In cyberspace, death shall have plenty of dominion

On Blogs

October 08, 2006|By Troy McCullough | Troy McCullough,Sun Columnist

With membership of the popular social networking site MySpace.com hovering around 100 million people, a morbid certainty has arisen: As with any population that large, a fair number of those members are likely to die each month.

Their MySpace profiles, however, live on. And some people have started to notice.

Since January, a site called MyDeathSpace.com has highlighted the profiles of recently deceased MySpace members and linked those profiles to news articles, obituaries and tributes from friends and family members. Posting a couple of new death notices each day, MyDeathSpace.com's creator, Mike Patterson, a 25-year-old San Francisco resident, has attracted an avid following, as well as active criticism, for his efforts.

Patterson's site has posted more than 560 death notices. The deceased are invariably young - nearly all are under the age of 30 - and the causes are rarely peaceful. Accidents, suicides, murders and casualties of war rule the day.

Here's a typical sample from the obituary page of the Internet age: a 17-year-old who was accidentally shot by her uncle, an 18-year-old who was killed in an alcohol-related car accident, a 19-year-old who overdosed on cocaine. A 19-year-old who was killed by an explosion in Iraq. A 20-year-old who was stabbed and beaten with a hammer. A 17-year-old who committed suicide.

Suicides are counted separately on the site - 66 have been noted so far. Murderers also receive a distinct notation - 34 have been listed.

Beyond the profiles and the death notices, the site also includes a forum where readers can discuss the obituaries - sometimes in a rather crude and tasteless fashion - and the site also sells commemorative wristbands, buttons and magnets, which has added fuel to the site's detractors.

Criticism has reached a point where Patterson added a "Hate Mail" forum with such comments as "Absolutely disgusting you lowlifes," "This site is morbid and sick" and "What you are doing is disgusting." Those are some of the tamest responses in the forum; most are too filled with expletives to be republished here.

However, one detractor named Melissa recently posted a comment titled "I am thoroughly disgusted with you." The source of her outrage was not that obituaries were being published but that the death notices that she had submitted had not yet appeared online.

Patterson has admitted on more than one occasion that his inbox is overflowing with death notices and that he can only publish so many in a day, but the slightly demented complainer's ire underscores a larger point: People feel a fervent curiosity about the recently deceased. As much as some criticize Patterson and his site, others willingly admit that it has become a daily obsession.

MySpace, as a social-networking phenomenon, has fed into this obsession. MySpace's popularity revolves around the cliques, niches and relationships that arise among the young membership. Many of these members sense a connection - whether real or imagined - to the subjects of the MyDeathSpace obituaries. Factor in the youthfulness of those subjects and the painful and violent manner in which many of them died and you're left with compelling message.

MyDeathSpace is a daily reminder that youth is no protection from the inevitable.

troy.mccullough@baltsun.com

Listen to Troy McCullough's podcasts at baltimoresun.com/onblogs.

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