Shared trauma

Indignity Vol. 4, No. 22

Shared trauma

Horror Is Easy

THERE WERE PLENTY of horrible details to be had last week, if you wanted them, in the news from Pennsylvania: a 32-year-old man apparently shot his father to death, decapitated the body, and then posted a video to YouTube in which he displayed the severed head while ranting about politics. His beliefs seemed to be the standard online right-wing paranoid script about perverted conspiracies and official oppression, amplified through mental illness and returned to the internet via gun and machete.

Everyone knows that the internet is a sick place, or a place for gathering and heightening sickness. In a world less optimized for keeping people in a state of maximum alienation, antagonism, and agitation, the Pennsylvania man's illness might have found a form of expression that wasn't homicidal.

But the accused killer was operating in his own world, out at some endpoint of the culture. The specific part of the story that stuck with me afterward had nothing to do with him, directly. It was an account of how a neighbor found out about the killing:

[The neighbor] said she saw him walking frequently and sitting in the wooded area in the neighborhood. She said someone sent her the YouTube video, which left her stunned.

“I screamed. I totally screamed,” she said. “I opened the video and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s the guy I see every day, and I knew something was unhinged with him.’”

Yes, the person who brandishes a severed head on camera, to share it with the internet, is unhinged. What's the term for the person who sees that video and sends it along to someone else, for them to watch the severed head? What's the term for the person who gets it and watches it?

The neighbor told the same story to a different outlet:

"OMG! That's the guy I see every day."

That was the reaction of [the neighbor] on Tuesday night when she opened and watched a 14-minute YouTube video in which Levittown murder suspect Justin Mohn rants about the government, shouts about conspiracy theories, and holds up his father's decapitated head.

The item didn't specify how much of the 14 minutes she watched. But video is made for watching. The online platforms are made to deliver video for people to watch. People make videos to put on the platform so that other people will watch them, and the internet becomes more of what the internet has become. The person who made the YouTube video in Pennsylvania had watched other people's video messages and he wanted to put out a video message of his own. Somewhere out there he could find an audience.

If the point of sharing and watching the video was to recognize the person in the video, it would have taken only a second or two of viewing. If the point was to recognize the person, though, the friend or acquaintance who sent the neighbor the video could also have sent her a screenshot. That's what the news stories did. There were frames from the video that showed the accused killer's face without any gory additional details, and news outlets published those.

The news outlets took that approach because it's not healthy for people to see severed heads on their screens, in with the flow of their text messages and dog videos. Workers who are hired to review the videos of severed heads and remove them from online platforms end up damaged by the experience. Their work, catching the harm before it reaches many other people, sustains the flow and the habit of sharing. The medium and the distribution systems flatten everything as it goes by, but it doesn't stay flattened when it reaches the person watching it.


New York City, February 4, 2024

★★★★ The brightness of the new day banged off the brownstone row across the street right into the west-facing living room windows. Pigeons performed aerial feats against the cloudless sky. The sun brought out the texture of some structural latticework pressed against a blank brick wall, under a shared coat of paint. An extremely ordinary apartment building, with leafless vines climbing up its side and fire escapes clambering down its face, looked like something from a storybook about the city's enchantments. The Pool was ruffled but still shone like a mirror, thanks to the intensity of the illumination on the reflected scenery. Everywhere things were silvered and gleaming: a turtle basking on its rock—not a week into February!—and the bare weeping willow branches hanging like tinsel and an airplane flaring so its shape and livery were impossible to make out. Ducks bickered over scattered peanuts. A squirrel bounded through the knobby landscape of cypress root knobs. A little wash of pink arrived with sunset on the northwestern rim of the still unblemished sky.


Indignity Morning Podcast No. 212: Last week Tuesday.

Tom Scocca • Feb 5, 2024


EVERY DAY, READERS of Indignity who have previously benefited from the Bluesky-code generosity of other readers of Indignity continue to pay it forward and provide us with codes for the still-beta social network. If you haven’t already gotten a code from us, we have lots of Bluesky codes to share. Email and we will award codes to those who respond, one per reader, first email, first served.


WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS for the assembly of sandwiches from The Old Vanity Fair Tea Room - Recipes Gathered from Far and Near, by Caro F. Chamberlain, published in 1927, now in the Public Domain and available at for the delectation of all.

Cucumber Sandwiches
Very thin slices of cucumbers chilled in ice water, drained and dried. Place between thin slices of graham bread spread with a highly seasoned mayonnaise. Are especially inviting in warm weather.

Rolled Sandwiches
Remove crusts and cut sandwich bread very thin. Place slices in a colander over steam until easy to roll. Sprinkle each one with grated cheese and paprika. Roll and fasten with a toothpick. Put bits of butter over them and brown in a hot oven.

Rolled Swedish Wafers
The same directions as the above can be followed, using the Swedish wafers in place of the bread.

Toasted Cheese Sandwich
Butter thin slices of bread. Cover with a nippy cheese. Form a sandwich and run under the broiler till cheese melts and the sandwich is brown.

If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by this offering, be sure to send a picture to


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HMM WEEKLY MINI-ZINE, Subject: GAME SHOW, Joe MacLeod’s account of his Total Experience of a Journey Into Television, expanded from the original published account found here at Hmm Daily. The special MINI ZINE features other viewpoints related to an appearance on, at, and inside the teevee game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, available for purchase at SHOPULA.

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