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In a near-textbook example of “too soon,” one eBay entrepreneur made efforts last week to capitalize on the deaths of 12 people and the injuring of 58 others just this past summer.
On July 20, James Holmes walked into a Denver movie theater showing a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” and began shooting people. Holmes’ subsequent appearance in court with vivid orange hair and a somewhat glazed look left a memorable impression, evidently one that someone thought was worth immortalizing in Halloween rubber.
The mask was listed for auction with an opening bid of $500. That was before eBay pulled it as in violation of its rules against overtly offensive listings. For the curious, ABC News has the original item description:
“SHOCK EVERYONE YOU KNOW!” the eBay ad read. “There is nothing more scary than crawling into James Holmes mind and wearing his face. His ‘soul penetrating eyes’ and ‘The Joker’ orange hair makes this mask the most disturbing object you will ever own. Imagine owning the mask of supposedly the most dangerous mass murderer in US history.”
The posting said the seller won the mask in a high-stakes poker tournament in Europe. The seller said the mask was custom-designed for a private collector, and also made reference to an unidentified documentary it says will be released in 2013.
I almost don’t know what is more bewildering about this story: that the mask was commissioned in the first place, that it was listed on eBay, or that it was won in a European poker game.
The existence of a subculture fascinated by serial and mass murderers is not news to me. It seems a predictable part of human nature to be both drawn and repelled by the darkness that some people are capable of, and I don’t believe this fascination is always is a matter of “glamorizing” horrific murders either. I think some of us are simply attracted by the adrenaline rush -- that heady fight-or-flight response -- that learning about humanity’s greatest horrors can sometimes supply.
But how do we know when things shift from an intellectual interest in these crimes to the glorification of same? A James Holmes Halloween mask could easily be seen as making light of the tragic events of July 20, or even diminishing the reality of it. As an item in a private collection, the mask might be a personal curiosity, but to advertise it as a means by which a buyer might "shock" everyone he knows by actually wearing it is clearly crossing a line insofar as basic human compassion goes.
The mask’s description (WHY would you want to crawl into James Holmes’ head, exactly?) certainly ups the creepiness factor as well, and, frankly, the notion that some random poker-playing dude thought it might be totally cool to score $500 or more off the deaths of 12 individuals -- one of whom was a 6-year-old girl -- a mere two months later is indefensible and disgusting.
What grosses you out more: that the mask exists at all, or that some dude was trying to make money off it before eBay pulled the plug?