Over Memorial Day weekend, a Florida man (who was profoundly disturbed) stripped off all of his clothes, pounced on a sleeping homeless man and spent 18 minutes trying to eat his face completely off.
Then on Tuesday, May 29, Cracked.com, a (sort of) popular comedy website that publishes silly, informative list articles (garnished with dick jokes), had one of its best traffic days of all time.
I'm not just bringing up two random stories. These two seemingly disparate things are directly related, and I'm going to explain to you how.
#4. The Internet's Terrible at Reporting on Things
So here's what happened first: Twitter is stupid.
The least we can do is buy it a helmet.
Or, wait, no. That didn't happen first. What happened first was that a man ate another man's face, and then Twitter was stupid. When a man's brain broke and voices in his head or chemicals in his body or spirits in his soul convinced him that he needed to take off all of his clothes and attack a stranger until he was tragically gunned down by police officers who had no other choice, "zombie apocalypse" became trending on social networking site Twitter.
I didn't have that reaction, personally, even though this website has written about zombies more than a few times (and even though I've personally written about them [and even though we've wedged "ZOMBIES" into our book to draw more attention to it]). I read a news report about a crazy man on a drug called bath salt that news reports are calling "the new LSD," and I thought, "Holy shit, that man's brain must have been profoundly diseased to make him do that. Also, I feel terrible for that poor guy who woke up to getting his face eaten by a stranger; that must have been terrible. Also everyone was naked, and that probably means something. And hang on, they're calling a drug that makes you violent and aggressive and face-hungry 'the new LSD'? Either I've been taking the wrong kinds of acid or these news reporters don't actually know what LSD does, because people on actual acid NEVER try to eat each other's faces. I wonder if I should write to someone about how we're really irresponsible in tossing around labels, and that we're giving LSD a bad name. Anyway, there's a lot of information here, but mainly, this whole thing is horrible and tragic." That's how I processed the situation. And that's why it was strange when I saw that Twitter and Tumblr and bloggers were all throwing around zombie jokes immediately.
"A tragedy! Quick, to the Meme Vault!"
That was everyone's instant response? Should I feel like the crazy one because I DIDN'T immediately think of zombies when I read that story?
But it doesn't matter if I'm crazy. What matters is this dude in Florida was, and the Internet decided to put that craziness in the framework of a zombie apocalypse. And that's fine. That's just what the Internet does.
That and add cats to every-damn-thing.
#3. Suddenly, Similar Stories Started to Surface!
After the face-eating in Miami was reported, a bunch of other stories popped up on the Internet, stories that were similar only in that they also featured disturbed people doing awful things with human body parts. There was the man in New Jersey who cut his stomach open and tried to throw his intestines at the police officers who entered his home. The man in Baltimore who ate the brain and heart of a missing person. The chef in Japan who fed his cooked genitals to the people in his restaurant. These stories and others like them (enough that one blog has started diligently collecting all of them in one place) all started showing up on the Internet and adding to this mystery.
Why are all of these horribly gruesome and violent (but otherwise unrelated) events happening right now, of all times? Why has it only been happening in the last month?
Bath salts again?
The boring truth is probably that they haven't been. I'm not saying these stories didn't happen -- they all did -- I'm saying that stuff like this almost definitely happens all over the world, all the time. Remember last year, when everyone thought the world was ending because birds kept dying? Five thousand birds dropped out of the sky in Arkansas, and then thousands of dead fish washed up on the shores of the Arkansas River, and then 500 birds died suddenly in Louisiana, and then a bunch of other birds died in a bunch of other places all over the world, all within the same two-month span.
At the time, we all freaked out, because it was similar to a lot of end-of-the-world prophecies, which would have been terrible for us, and it was also similar to the plot of The Core, which was even worse. The truth, we later learned, was that some weird bird epidemic was killing all of these birds; this was just how life goes. Birds die in bunches, all of the time, all over the world, for what looks like no reason. The difference is that we're never looking for these stories, but last year, we were. And boooooy, did we find them.
"Multiple birds found dead from gunshot wounds. Suicide or apocalypse to blame."
That, I imagine, is what's happening now. One insane news story catches everyone's attention with an impossible to ignore headline ("Man Shot to Death by Police While Attempting to Eat Another Man's Face"). Once that happens, any online journalist hungry for traffic is going to look for similar stories around the world (of which there are always plenty, because there will always be disturbed people in the world), and try to find a link between their story and the crazy popular Miami story. Because then they're not just running a story about "a man in Maryland who ate another man's heart and brains," they're writing a story titled "Another Trend in the Bizarre ZOMBIE EPIDEMIC THAT'S SWEEPING AMERICA!"
That's just smart journalism. You hitch your story to a more popular story and try to connect them. This doesn't mean that people weren't murdering and/or eating people in horrific ways two years ago; it just means we weren't looking for that kind of story back then.
"Face-eating? No thanks, Internet. I'm in more of a 'bear attack' mood."