At least the high-school students in Kansas who decided to shoot up their school but were stopped before they could because they first wrote about their plot on MySpace.Com already have an insanity defense.

Can a craving for attention drive people crazy? It seems to have in this case. The motivation for the crime was also, here, the motivation for discussing the crime online, and that has proved fortunate. But it makes me wonder if these sort of massacres-as-spectacle aren't the defining offenses of our time. Even politically-motivated terrorism seems to be an effort to garner publicity.

There's something about the world these days that brings out the worst in the lonely and the obscure and feeds their grudges until they grow enormous. And I don't think it's violent video games and movies. I don't think it's access to firearms. I think it's the simple message that you're not anyone until you've done something worthy of media coverage, whatever that thing may be. The star-system has become a kind of moral code with only one commandment: Thou Shalt Not Go Unnoticed. When the concept of fame broke free from its old grounding in the concept of public virtue -- when it was supplanted by the lesser idea of Warhol-ish celebrity -- the lid was off the jar.

Luckily (I think), the Web has come along, where anyone can make his presence felt -- or have the illusion of making his presence felt -- without having to perpetrate a sensational crime. The Kansas kids were eager to do both, of course, and they foiled themselves. Perhaps the Web's promise of liberating people from anonymity will aggravate their mania, but here's hoping it will bleed it off some.

--Walter

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