Friday, March 20, 2009

And speaking of people who have no lessons to teach us...

California corrections officials have released a new photo of Charles Manson, who is now—can you believe it— 74 years young.

Age has tempered the visual intensity of the man, whose 1968 mug shot (one year prior to the mass murders that officially elevated the Manson Family from "wacky commune" to "insane murderous cult") quickly emerged as the canonical representation of one of the most terrifying cult leaders in American history.

Most terrifying and also, by the way, completely insane. As the LA Times so succinctly explains it,

Manson and other members of his so-called family were convicted of killing actress Sharon Tate and six other people during a bloody rampage in the Los Angeles area during two August nights in 1969. Prosecutors said that Manson and his followers were trying to incite a race war that he believed was prophesied in the Beatles' song "Helter Skelter."

If you're not yet convinced, you might watch the short clip embedded below.

An interesting question about Charles Manson is the extent to which the personality he presents to the world is actually more of an intentional performance than an authentic self-representation. Manson has applied, and been denied, for parole eleven times, most recently in 2007—and he often uses these hearings as a platform for more ranting, in effect extending his newsworthiness through the decades. Here's what he said after being denied parole in 1997:
I accept this decision. That's cool. What I'd like for you to do in your own minds personally, everybody that has a personal mind of their own, could possibly consider that the longer that you let this conviction stand, and this little Helter Skelter scheme of the District Attorney to give his particular reality over into the play, that's going to be the reality that they're perpetuating. That's not the reality that I'm perpetuating. I'm not saying that I wasn't involved. I'm saying that I did not break man's law nor did I break God's law. Consider that in the judgments that you have for yourselves. Good day. Thank you.

In addition to never once publicly showing remorse for his actions, Manson rarely even presents himself in a subdued, calm manner when a moment for oration presents itself. And actually, this might be the only lesson worth considering here: That people like Manson bring into question the degree to which the "self" we present to the world can ever truly be considered "authentic." (You can read a blogpost I published about this very topic over at the blog of my day job, Project New Media Literacies, here.)

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