3 min

Why I watched

I dragged the mouse over a link, something I must do dozens of times in any given day. But this time, I felt strange clicking on it. According to the story on Xtra, this act would take me to a posted video of a murder and dismemberment. 
But without much thought, I did click on it. And I then watched, captivated, for what was approximately six of the most gruelling, harrowing, nauseating minutes of my life. Those of you who’ve watched know what I’m talking about. Those of you who haven’t, it’s everything you’ve read or heard about. The video depicts a bound and gagged man stabbed repeatedly with an ice pick, his corpse then dismembered, fed to a dog, cut into with a knife and fork and sodomized. I still can’t quite believe it, but I saw the “1 Lunatic 1 Ice Pick” video with my own eyes, and it certainly appeared to be the real thing. As I tried to process what I’d just seen, I did what has now become — for better or worse — second nature: I posted the link on Facebook.
When people saw the post, many expressed disgust. How, they asked, could you watch that video? 
That’s tough to explain. I could chalk it up to research, given that, as a journalist, I’ve written about crime and, as a university instructor, I’ve taught courses in both horror and documentary cinema. Then there’s the queer angle — I’ve also written extensively for the queer press. But I suspect that even if I did none of those things, I would have watched it anyway.
By strange coincidence, the news of Concordia student Lin Jun’s murder unfolded just as I was teaching a horror cinema class at Concordia. Some of the films screened involve fictionalized accounts of snuff films, in particular Peeping Tom (1960) and I Spit on Your Grave (1978). Peeping Tom evoked such ire that it virtually ended the career of its director, Michael Powell, who dared to suggest that voyeuristic audiences were implicated in the onscreen crimes they were so eager to devour. I Spit on Your Grave features an appalling 30-minute gang rape scene that prompted Siskel and Ebert to condemn it so extremely as to cause the film to be yanked from Chicago cinemas. It only added to the strange sensation that pop culture and reality had met up in a nightmare.
But those murders, of course, were all fiction (though in many cases inspired by real stories). There’s obviously something entirely different about watching a fictionalized account of murder and watching footage of an actual one. As one National Post scribe put it, the Magnotta case felt like “taking the dark plunge into slasher movie territory — without the comfort of make-believe.” 
So why did I watch? I attribute it to a simple, basic instinct: I felt compelled to see it for myself. It recalled the shock and horror I felt on 9/11, watching people throw themselves out of windows rather than face being burned alive. The sheer extremity of what was occurring made it something I could not turn away from — something I had to see to believe.
In a Facebook posting, one person said they would never watch the video, as once something’s been seen, “you can’t unsee it.” Those words sunk in as I learned more about the victim and alleged killer. They seemed sadly reflective of certain aspects of contemporary gay life: other than the cannibal-murderer part, Magnotta — egomaniacal, narcissistic, shallow, pretty, under 30, a graduate of low-rent porn and so dim he appears to have been lobotomized — seems the banal erotic/romantic ideal for too many gay men. Jun was eager to find love in a place he thought he’d be safe finding it. Online postings suggest he worried he was old and fat (he was clearly neither). I wonder how many times he read gay online cruising profiles that stated “No Asians.” (Words often followed by callous, idiotic statements like “No offence — just my taste.”) Given Magnotta’s online white-supremacist ramblings, it’s possible he singled Lin out at least in part due to his race. My memory of the video’s images and their new context created an existential collision of loneliness, sex, the quest for intimacy and death — and there was no way of unseeing them.
Curiosity be damned, one of my former students told me. “Of course it’s disgusting to have watched that video,” she admonished. “It’s vile, and a horrific violation of the victim’s privacy and dignity. How would you like it if someone murdered you, cut you up and then posted the video online?”
I’m assuming that’s a rhetorical question, but for the record, no, I would not like it if someone murdered me, cut me up and then posted the video online.

But I couldn’t blame you for watching.