06/05/2012 03:17 EDT | Updated 08/05/2012 05:12 EDT

Is Magnotta Really So Different From Other Reality "Stars?"

Luka Magnotta was apprehended in an internet café while reading about himself on the internet. What must it have felt like to finally see himself all over the internet and on the cover of every major newspaper after spending a significant portion of his life grasping desperately at fame?


Anyone who regularly watches the NFL has probably witnessed a game delay due to a fan running out on the field. The interesting thing about this experience, however, is not the fan's behaviour -- it's that the millions of people watching at home on T.V. never get to actually see the person. What is interesting is the broadcaster's policy of not filming the antics of a reckless fan -- such as incidents of nudity or profanity.

This policy is basic behaviourism in action. People typically pull stunts like interrupting a live sports event in order to draw attention to themselves. Presumably, there is a thrill to having thousands and even millions of people watching you -- even if all remnants of self-respect have been tossed out the window in the process.

The NFL's policy aims to remove this reward, which may deter similar behaviour in the future, or at the very least, not give the attention-seeker what he or she craves. There is justice in this policy -- you shouldn't be rewarded for bad behaviour.

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The truly interesting thing about this policy is its absence everywhere else in Western society.

Indeed, the general rule of thumb seems to be that when it comes to getting attention, there is absolutely no such thing as bad publicity. In conjunction with social media, this has created a booming marketplace for those individuals so desperate for the spotlight they would do absolutely anything to be centre stage.

Which brings us to Luka Rocco Magnotta. The only suspect in the gruesome murder of a Montreal university student was recently apprehended in Germany, and will be extradited back to Canada to face trial.

It would seem on the surface that justice will prevail and the scoreboard should read:

Justice: 1

Luka Magnotta: 0

Unfortunately, there is good reason to believe this game has a more complicated ending where, depending on how you define goals and winning, the score may be a tie, or by some accounts, Magnotta may even be deemed the winner.

The psychological profile that has been painted of Magnotta in the news is that of a man possessed by a craving for the spotlight. His longstanding and varied actions on the internet read like the CV of an individual who aspires to be famous. He even once auditioned to be on a reality T.V. show.

I will not review the many details of Magnotta's life, which are available anywhere on the internet and continue to pour in by the hour. My primary goal is not to further analyze or publicize his personality and life.

Of the many sad elements in this case, one of the more depressing is perhaps that Magnotta's behaviour and even personality are not all that different from many of the people celebrated and adored in our society.

At a time when the list of people who are "famous for being famous" grows seemingly by the minute, it has been practically commonplace to watch people so obsessed with attention they would do anything -- flash genitalia, film and distribute sex, get married, get divorced, break the law, subvert any and all shred of personal values they hold -- to get a picture of themselves in a magazine or on T.V.

Granted, Magnotta seems to have traits that are more severely pathological and consistent with psychopathology (for example allegedly torturing animals). However, if you compare other key personality indicators -- lack of empathy for others, big ego, using sex to get attention -- one wonders whether the difference between Magnotta and some pop culture figures is just their positioning in the landscape of personality disorders.

We live in an interesting era. There is an almost perfect storm of factors that make committing a crime for fame an appealing option for those whose personality would permit such a possibility. First, the rewards are obvious and well-documented. There are scores of people who are well compensated to say and do things that would normally be seen as scandalous. This applies not only to celebrities and faux celebrities alike -- but also journalists, political analysts, athletes and even politicians.

If there is a marketplace for attention-seeking it is a very competitive one, which leads to another contributing factor: The rise of social media has allowed virtually everyone on the planet to take a shot at achieving their 15 minutes of fame. This has put the already famous in the unexpected position of having to out-manoeuvre the not-yet-famous for air time. The spotlight is only so big, so it often requires truly stunning (mis)judgment to "earn" front page position.

Finally, there is the role of the audience. People are curious and the motivations for wanting to pay attention to others' misbehaviour range from a genuine desire to learn to a need to feel superior by way of social comparison, to a basic fascination with all things macabre. That journalists (and bloggers) have a right to report and comment on practically everything that happens in society is essentially a given -- we live in a free and democratic society. Of course, we also live in a commercial society, and where there is an audience there are advertising dollars.

But with this freedom and liberty to read and write and post whatever you like comes a cost. Most people like positive attention. I am not concerned with the individual who starts a popular blog site. I am concerned with the ever-growing segment of society for whom popularity and notoriety are indistinguishable.

It used to be that in the poker-game of life, the goal was simply to win the pot. Now, there seem to be more people willing to lose everything just so others at the table will notice that they were sitting there the whole time.

Luka Magnotta was apprehended in an internet café while reading about himself on the internet. What must it have felt like to finally see himself all over the internet and on the cover of every major newspaper after spending a significant portion of his life grasping desperately at fame?

Millions of people around the world now know who he is.


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