June 7, 2009

One of my most depressing pet theories, inferred from an actual gruesome example that occurred in my town a few years ago, is that publicizing particularly graphic or unusual suicides can trigger copycats. I recently discovered (via Andrew Sullivan) that this is actually a very well-documented effect with its own Wikipedia page and guidelines for journalists to avoid triggering it.

On a lighter note, clicking through those Wikipedia links for a bit brought me to this classic Washington Post article from a few years ago. It’s a long story, but very well done and worth reading through in its entirety if you have the time. The writer convinced the world-class violinist Joshua Bell to play for an hour at a D.C. metro station, looking and acting like an ordinary street performer. They were both curious to see how the crowd would respond.

As is noted in the article, context is important for art, and the social norms guiding the relationship between street performers and passers-by are very complicated. Thus I really wouldn’t recommend drawing any broader conclusions about people at all from this story. It’s just a fun read.