The Mental Strain of Murder

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In the above video, I describe the events in which I invented the identity of a man named Mark Shavelle and proceeded to plan his faked death. After watching this video, the most obvious response is “Why did you do this?” I’ve thought about this a lot recently, and the answer I’ve come up with is that I don’t know. I suppose it could have been the thrill of concocting a massive lie. I also think there’s a bit of me that was intoxicated by the thrill of using people’s emotions as my exhibition.

At the end of the day though, I’ve realized something. The “why” of this project doesn’t actually matter to anyone except me. For everyone else who has learned about this project, I’ve received two responses. The first, more common response, is anger. Anger because I lied to my friends, and now I am showing them a video that exposes the lie. Two of my friends, Chris and Yun Suk, were especially mad. They are the two in the video who can be seen awkwardly speaking at Mark Shavelle’s candlelight vigil even though they’ve never met him. The two of them realized later that night that I had crafted a massive lie and were furious with me. I think for them it was particularly stinging because they had just realized the amount of real time (and even probably a bit of emotion) they had wasted on a person that didn’t exist. Worse than that, they saw that it was almost a joke for me, and for that reason, was probably brutally annoying to deal with.

The other response I’ve received is laughter. People who think the lengths I went through, the time I wasted, and the resources I placed into a project that ultimately was just to create an elaborate lie that nobody cared about except me is hilarious.

The point I’m trying to get at here, and I think I begin to scratch the surface of it at the end of the video, is that nobody was really affected by this except for me. At the end of the day, for everybody else, this was simply a weird thing they experienced and then moved on with their lives. However, for me, it was a project and an experience.

I had to create a person from nothing! All I had was a digital presence I had crafted, and from that, I had to act out the next three weeks of my life as if a friend of mine had died. This was the difficult part of the lie that the video alone couldn’t capture. Not only did I have to craft Mark Shavelle’s digital presence, but I also had to craft his physical existence. I recall the night after I first created the account and the post. I walked into my room that night and started talking to my roommates about how a friend of mine had passed away. I had to retain the casual conversational tone I usually have with them, while also playing off just a bit of sadness and grief that I felt bad a peer had passed away. Along with that, I had to carry the lie even farther when all three of them mentioned how they weren’t familiar with him and don’t think they’d ever met him.

On top of all that, I had to be continuously mentioning Mark Shavelle to classmates of mine. I somehow caught myself in a mindset where if I wasn’t fully committed and even believed myself that Mark Shavelle was a real person, nobody else would either. The hardest part about this was that I would have to bring it up in casual conversation. This was hard because the conversation was still pretty much casual, except now I was blatantly lying.

One conversation about Mark Shavelle particularly shocked me. I was talking with a friend by the alias of Caroline and her friend by the alias of Emma, when I was discussing how struck I was by Mark’s death. Imagine my surprise when Caroline responded to my grief with, “I think I knew him,” and Emma nodded adding along that she even thought “she had a class with him first year”.

Somehow, my own lies and my own reality were blending together. As I hint at by the end of the video, Mark Shavelle seized to become a creation of my own art and instead became a real person in my head. I saw him leaving the halls of classrooms, and I felt he was watching me as I edited a video about his own death. That was the worst part about all of this. His death. I wasn’t seeing a hallucination of a fake person. I was seeing a ghost. A ghost of a man I’d created and killed. I was no longer a weird video artist messing with people. I was a murderer and a liar.

Now, it’s been a few weeks since I ended this whole project. I’ve stopped thinking nonstop about Mark Shavelle and the crimes I carried out. Weirdly enough though, I’ve never felt much guilt about lying to any of my friends. Rather, the guilt was some kind of abstract self-exhausting sinking feeling that I’d made and killed a friend. Most of my friends have forgotten about Mark Shavelle, the candlelight vigil and all the affairs. For the most part, everything’s returned to normal for me. And that’s the worst part. How unmemorable this all was. It took me weeks of dedicated work, photoshop, video editing, and lying to my friends’ faces in order to carry this out. People easily believed in a person, accepted his death, and forgot about him. I find people care more about the video than they ever did about Mark Shavelle. And then what about me? Is Mark Shavelle that different from myself? Are Mark Shavelle and myself actually the same entity? What does that say about my death? Will I be forgotten as soon as he was? Do I need to make my death some weird satirical death-based video in order to be forgotten? I’m sorry to end this on an incredibly depressing note. Maybe I just miss my friend Mark. Maybe I shouldn’t have done this whole project. Maybe I’m just in mourning.

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