Over Memorial Day Weekend, a homeless man, naked and high on a drug called Bath Salts savagely attacked another man devouring 80% of his face. I can’t get the story out of my head for a myriad of reasons, some beyond the gruesome unrelenting depravity of the event. Let’s review.
First, it uncannily mimics the recent love of everything zombie. What is it about a zombie, marching slowly toward you or an alien swooping down, both unthinking unfeeling monsters, that has 15 year old boys to 30 year old men flocking to the cinema, tuning into The Walking Dead, and fighting them through the controllers of an X-box? Or how about Vampires? Decidedly more sexy than other monsters, paranormal fever has 15 year old girls swooning from YA (Young Adult) series to YA series. A Daily Beast article tallied our gross vampire lust in 2009 at $77.5 million and as much as agents, cry ‘no more!’, this genre is not going anywhere anytime soon.
Zombie fever, the most inhuman, unfeeling of monsterdom, speaks to our fears of mindlessness and apathy. We are aware of losing control which in the recent past we’ve relinquished to gatekeepers, to mindless consumption, to the food system, the banking system, and the political system. We want our power back. We are both citizens in a zombie uprising and we fear we’ve been under a slow, insidious seige from the rich and the mighty that we’re only now just waking up to.
There’s also the internal zombie as we chip away at our humanity with mounting chemical and surgical alterations. We do more and more to mask our humanity. In our effort to be free, we have bound ourselves up again in masks for our emotion and our real, human, and aging bodies. All that bottled up emotion produces what any contained energy swirling around at high volume produces: an explosion. Rage.
Which brings me to my next reason why the Miami cannibal story is such a sticky one: the ever increasing potency and violence of mind-altering drugs. First there was the ‘normalizing’ of heroin when it was available in powder form which was certainly not your average experimental drug in my teen years - I never met a soul who had touched the stuff until art school and it was still shocking (but everyone wanted to be Miles Davis) - and then suddenly teens were doing it in rural America quickly getting hooked and becoming hard core junkies. And then we had housewives in the suburbs getting hopped up on Oxycontin and losing all dignity and self respect. Then finally came the meth heads popularized in those awful youtube videos where they showed people deteriorating from homecoming queen to ghoul in a matter of months. And now bath salts which are described as an amplified methamphetamine, cocaine mix. A combo that makes killers and suicidal maniacs out of people. Regularly. Bath salts are that absurd after-school special come to life. Like the PCP of our time and then some.
The fourth reason I can’t unstick the sticky sick of this story is that I grew up in Miami and for all its sunny days and warm ocean breezes, slick nightclubs and slicker hotels, has always been spiked by a steady stream of underlying malice the apotheosis of which is manifested in this one news story.
Art imitates life and life imitates art but in the area of flesh-eating monsters, thankfully there’s never been too much crossover. But now this, a drug-crazed flesh-eating homicidal maniac alongside a bridge to sunny South Beach at 2pm in the afternoon on Memorial Day Weekend.
Even more chilling because of the absence of mind. Not just the essence of conscience but the absolute redirection of the most basic human instinct. This is a story so gruesome that if it were fiction, the author would be vilified as proffering torture porn. And yet, it happened. And according to the police interviewed by local reporters, it has been happening over the past few weeks. Happening. More than once. More than once a human being attacked another human being in this manner because they were under the influence of an annihilating drug.
In writing this blog post, I have found a way to intellectualize the violence, give it distance while trying to see why it’s affected me this way. It’s my coping mechanism. Another way to deal with things that scare us is to make it fantastical, take it to a cartoonish extreme like True Blood or Night of the Living Dead. But these shows, and even Saw and Human Centipede, have us thinking we’re inured to extreme violence but we’re not.
I used the Michael Jackson thriller picture here because it was the least descriptive image I could find, a family-friendly derivation of the monster story that endlessly fascinates us from Frankenstein to Freddy Krueger, and because anything any more illustrative would have been as cruel and sadistic as any punishment by Lars Von Trier.