Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Duff: Artist blogger fakes suicide plan online

Duff: Artist blogger fakes suicide plan online

My first draft of this was much better.

It had passion, drama, suspense and real human feeling. It was also based on a lie. When I wrote my first draft of this column, I thought Jane had 84 days to live. Then, less than 24 hours later, I found out the whole thing was a hoax.

90DayJane was an art project based on an anonymous blog. “Jane” set up a blog and announced that she had given herself 90 days to live. She was going to count down every day and kill herself at the end of it, taking suggestions about how she should kill herself and what she should do with her last days on Earth.

The premise is Hollywood gold, and that made everybody suspicious. At first I thought it was a corporate marketing scam or maybe even a suicide prevention campaign. The next day I found out it was an art project started by a blogger who never expected to get famous and didn’t really understand the power of the concepts she was dealing with.

That’s the problem with trying to find great news stories on the Internet. Readers are drawn to clear narratives with whiz-bang Hollywood premises, but real life doesn’t follow screenwriting conventions and most people who do dramatic things aren’t talented enough to write about it.

The author was overwhelmed by the sympathy and the rudeness of readers on the Internet. Many commenters poured their hearts out trying to save Jane while others jeered and egged her on.

In her confession, Jane said, “I feel a massive sense of responsibility to my art, but more importantly the readers of this blog. My closeness to this project must have made art seem like reality to many people. That is not a reaction that I expected nor can I morally justify.”

Not the clearest apology I’ve ever read, but Jane makes up for it by showing real character in her confession. Toward the end, she says, “I do want everyone to know that I accepted no money for 90DayJane despite multiple offers from television, film, books, etc … . I will not release my identity and I ask not to be contacted for any type of promotion. I want only for the people who wrote to me to know that I hear them and feel the same way.”

I’m glad the author is not trying to profit off this project, and I hope she can stick to her guns as the offers continue to pour in.

As we read this, we should remember that “Jane” is not the first person to consider ending her life on the Internet, and many other bloggers have followed through on their threats. The first recorded attempt was in 2001, when a popular camgirl blogged her suicide note and broadcast a live cam feed of herself slumped over a toilet surrounded by pill bottles. Her audience got to watch as police entered her apartment and paramedics took her away.

London’s first webcam suicide was broadcast in March 2007. A 42-year-old man named Kevin Whitrick climbed on a chair and hung himself as chatroom gawkers egged him on.

Hoaxes like this are a problem because they inspire copycats and mute our reactions to other people who threaten suicide. Suicide threats should always be taken seriously. Truly suicidal people would do it quietly, without giving any hints. People who talk about it are implicitly looking to be talked out of it, so every off-hand remark is an open door.

If you are actually considering suicide, I would offer this piece of advice. Depression isn’t just a feeling added on to your normal set of daily emotions. Depression is a filter that actually changes your perception of the world.

You think you’re being rational and normal, but the depression is changing how you react to things — not just changing how you feel about things that happen, but actually enhancing your perception of bad things and filtering out the good.

Whatever your situation is, I promise, there is a way out. There are facts you haven’t heard yet, alternatives you haven’t thought of. And if you’re really prepared to kill yourself, you’ve got nothing left to be afraid of.

If you’re brave enough to end your life, you’re brave enough to make a phone call. No matter how bad your situation is, take a moment and consider, maybe you don’t have all the information yet.

Maybe there’s a treatment you haven’t tried. Maybe there’s another way to pay the bills. Maybe there’s a friend you haven’t called. Maybe you’re not the person you think you are.

Consider that your basic perception of reality is being distorted by a disease and do a little research before you give up.

Even if you don’t “feel crazy” the depression is twisting things so you can’t be objective about your own life. You’ve got to reach outside yourself. Talk to a counselor, a priest or a friend. Your brain is sending you the wrong signals and screwing up how you see the world.

Don’t make your last decision based on bad information. Pick up the phone and get a second opinion.

Written by Michael B. Duff

February 15, 2008 at 13:36

Posted in Columns

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