Rest in peace, Charles Manson. Or – wait a second.
The mastermind behind a murderous cult whose members slaughtered seven people on two successive nights in 1969 died of natural causes on Sunday. The prevailing reaction online was a satisfied sayonara with a few “finallys” mixed in. The second most common response was horror at the sheer number of people tweeting “RIP Charles Manson.”
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“You won’t be catching RIP coming out of my mouth! Scumbag!” said one affronted user.
“Not only disturbing, but also a very sad reflection on society today,” mused another.
“So ya’ll like. . .really out here,, just tweeting ‘rip charles manson’ like he wasn’t a serial killer ,,,” observed one more.
There was just one problem: Barely anyone was actually tweeting “RIP Charles Manson,” and those who were fallinginto four categories. First, those confusing him with Marilyn Manson. Second, those pretending to confuse him with Marilyn Manson. Third, those making jokes of other varieties. And finally, the very, very few earnestly mourning Manson or at least arguing that even he deserved dignity in death.
The Manson jokes that made their way across the Internet teased out themes that explain why so many took those jokes seriously – and why so many others believed, without investigating further, that a significant swath of the Twitterverse was extending its sincerest condolences to the man responsible for the Helter Skelter massacres.
“RIP Charles Manson,” said “Silicon Valley” star Kumail Nanjiani. “Sure he had his flaws, but who among us doesn’t.”
“Had the pleasure of meeting Charles Manson at a charity do once. He was surprisingly down to earth, and VERY funny,” said Scottish comedian Limmy.
“RIP Charles Manson he never did nothing to me,” said podcaster Adam Grandmaison.
Anyone who stopped and thought for even a second would see that this pro-Manson sentiment was spoofing the rest of us when we argue about any public figure. There are the both-sides and there’s contorting ourselves to support people who deserve condemnation when it serves our purposes.
It’s partly because we fall into those traps that so many people were gullible enough to believe Twitter users were collectively exonerating Manson post-mortem. It’s also just because we like to argue. The rapid response to the nonexistent RIP epidemic showcased the ordinary amateur commentator’s readiness to leap into a fight without thinking, no matter how ludicrous the premise. In other words, even when it means arguing about the legacy of a convicted murderer, we’re all just too eager to be mad online.