Now is the point in the story of Cecil the lion—amid non-stop news coverage and passionate social-media advocacy—when people get tired of hearing about Cecil the lion. Even if they hesitate to say it.
But Cecil fatigue is only going to get worse. On Friday morning, Zimbabwe’s environment minister, Oppah Muchinguri, called for the extradition of the man who killed him, the Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. Muchinguri would like Palmer to be “held accountable for his illegal action”—paying a reported $50,000 to kill Cecil with an arrow after luring him away from protected land. And she’s far from alone in demanding accountability. This week, the Internet has served as a bastion of judgment and vigilante justice—just like usual, except that this was a perfect storm directed at a single person. It might be called an outrage singularity.
Palmer didn’t just kill a lion. He killed an especially good-looking and “beloved” lion in an ostentatious and gruesome fashion that culminated in decapitation. To make things worse, that lion had a human name. To make things worse still, that name was Cecil.
It’s hard to think of a more innocent name than Cecil. Had the lion’s name been Satan or Derek, the international firestorm might have been attenuated. Had Palmer not had a past that included sexual harassment complaints and pleading guilty to lying to federal wildlife officials about killing a black bear, he might have been less hateable. He also might have been less hateable had he been a humble cobbler, or literally anything other than a wealthy dentist. But every element of this story fell into place in a way that sparked international outrage beyond any outrage storm this year.
“Is it that difficult for you to get an erection that you need to kill things?” Jimmy Kimmel chided Palmer, in a rant-turned-tearful-plea to viewers to donate money to lion-tracking research. The segment got more than 6.5 million views on YouTube in two days. Palmer’s professional credibility was destroyed by a flood of Yelp reviews that gave him one star on grounds that he is a murderer, from people who know nothing of his root-canal skills. “You kill a protected lion, we kill your shitty business :),” read one.