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We’re all Serial Killers

You a writer? You’re a killer. You a producer of content? You’re a killer.

My daughter was watching a YouTuber order a coffee from a Starbuck’s and looked over to me and said, “This is crap.” But the YouTuber had millions of subscribers, the video hundreds of thousands of views, and was six minutes long.  If you do the math, and consider the aggregate time people spent watching it, the YouTuber had killed a person by posting the video.

It’s weird to think of it this way, but for me it really drove home the realization that I have a responsibility to the reader to provide something of value, something worthy of their time. In TV they talk about the cost being $100K a page, so you better put something of value on it. But that’s the production cost, what about the cost in people’s time?

So, here’s a story about all of this. But remember, it’s not free, it’s five minutes you’ll never get back. 🙂

“Welcome to my livecast. I have a confession to make,” he says to the camera. “Oh, wait . . .”

The lens swivels.

At his feet, a puppy wakes and bumbles toward a plush toy. The little furball trips over an overstuffed paw and tumbles onto her snout. “Hashtag: Cutest ever. What’s the caption? . . . I know. Someone has big paws to fill.”

He steps in urine, swears, and the puppy cringes. “It’s like they leak.” He bends to snatch a tutu—lacy, pink—from a side table, near a laptop uploading the video. “This is the same tutu I used on the kitten who clung to the edge of the couch. Remember? Hang in there, you can do it! So cute. Killer.

The puppy takes the tutu just fine. He scritches between floppy ears and smiles back at the camera, the smile might once have been disarming, now it’s thin-lipped and tooth-gapped. “I can see the appeal of puppies, when they’re not peeing on the floor. You might find this strange coming from a man who has killed more people than terrorist attacks and who, tonight, will kill again. Puppies are one of my favorite weapons.”

He coughs into his palm. Half laughter, half death rattle. He chews the result. “It’s a time for confessions.” He hesitates, as if something at this moment goes against his very nature.

“If not for this video, no one would catch me,” he says. “No one even knows my crime. Allow me to explain and, by the time this is done, it’ll all be over. But first . . .”

The camera view jostles through an airy loft apartment toward elevator doors. He hits the call button. The gates crack like jaws. As the doors gape, sounds of yipping and barking clamor. Golden retrievers, not a one older than six weeks—the fuzzball stage—an easy hundred puppies pour forth in a tumult. He lowers the camera to the ground, catching the stampede.

“Rough day? Here’s a rampage of cute.” He chuckles. “Not a half bad caption.” He settles on to a leather couch and then trains the camera on the puppies. “In work, it pays to know a few puppy mill owners. But this is a long way from my beginnings.”

His face goes slack.

“It all began on 4chan. 4chan’s a message board where anyone can post anything anonymously. Pornography, slurs of all sorts, hazing. I grew up there together with some famous trolls.” He squints at the camera as if realizing that most viewers just aren’t getting it. “Remember Jemken? That was when the media picked up on an epidemic of kids snuffling a concoction of feces, urine, and beer. Schools were warned. Experts on television discussed the legality of the drug. But there was no epidemic. Jemken was a rumor we trolls started for the lulz. We trolled Oprah. We trolled Tom Cruise and the Church of Scientology. Project Chanology . . .” He shakes his head. “Promise me you’ll look that up. That was when everything started to go wrong.”

The camera waggles and then scans the loft walls. On them are Internet memes, framed photos or video stills accompanied by captions. Each has the number of views listed at the bottom. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands. Millions.

Dog memes like: ‘I’m happy and I gots worms.’ Cat memes like: ‘Bleeding scratch posts are my favourites.’ Or. ‘Declawed but never defanged.’

“Trophies from the early days. My first kills. Ah, the lulz. But until Chanology, we’d been a tight group. We didn’t know one another, but we understood one another. And we identified our crew because we had codes. Advice Dog meant something. But trolling changed from entertainment to social justice. You might have heard about a little hacktivist group called Anonymous? The ones with Guy Fawkes masks?

“Chanology marked the shift from pranking to hactivism. Anonymous trolled pedophiles, dictators, and ISIS. But big A Anonymous started out as little a anonymous on 4chan. Social Justice A-holes if you ask me, but we birthed them. They just lost sight of their father.”

He picks up the camera. It tracks to a fireplace with fake glowing logs, a mantel, and a picture of a cat with rainbows shooting from its butt. Above that, poison dribbles from Socrates’ lips onto the bib of his toga.

“Socrates is the Troll-father. In real life, he taught us everything we know. Encyclopedia Dramatica says it best. Winning arguments is easy: Ask questions about crap no one cares about. Condescend while agreeing. Pretend to be objective. Put forth insane positions. Profit. Trolling equals philosophy.”

The camera pans back to him. “Like Socrates there. This is my Apology, I guess. I’m dying. That’s why you gotta listen to me. Dying people know something you don’t. What’s more, every good serial killer wants their victims to know their crime and the real mystery is never ‘who,’ it’s ‘how and why.’

“After Anonymous betrayed me and committed to hactivism, I committed my life to lulz. Today I get my biggest one.”

A puppy starts yipping, and he zooms in to where it barks at the couch leg. “Caption: Not everything in life’s as scary as it seems,” he says, and then settles the lens back on himself. “Some things are scarier. I am not just an old troll. I am a vampire with the must of the Internet on my jeans.

“Do the math. The average lifetime holds thirty million minutes of consciousness. Give or take. That cat video compilation I made? The one of kittens being frightened off couches. It had over a hundred million views. It was two minutes long. That’s seven dead. You starting to get what I’m saying?

“Those videos made me rich, but I would have done it for the lulz. A lulz a minute. And lulz kill as surely as bullets. Consider yourself trolled. Come and get me.”

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