Today a virtual relationship became horribly real.
When Mark David Chapman shot almost a half-dozen bullets into John Lennon’s back on this day in 1980, it was the culmination of a relationship he’d had with the former Beatle since he was a kid. Chapman had been a fan when he was growing up in Georgia and, in 1966, was reportedly angered when Lennon had quipped in response to a reporter’s question that the band was “more popular than Jesus.” He also felt that Lennon’s declarations about peace and needing no possessions later on in his career made him phony because he was rich.
Chapman and Lennon had never met or spoken, other than a passing encounter a few hours before the shooting when the murderer posed as an earnest fan and got Lennon’s autograph as he left his apartment in the Dakota. The qualities or shortcomings for which Chapman held Lennon accountable were unknown to the rock star; instead, the assassin had built for himself an incomprehensible storyline that made them both into characters in the novel Catcher in the Rye (even though I don’t think the story’s protagonist ever shot anyone). He also claimed to hear voices from “Little People” who sensibly begged him not to kill Lennon. They addressed him as “Mr. President.” Chapman refused to plead guilty by reason of insanity, and is still in prison.
People were inventing deeply compelling virtual relationships with one another, or with themselves, long before the technology existed to help them do it.