|Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy|
by Andy Nowicki
There is a very odd scene in the celebrated Rogers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma, in which the play's hero, the jolly, upbeat Curly, attempts to talk his antagonist, the surly, sullen Jud, into committing suicide.
Jud is a creep, to be sure: a menacing stalker, who is later revealed to be a murderer. Still, the song's humor – and it is funny – brings great discomfort when the viewer considers the inherent cruelty of the circumstance. It is even a little heartbreaking how Jud comes around so readily to Curly's point of view on how his death would really be the happiest outcome for everyone, including himself:
Curly is clearly playing dirty here, and not just because the act of attempting to manipulate another man into ending his life is rather unseemly and appalling in itself. Curly is additionally culpable because he is a much more astute and mentally nimble man than Jud, so his effort to woo the other man into self-slaughter has something of the character of a grown man corrupting a child. (To head a certain type of ubiquitously anti-intellectual reader off at the pass; yes, I know it's "just a play," but my point is that it's a darker scene – and given the scene's significance in the story, a more disturbing play – than is commonly acknowledged.)
I cannot help but be reminded of the macabre comic exchange between crafty Curly and deadheaded Jud when I consider the tragic case of Conrad Roy, a sweet but dull-witted lad from Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, who was apparently talked into offing himself by his malevolently sadistic, Iago-esque online girlfriend Michelle Carter last summer.
Of course, when 18-year old Roy took himself out by ingesting a lethal amount of carbon monoxide in his pickup truck on July 12, 2014, Miss Carter first publicly behaved in what seemed an appropriate manner befitting a deeply bereaved girlfriend. The pleasant-countenanced, pixie-faced teen took to social media (but of course) to mourn the passing of "a beautiful soul gone too soon." Later she tweeted, "I'll always remember your bright light and smile. You'll forever be in my heart. I love you Conrad." She even organized a suicide prevention fundraiser in the name of her fallen virtual beau, cementing her seeming "cred" as a grieving loved one of the departed.
Yet when police investigated the boy's death, they came across his cellphone, and soon discovered the cache of texts that he had exchanged with Michelle in the days and hours leading up to his suicide. These text threads revealed, shockingly enough, that Carter had repeatedly insisted that Conrad get over his fearful reluctance and kill himself already. In fact, she had nagged him relentlessly about it, until he finally capitulated and – in the grand tradition of henpecked boyfriends – gave her exactly what she wanted.
In one representative sample (see the entire recorded exchange here), Michelle advises Conrad to obey the Nike and Shia Labeouf-endorsed injunction to "just do it":
CARTER: You can't think about it. You just have to do it. You said you were gonna do it. Like I don't get why you aren't.
CONRAD: I don't get it either. I don't know.
CARTER: So I guess you aren't gonna do it then. All that for nothing. I'm just confused. Like you were so ready and determined.
CONRAD: I am gonna eventually. I really don't know what I'm waiting for but I have everything lined up.
CARTER: No, you're not, Conrad. Last night was it. You kept pushing it off and you say you'll do it, but you never do. It's always gonna be that way if you don't take action. You're just making it harder on yourself by pushing it off. You just have to do it. Do you want to do it now?
CONRAD: Is it too late? I don't know. It's already light outside. I'm gonna go back too sleep. Love you. I'll text you tomorrow.
CARTER: No. It's probably the best time now because everyone is sleeping. Just go somewhere in your truck and no one is really out there right now because it's an awkward time. If you don't do it now you're never gonna do it, and you can say you'll do it tomorrow, but you probably won't. Tonight? Love you.
Later, Michelle admonishes Conrad that he needs to stop "overthinking." Like a certain eternally conflicted Danish prince, this hapless lad must simply learn to stop dithering and take proper action:
CARTER: Okay. So you gonna do it?
CONRAD: I guess.
CARTER: Well, I want you to be ready and sure. What does that mean?
CONRAD: I don't know. I'm freaking out again. I'm over thinking.
CARTER: I thought you wanted to do this. This time is right and you're ready. You just need to do it. You can't keep living this way. You just need to do it like you did the last time and not think about it and just do it, babe. You can't keep doing this every day.
CONRAD: I do want to but I'm like freaking for my family I guess. I don't know.
CARTER: Conrad, I told you I'll take care of them. Everyone will take care of them to make sure they won't be alone and people will help them get through it. We talked about this and they will be okay and accept it. People who commit suicide don't think this much. They just could do it.
CONRAD: I know. I know. LOL. Thinking just drives me more crazy.
According to court documents, Carter even instructed Conrad to get back in his truck and finish the job when it seemed he was tempted to chicken out at the decisive moment. Later, she confessed as much in a text to a friend: "I was the one on the phone with him (Carter wrote) and he got out of the car because... he got scared and I fucken told him to get back in because I knew he would do it all over again the next day and I couldn't have him living the way he was living anymore. I couldn't do it. I wouldn't let him."
That Michelle Carter mentally manipulated Conrad Roy into killing himself is a proposition beyond dispute; it is, in fact, supported by all of the available evidence. But though authorities have duly charged Carter with involuntary manslaughter, it isn't clear that she broke the law in any way. In fact, it seems unlikely that she will serve any significant jail time.
Still, her wretched and unconscionable behavior has infuriated people beyond measure. They are enraged, it would seem on a patently primal level, "triggered" by the fact that this seemingly innocent, well-meaning, cheerful smiley-faced girl in fact proved to be a spectacularly squalid specimen of pathologically narcissistic duplicity.
But their response isn't just about sociopathy-shaming. In fact, the widely-shared anger has deeper, patently premodern roots. Though feminism and unisex gender-neutrality are now officially-sanctioned mainstream ideologies, it has proven more difficult to rewire the built-in human tendency to expect nurturance from females, and to see the absence of such a proclivity as a uniquely horrifying, even monstrous betrayal of nature. Particularly galling, it seems, are women who appear to be sweetly sympathetic "earth mother" types, but in fact prove to be bloodthirsty Kali-like demonesses in disguise. (Take a look at the message board at the end of this article to get a good indication of the rage occasioned by the Carter-Roy case, and ask yourself if the extent of the collectively expressed disgust doesn't stem from a shared gut-level conviction of gross, viscerally inhuman perfidy, akin to how we feel when we run across egregious cases of cannibalism, incest, and the like.)
As with Shakespeare's consummate villain Iago, Michelle Carter's motive for her depredations remains murky. One can reasonably speculate, however, that she simply got off on the thrill of causing the destruction of another person, and afterwards reveled in the attention of being widely seen as a grief-stricken "widow" of a poor lost soul. Nor, in her thirst for "drama," is she particularly unique among her sex, though admittedly she took things to an unusual extreme to achieve the narcotic-like buzz that accompanies the attainment of acclaim. Yet from whence does this propensity arise, and what more can be said about it? I will say more on these matters shortly.
(to be continued)
Andy Nowicki, assistant editor of Alternative Right, is the author of eight books, including Under the Nihil, The Columbine Pilgrim, Considering Suicide, and Beauty and the Least. He occasionally updates his blog when the spirit moves him to do so. Visit his Soundcloud page.