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Real Life Pillowman & Rent-A-Protester

January 26, 2007

I spent most of the day yesterday writing up my essay about Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman (which recently opened at Berkeley Repertory Theatre) for SF Weekly. Later on, I started reading the galleys of By Their Father's Hand, an upcoming book by my friend, Emmy Award winning TV reporter Monte Francis, about the murder/group suicide of nine children in Fresno in 2004 by their father and grandfather, Marcus Wesson.

The juxtaposition of McDonagh's play and Monte's book was uncanny. A fictional figure, the Pillowman is McDonagh's metaphor for a hyperreal type of mercy killer -- a friendly, smiley figure (made entirely of downy pillows) who helps children to commit suicide in order to save them from leading miserable and depressing lives and then killing themselves as adults. The image is absurd and gruesome in some ways, but McDonagh also makes the Pillowman seem sort of heroic in others.

Wesson, meanwhile, could also be classified as a real-life mercy killer -- at least by the people (mostly family members) who were brain-washed enough by him to convince themselves that ending their lives was the right thing to do in order to save themselves a future of pain. According to Monte's book, the family members were awaiting Wesson's word to commit group suicide in order that they might all stay together as a family rather than surrender to the authorities (a child custody issue, among other things, threatened to pull the clan apart.)

It's strange to see how fact and fiction live so close to each other. Until I read Monte's book, I thought McDonagh's ideas to be mesmerizing but entirely far-fetched. Now I see that they do have some very solid basis in reality.

Elsewhere: The BBC reports today that a website in Germany is touting the services of good looking, angry young things, who'll walk around waving banners and signing petitions for any cause -- as long as you pay them to do it. The idea of planting professional crowd rousers to bulk out protests is not a new one. Reminds me of people who were hired to act as ringers in theatres way back when. They were paid to cheer and clap. I wonder if that still goes on anywhere today?

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