Joanna Schroeder wonders if horrific, macabre humor is the only way we can deal with the things that terrify us most.
I didn’t write about this case on The Good Feed Blog because I assumed you were all reading about it elsewhere, and it was just too horrific for me to want to share with all of you.
But, yes, a man in Florida actually attacked a homeless man and bit and swallowed most of his face. I don’t want to go into details, because it’s just too awful. You can read about it here, at NPR.org. As far as we know now, the man was high on “Bath Salts” which is in and of itself sort of fucking mind-blowing to me. Yet another thing to not keep in the house as kids get older… But something they can buy legally (for now).*
Anyway. I refused to write about this because what’s the point? To horrify you? To get us all talking about how horrific it was?
But last night and today I started seeing an American Zombies theme pop up surrounding the case. Now, I love me some Walking Dead, but the reason I love it is because of the fact that it is fictional. Sure, it reflects upon society as a whole and dives into that whole “Post Apocalyptic” thing, but it isn’t real. It’s escapist horror.
This man? Rudy Eugene? He’s not a Zombie, he’s a real man who was most likely high on a drug that many of you with kids have in your home. I was disgusted by these Zombie jokes, but figured I was just being overly sensitive and expressly humorless.
Until Lindy West at Jezebel came out with today’s piece which sums up precisely how I feel about this Zombie bullshit:
I don’t mean that the people who latched on to this particular meme are bad people (though I would say they’re a bit thoughtless), or that it’s never appropriate to respond to unthinkable tragedy with macabre humor. But I’m not feeling particularly charitable toward wacky zombie jokes today. There’s no such thing as undead people, only dead people. And sad people. No one deserves to be publicly ridiculed for their identity — gay people, fat people, black people, poor people — but when we ridicule and marginalize mentally ill people, actual innocent people get killed.
And there’s the rub. There are a few populations of people in the United States who are so marginalized that they become invisible to us, including undocumented immigrants, people with mental illness, and homeless people. And sure, there is some intersectionality to these three groups, but not exclusively. There are obviously very wealthy mentally ill folks, as well as healthy and prospering undocumented immigrants.
Regardless of their status, we mustn’t allow these people to become invisible to us. Does Ronald Poppo’s life matter less because he was homeless?
The root of the problem here is that we don’t prioritize mental health in this country. We don’t want to pay for it, we see it as an individual’s responsibility to take care of their own mental health. And certainly it is on us as individuals to keep ourselves healthy.
But in the cases of people who are attacked or murdered by mentally ill people, it is no longer just an issue of one individual taking care of him or herself. A mother who murders her children, a man who walks into a cafe and shoots bystanders, a teen who enters his school and takes the lives of kids just trying to get an education in a place where their parents thought they were safe… These are cases of mental illness gone unchecked and untended and becoming everyone else’s problem.
And worse, and this is for the media, how the F is the photo of Poppo’s destroyed face possibly public? Or the photo of a naked and dead Rudy Eugene lying next to a bloody Ronald Poppo? Are these people not human beings? I weep for the families of both of these men who were or are both, after all, somebody’s loved ones.
And folks, it’s not fucking funny. I get it that you need to deal with your horror somehow. But grow the fuck up and show some respect to those who are in pain.
As Lindy West said it:
maybe I should make a hilarious meme about the time your mom died! She’s probably a ghost now! Ha ha, you and your stupid ghoul mom. 75 dickheads “liked” this.
How would that meme work for you?
What do you guys think? Is making jokes about Zombies in reference to a man being brutally attacked okay?
Is there a way to make light of something so horrible that doesn’t disrespect the victims and the survivors?
*Author’s note: as mentioned in the comments, “bath salts” refers to something different than household bath products, and is now temporarily banned from being sold legally.