I will assume that you were not so confused as to think that you would obtain any kind of lasting fame. You probably are aware that after the initial flurry of news reports dies down, you will become little more than a statistic and eventually even that statistic will cease to be of relevance to anyone. However, even if you were aiming only at being famous for a moment, you still failed. Sure, yesterday your name appeared in countless news reports, and it will continue to appear in reports for a few days. So your name is famous now. Sure, journalists sometimes include details that might be indicative of the kind of person you were. Like the fact that you were kicked out of your parent’s house or that you wrote that statement about becoming famous. So those details are famous now. But where are you in all this? Where is Robert as a person? I submit that you, Robert, are not to be found anywhere in those accounts. Can you and the life you led be really boiled down to the fragments that the press has found worthy of reporting? What kind of live have you led? Have you been given all chances to succeed but squandered it all and refused to take responsibility for it? Have you been repeatedly hurt by the people you depended on to the point of not being able to take it anymore? Was your life somewhere between those two situations? Was it something else entirely? These are some of the questions that would need answers to even begin to know in any significant way what kind of person you were. However, the fame that the media has manufactured for you is by nature incapable of providing cogent answers to those questions. This is not to say that a social scientist or a psychologist could not perform a thorough investigation of who you were but it is doubtful that the results of such investigation would ever become famous. Fame always operates on fragments of truth whereas persons and lives are complex entities that cannot be reduced to any fragment.

Robert, you certainly succeeded in killing 8 people, killing yourself and devastating the lives of numerous other people but you certainly did not become famous. And here I am writing not to you, Robert, but to the ghostly fragments of who you really were.

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