The internet is exciting and new, we all know that. And we also know
that it can be used for nefarious purposes. But today I came across
something I never really thought I’d see, although in retrospect it
was obvious it would happen. Michael McDermott, the man who shot
seven people dead in Boston, had a Wish
List on Amazon.com, which anyone can look at.
Amazon’s wish lists are a weird mixture of the public and the private:
they’re not the sort of thing you expect complete strangers to parse,
as surely people across the country are doing now (and as I’m doing
here), yet at the same time they are public documents, reflecting
both your desires and how you might wish to be seen by your acquintances.
McDermott, known as Mucko (he even registered the domain name mucko.com)
describes himself on his Amazon page as “Uncle Mucko, a big, fat, hairy
guy with glasses.” The last bit we already knew about, but the Uncle
bit is disconcerting: there’s nothing avuncular about storming into
your office with a shotgun and blowing away half a dozen of your co-workers.
All the same, the nickname was given to him by his nephews and nieces,
so there’s probably nothing creepy about it.
It seems unlikely that McDermott thought of himself as a person
likely to go postal, and there’s really no evidence from his wish
list that he had any kind of psychopathic tendencies.
McDermott started his wishlist on March 14, with a request for a
VHS tape of Wizards, a very poorly-received animated feature
by cult cartoonist Ralph Bakshi
(Fritz the Cat). With its fantasy-world setting of post-apocalyptic
wizards and elves, it fits right in to the stereotype of what a lonely
nerd like McDermott would like, but in fact it’s atypical of the other
films on his list.
For one thing, it’s the only VHS film on the list: all the others
are DVDs. And for another, it’s obscure. Nearly every other film on
McDermott’s extensive list is a famous movie most cinema-literate
people will know.
The Wish List started getting much more mainstream with McDermott’s
next two additions, on March 20 and 22: The Shawshank Redemption
and There’s Something About Mary œ which still hasn’t been
released on DVD. Both films seem typical McDermott fare: the former
a well-received example of what Hollywood is capable of at its best,
the latter an equally well-received example of Hollywood pitching
itself squarely at the lowest common denominator.
After adding Ace Ventura: Pet Detective on July 3, McDermott
then went on something of a spree July 14, adding 17 new DVDs to his
list. Maybe he expected some friendly person would buy him the lot,
maybe he wanted to give people a large array of films they could choose
from, maybe he just wanted to keep a list of his favourite films.
Maybe he decided to upgrade his collection from VHS to DVD. We’re
unlikely to know for a long time, if ever.
The real heart of the Wish List, however, was added on September
18, when McDermott added 43 new DVDs. There are no books on the list,
no CDs, and certainly no electronic gadgets or garden furniture. It’s
It turns out that McDermott didn’t have bad taste, really. He was
something of a completist: if he wanted Lethal Weapon or The
Naked Gun, he had to have all of the sequels as well. (Ace
Ventura: When Nature Calls was added on September 18.) But the
themes running through his choices are all perfectly respectable.
There are five Bill Murray films, three each with Kenneth Branagh
and Jack Nicholson, and no fewer than seven Mel Gibson flicks, thanks
to all the Mad Max and Lethal Weapon sequels.
McDermott liked classic comedy, with choices ranging from The
Jerk and A Fish Called Wanda to classics from Tim Burton
and Terry Gilliam. Most of all, however, he liked science fiction:
nothing particularly out of the ordinary there.
Of course, there’s no reason why any of this should come as a surprise.
That Michael McDermott had decent taste in film is no less likely,
on the face of it, than if he’d turned out to have good taste in wine,
or in art. But the difference is that had McDermott’s Wish List turned
out to be full of bloody slasher flicks, all manner of cultural conservatives
would be running out of the woodwork to denounce the way in which
Hollywood corrupts Americans.
But it’ll be hard for anybody to start pointing to films like Total
Recall and Conan the Barbarian as morally dangerous, especially
when they share billing with The Princess Bride and Ferris
Bueller’s Day Off.
Rather, what we have learned from Michael McDermott is that mass
murderers aren’t always hormone-addled teenagers, or illiterate gun
freaks; that they can be funny guys who quote The Hitchhiker’s
Guide to the Galaxy on their answering machines and who get into
trouble with the tax man. In other words, they can be a lot like the
rest of us. Thank god for the big beard, eh: otherwise, McDermott
might seem just a little bit too normal for comfort.