Goodbye Fool World

I've been thinking about suicide. Not doing it, just the strange attitudes people have to it.

Recently my local newspaper led with the story of a sixteen year old boy who'd killed himself - and tributes from friend and family. Except at no point did the multipage article admit that the instigator of his death was himself - instead, it was repeated several times that he'd been "found hanged".

When people (especially celebrities) are "found dead" or similar, it's a newspaper euphemism for suicide. Marilyn Monroe was "found dead", but Elvis Presley wasn't - even though in literal terms he was. Even Harold Shipman was "found hanged in his cell".

With this boy, one of two things happened when the family found him. Either it was as reported and they found him strangled by a noose - possibly with a suicide note though the newspaper didn't mention one. Or they found the aftermath of an asphyxiation-enhanced masturbation session gone wrong - and cleaned up the scene before calling the police to make it look like suicide.

The latter is hardly unusual, though I'm not claiming any special knowledge of what happened in this case. It just shows how an apparent suicide in the family is more "respectable" than a kinky wank, and how cold families can be in preserving that "respectability".

Suicidal impulses are universal. They occur - and usually pass without incident - in all ages, classes, and cultures. Nonagenarians kill themselves, and so do children. But for no very good reason, the latter fact is hidden and felt to be shocking.

Young children do kill themselves - they have the presence of mind to plan it, the strength of will to go through with it, and the depth of emotion for events make them want to do it - but it's very rarely acknowledged. Somehow it's viewed as even more shocking than when they kill other people.

And when it is, it's treated, implicitly or explicitly, as an issue of mental illness. As though the suffering and thoughts of pre-teens were incomparably different from those of the adults they would become, and the only possible reason for a child to want their life to end is...well, not being in their right mind.

"He did it because he was bonkers" has to be the great non-explanation - after "God did it" of course.

I've read that Japan has the highest suicide rate in the world, possibly linked to their culture of fear and shame at failure - even the prospect of failure. But I've also read that Hungary has the highest rate, allegedly from a kind of national dysthymia linked to a long history of poverty and incompetent government. And I've read that the record holder is Finland, because of...actually because of no easily oversimplifiable reason. Maybe the weather.

Everyone's got the right to off themselves. I regard it as a basic human right to chose death if that's what you want. But the reasons people do it...very often don't make a lot of sense.

David Rappaport shot himself because he felt he'd never be a serious actor - though personally I think he already was. Kurt Cobain thought he was losing his creativity. Justin Fashanu hanged himself after a seventeen year old boy had an attack of guilt after consensual sex, claiming it had been assault - even though the case had already been dropped.

Spalding Grey planned his years in advance - and talked publically about it. Socrates didn't kill himself - but the state demanded that he pretend.

The laws about sex and tax may be hopelessly confused, but just how fuckheaded must lawmakers be if they make it illegal to kill yourself? In Singapore they'll jail you for trying, and in Ireland...I bet you can't guess what the penalty used to be there. Yes, that's right.

Right now, ordinary people are killing themselves because they'd rather die than live with with a debt they can't pay off. And others one step above them on the social ladder are calling them "cowards" for doing so.

I managed two preposterously botched attempts in my twenties because...actually I can't quite remember why. And if you think that's bad, I know someone who managed to screw it up four times, all because he couldn't get a girlfriend.

Then there's suicide as a pose. I've hung around with enough emos and goths to know the tropes - and how "cry for attention", "cry for the world", and "cry for help" blur into each other. Before that it was Morrissy fans, and the Romantic poets of two hundred years ago weren't that different. They were treated with derision too.

Perhaps the boy in the newspaper was just trying to say "You'll be sorry when I'm gone", or else he really was just bored with life, or there was abuse involved, or the emotional abuse of loneliness. Maybe he couldn't have explained it clearly himself.

Either way...why is it in a newspaper at all? What kind of people pay to read about the uneventful death of a stranger? Exactly what kind of "public good" is served by reporting on the grief of different strangers?

Suicide is a subject you can't pretend doesn't exist. But that doesn't mean you have to be intelligent about it.

1 comment:

  1. I mistrust anyone who claims never to have thought about sucide. There's just something about life on Planet Earth that makes death lose its sting.