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Attacking Donald Trump, Kanye West and Logan Paul could look like shooting three ambulances at once. And that assumption would be accurate, but it is far from being the aim of this article. Think of them as three standards blowing in the wind in order to catch as many eyes as possible. Three heads on a stick used to draw people’s attention to an issue that pervades our society: the strange case of Herostratus.
So what could possibly link these three men and an Ancient Greece anti-hero, who has been dead for ages? Their acts, and your reactions. That’s what.
The story of Herostratus
The first time I heard the story of Herostratus was in my French Literature class, in high school. Miss Gontran told us about this amazing temple erected to honour the greatness of Ancient Greek goddess Artemis. An edifice so beautiful… It was basically to die for. Literally. People died to build it. I was blown away by the pictures she showed us, which is probably why I remember so vividly the rest of the story. This temple was admired by all, even became one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but in 356 BC, someone decided to burn its wooden structures, making it collapse almost instantly.
Obviously a tale like this sounds like minor news compared to other historical events that happened at the time, but what makes it stand out is the motive of the arsonist, a man called Herostratus. Under torture, he admitted to the authorities that he had burnt down this architectural gem for only one reason: Making sure that people would remember his name. He was caught and sentenced to death, and it became forbidden to mention his name under death penalty, a sentence also known as Damnatio memoriae which was invented just for him. Seriously. They invented it just for him. I was horrified, but not by the violence of the story. I’ve seen Tarantino movies. No, what terrified me was realizing that the mere fact that my teacher knew about him proved Herostratus’ success.
But that was nothing compared to my reaction when I noticed how common and modern this narrative actually was. Ever heard about reality TV? Well that’s it, in a nutshell. People take part in these shows despite being warned that they are going to be used to make money and probably lose their sanity… But they still sign up because reality TV does fulfill the one condition that matters to them: It makes them famous. They basically do bad stuff to get famous. That’s called Herostratic Fame.
A Herostratus World
In the world we live in, where anybody can become a superstar in a matter of seconds, be seen by million, but also liked or disliked, it only seems normal that cases like these would prosper. It also seems to me that everybody agrees on saying that it’s inherently bad. Whether ranting about Logan Paul’s Suicide Forest video, protesting against Kanye’s allegations that slavery was a choice… Or simply criticizing the fact that a U.S. President would spend most of his day tweeting to his fans, it appears that people don’t like this sort of behaviour. I feel like now would be a great moment to clarify that no judgement here is made on any of our three examples. I’m aware that some of you might like them and discuss how “bad” their behaviours were as well as the intent behind them. Maybe they didn’t do it for fame?
Well. I do think that getting people’s attention is very important in the eyes of the three of them, but I’m not a psychologist. However, I will admit that they are very different cases, with different levels of gravity. For example, I think that Kanye West is partly a victim of the world he lives in, constantly filmed. He’s an entertainer 99% of the time and a human being during the rest of the day. But let’s just leave the examples aside, now that you got the idea. Let’s focus on the concept, which is undisputably bad and needs to be solved. Our era’s Herostratus epidemic seems far worse than the one of Ancient Greece, but let’s boast a little and pretend that we have evolved as a species , and are much smarter now. Cause why not.
The Greeks identified the source of the problem for us: it’s the fact that when learning about these wrongdoings, people feel the need to share them, thus risking to spread the infection. We must therefore intervene right between the moment the event occurs and the moment someone repeats it. If the authorities at the time did not manage to just stop the information from being shared in the first place – so that our potential gossip would not even hear about it – it would be foolish to hope that we could succeed in the age of smartphones. With that being said, killing the perp and everybody who would talk about him didn’t work either. So what is there left?
But How Can We Solve That?
Well I believe that to solve this problem, we must understand why people share these bad/sad stories, whether it’s the neighbour’s cat that disappeared a week ago, or a freak who burnt the goddess’ temple. These stories are different, but they are both entertaining. That is the key of our lives nowadays. Stories. Entertainment. People want to be amused, distracted, no matter what the story is. Humans love that. We’ll take a sad drama over no story at all without hesitating… Poor cat though.
That is why Herostratus’ name survived. When the Greeks decided that nobody should tell the story, they provided no substitute. They simply held a gun to every law-abiding citizens’ temples and shouted:
Μη μιλάτε γι ‘αυτό !
I am told by my linguistics consultant Dr. Google Translation that this means:
Don’t talk about this !
Which is a very scary method that might throw off a few for a while, but in the long run, it objectively makes the story SO much cooler. I personally would not resist! In fact, you can tell me that David Guetta is an alien and I won’t care. But if you add that the government doesn’t want me to say it, then I might… Okay maybe not, but you get the idea: prohibiting a story is not the solution, which is why I suggest replacing it. Not disguising the truth, or saying it didn’t happen at all, but bringing up another narrative too, a positive one, so that gossips have to choose which story to tell. Gary Vaynerchuck would probably use his sloggan “Make Positivity Louder” here, and I’d totally back that up. I once heard a French saying that translates into:
A tree that falls is louder than a forest that grows
I agree with that one too. By nature, negativity shocks more than positivity, which helps it spread through stories. That is a simple truth that Herostratus made use of, inspiring so many. To solve it, to get rid of these attention-seeking celebrities, we simply have to turn the tables: talk more about positivity than negativity.
These days, getting attention is almost easier when you do something wrong. People mock more than they praise. They insult more than they support. Yesterday I saw an article about Netflix’ show Insatiable that said it was the worst show ever. I have not seen it, but there were a few articles like that. I didn’t read them so please allow me to skip on whether it’s true or not. But this morning, I read a tweet stating that this show might be the one getting the most audience on Netflix over the summer because of this controversy. I did not fact-check that but it’s on the internet so it must be true… And even if it’s not, it shows how crazy is the world we live in.
People tell you about how bad a show is, write articles, tweets, Facebook posts basically screaming it to your face and complain the minute later that you watched it. Yes, I’m curious. Yes, I make my own opinion. Yes, I’m gonna watch it now. I probably wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for these news. So who’s to blame? Someone who failed and did something wrong? Or you, making sure that the whole world hears about it?
The point is: there’s no such thing as “bad-buzz”, it’s just buzz. And I wonder who gets a buzz out of it. But if you don’t want something bad to get attention, the best thing you can do is leaving it aside, talking about that art exhibition you enjoyed instead. We all decide who we talk about, who gets our attention. By deciding to tell you the story of Herostratus, I’ve definitely made my choice. I will talk about this one. But only this one, and only in order to show others the problem we are facing now, and how to solve it.
If you reached the end of this article, you know this secret too. So, like me, please tell this ugly story to everybody you know, but let it be the last negative tale you ever share.