[NetBehaviour] Why Media Hide the Suicide Protest of MalachiRitscher

patrick lichty voyd at voyd.com
Wed Nov 29 13:28:49 CET 2006

New Media Artist Kanarink posted on the Netbehaviour list about Malachi
Ritscher's act of self immolation in protest of the Iraq War in Chicago
on Nov. 3rd, 2006.  He burned himself to death on the side of the
Kennedy Expressway near downtown Chicago during the morning rush hour.
He was a part of the arts and music community, and people who knew him
told me that he was quiet and affable, but did not seem a person who
would "go that far".  Malachi was one of fewer than ten US citizens to
protest in such a way, and it barely brought a blip on the radar.

Last month after we had an art lecturer at our department at Columbia
Chicago, we went out to dinner, and a couple of us had known Malachi for
years (not me, however - I'm new to the town.)

A couple notes here.
First, I'm pretty appalled with myself to say that I've had to focus
really hard in order to manage adapting to a large city.  Therefore, I
mentioned over dinner that I'm not sure what I would have done, had I
seen him in flames.  However, I think it's pretty obvious that I could
have written about it, and therein lies the disconnect in American
culture, and that gives me pause.

It's like when the Drexel Building burned down across the street before
my eyes (8-story, 1887 Louis Sullivan construction, 5-11 fire!).
Somehow it just seemed unreal, and I sat there in my office, watching
the sheet of flame and smoke stream off the leading edge of the building
while firefighters fought the blaze.  I stayed there until we were
evacuated; I knew I was in a lot of danger, but somehow didn't feel it

My question is whether others felt this way too, and from an individual
response, that might be part of the answer.  I'm not proud of it, but
his death deserves honesty from those in his city who were on the

Another perspective is that of Richard Roeper at the Chicago Tribune,
who said that, "...with all great respect, if he thought setting himself
on fire and ending his life in Chicago would change anyone's mind about
the war in Iraq, his last gesture on this planet was his saddest and his
most futile."  There may be another key element - a real cynicism about
simple acts of direct dissent and their effectiveness.  As an extended
member of a high profile activist group, the goal is often the press,
and the effectiveness of the act seems to be left to the public

>From a larger media-institutional standpoint, there's the implication
that these things "don't happen here", right?  America (an odd principle
in itself, in that the US does not constitute the continent), is the
"greatest country in the world", "Land of the Free", and "Home of the
Brave", and why-the-hell-would-
anyone-set-themselves-on-fire-over-anything-we're-doing, right?  It
makes sense that there would be more press on O'J' Simpson's
semi-fictional murder book  ( ;) ) than Malachi. 

But here's the most disturbing thing - in a period when the US media
seems to be looking for any port in a storm for the criticism of the
Iraq War, _why_ didn't they latch onto this with the tenacity of a pit
bull?  It's so completely bizarre, more bizarre that if I had driven by
the fireball, numbed by the city and the American "will to
productivity", having to process it before reacting.

So I guess the question is why people don't care more about Malachi?
Now that I've had the time to reflect on it, I think his death is one of
the most important events to have happened in the city in 2006, and
deserves being told again, and again, and again.  

How can anyone not be mortally touched when someone has the will to
voice their convictions so forcefully?  I'm meditating on this, and Hope
people have a response.

There are great links on Malachi here.

Patrick Lichty
- Interactive Arts & Media
  Columbia College, Chicago
- Editor-In-Chief
  Intelligent Agent Magazine
225 288 5813
voyd at voyd.com
"It is better to die on your feet 
than to live on your knees." 

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