THE SOCIAL DIMENSIONS OF SUICIDE AS APPLIED TO A SUICIDE CASE
This paper aims to apply Durkheim’s account of the social dimensions of suicide to the media coverage of a specific suicide case. For this purpose, the suicide case used in this paper is that of an aspiring male model named Paul Zolezzi, who hanged himself on a monkey bar at Brooklyn Park in New York after leaving a suicide note on Facebook. Zolezzi committed suicide after being depressed about his situation of having missed his chance of “fame and fortune” as a model, because of which he turned to heroin (Vieru, 2009). Several hours after writing his suicide note on Facebook, which friends describe as unusual, the model went to the Brooklyn Park and carried out what he has hinted on the online network. His mother revealed to the police his bitter resentment about his life, such as saying, “What unspeakable act did I do in a previous life to deserve something like this?” This indicates his disappointment about not obtaining the desired goals in his modelling career, specifically fame and fortune. Paul had been quick to end his life after leaving a note on his Facebook account, which, however, read differently from usual suicide notes. The unusual note reads, “I cannot ask for more…” but still hinted about suicide, which it said take place anytime soon.
Applying the suicide case to Durkheim’s account of the social dimensions of suicide, the normlessness of Paul’s situation is an apparent pattern of his suicide commission. Moreover, it is shown that Paul had unfulfilled desires that led him to depression, and ultimately to end his life. Durkheim states that men are beings whose desires are unlimited and differ from animals in that they are not easily satiated once their biological needs are fulfilled (Buss, 2006). Obtaining fame and fortune was an unsatisfied desire of Paul’s; when he grew tired of pursuing them, he became depressed and turned to heroin. This turning to heroin exemplifies Paul’s turning to anomie, to the lack of normlessness, and turning away from social control that governs individual actions. Durkheim posits that society imposes limits on human desires which are constituted with a regulative force (Bierstedt, 1977). However, Paul’s usage of heroine is contrary to having one’s actions submitted to regulated forces. Likewise, the commission of suicide itself has placed Paul in a state of normlessness in which he diverted from the accepted social norms, i.e. valuing life.
Durkheim states that depression leads to a sudden downright mobility, which happened to Paul, and causes an experience of de-regulation in people’s lives. With this de-regulated life there follows a loss of moral certainty and customary expectations which used to be sustained by the groups to which Paul once belonged. It is said that any rapid movement in the social structure, upsetting previous networks, carries with it a chance of anomie, indicating that the tendency for suicide is a socially-motivated one. This is how the social dimensions of suicide may be examined.
It must be noted that Paul, as an aspiring model, pursued economic affluence as part of what his career promised and led him to believe; the failure to realise his dream surely contributed to his depression. In the same way, Durkheim argues that economic affluence carries with it the danger of anomic conditions because of its capacity to deceive individuals into believing that they depend solely on themselves, and once this perceived dependence begins to shake, depression often results (Buss, 2006). This loss of perceived self-dependence is indicative of Paul’s utterance “What have I done in my previous life to deserve this?” It signifies restlessness in, and disdain for, one’s life.
It must be noted that it is this loss of norm or social control in the state of depression which led Paul to resort to suicide, as he no longer saw the social implications of his actions. The loss of norms guiding Paul’s actions provided a situation in which social structures exerted a definite pressure upon him to engage in non-conforming rather than conforming actions (Bierstedt, 1977). It is clear that, by using Paul’s example, Durkheim’s overriding issues in his work concern social order and disorder. Paul was in a social structure that gave him a perception (or illusion – or delusion) of fame and wealth, which he pursued to varying degrees of success, but which were ultimately unsuccessful. He saw himself as an aspiring model in a modelling world that offered fame and fortune – a world that did not focus the spotlight on him. Arguably because of this, he turned to heroin, became distressed, resentful, and depressed. Finally, as the social order took its hold on him, he began to contemplate suicide and expressed it in his Facebook blog. The control of social order finally lost its thread as he failed to see the moral aspects or the effects of suicide.
It is worth mentioning that the virtual world of online networks became Paul’s last resort in his journey in uncertainty. Unfortunately, this virtual world led him further still from reality as he began to become detached and insulated from usual day-to-day and face-to-face interaction with real people. We can infer that this behaviour was significant in contributing to a feeling of isolation on Paul’s part. This situation is in synch with Durkheim’s assertion that when individuals become detached from society, and when they are thrown upon their own devices, they begin to loosen the bonds that used to tie them up and thus begin to slide down to an egoistic suicide (Bierstedt, 1977). It is apparent that the normative regulations surrounding Paul’s conduct began to relax and failed to guide his human propensities, making him susceptible to anomic suicide. The collective conscience in Paul weakened, allowing him to succumb to this anomic suicide.
Thus, it is clear that suicide, a matter that used to be viewed on a pure individual despair, is viewed as having some social dimensions through Durkheim’s works. These social dimensions allow us to understand on a social level the motivations and causes of suicide, of which social control is a crucial aspect. The social control that governs the actions of individuals according to accepted norms is a crucial element because the lack or fullness of it determines the likelihood for one to be anomic or egoistic, and hence, commit suicide.
- Bierstedt, R. (1977) Durkheim’s suicide: a classic analyzed, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 16 (1), p. 105-106.
- Buss, R. (2006) Emile Durkheim: on suicide, Penguin Books.
- Vieru, T. (2009) Model kills himself, leaves note on Facebook, Softpedia, http://news.softpedia.com/news/Model-Kills-Himself-Leaves-Note-on-Facebook-105094.shtml, Accessed 22 March 2009.