Flash Fiction It’s Friday.

Bystander Apathy

Too many people saw her and that is why she was killed.

It was rare for him nowadays, to find someone who did not already know who he was. He had long lost the control of being able to navigate his notoriety, still less to censor which parts of his past were known about, which version of himself people had settled upon and the judgments that were made. He was the guy from the TV, the guy with the hair, the recovered addict, the junkie, the loudmouth, the great pretender, the twat, the pin-up, cleverer than anyone thought, stupider than anyone supposed. Some versions made him shudder but he had learned to let that go. He knew some of it was his own fault, he had to live with the personas he’d pushed into fame ahead of himself.

He wondered if any new thing that he did would ever cancel out any old thing he’d done?What if he were to suddenly say something profound now?

The critical mass of being seen. He’d had his best times when he was known on the scene in London. Making a name for himself, a character amongst all the other characters. Promoters (the gates of grace) who will give you a good spot in the line-up of they like you enough. The old jadeds, still frequenting the clubs, offering gnomic, scarred wisdom to the young ones. Older barmaids who rolled their eyes at his winks and cheek but loved even the pretense of being romanced. And the others working the circuit: ones from the north, ones from the south, ones with working class chips, ones with the wiry fury of young activism, ones with the insouciance of youth, or dope.

They would watch one another’s sets and make quick, knowing judgments– he is dated, he is reinventing, she is trying too hard to be like her, he has his pacing all wrong. He got bored easily and was drawn to harsher acts – the cutting edge where people either soared or sank. Some of these acts were not popular with the crowds who wanted lazy and easy stag night laughs. Some shots were cheap, others were carefully and calculatingly placed in feats of unsung bravery. Peer approval meant the most to all of them. They were all fluent in the language of comedy and watched one another with technical fascination. After a while, you could watch an act and see all the mechanisms at play, dismantle it within seconds. You knew when someone was stealing a style, you learned where the line between derivation and inspiration lay, you knew when someone was doing something clever and you knew when someone was betraying themselves.

At some undefined point, on the way up the career ladder, it changes. You’re making it, everyone knows it. It is both over-acknowledged and under-acknowledged, either way it is ineluctably between you and everyone you know. You go from being known by a few to glanced at by the masses. Critical mass. You’re part of their narrative now, a feature of their scenery, a passing reference point for other lives. They will decide what they will about you and don’t go bemoaning it, you asked to be famous.

Too many people. Nobody feels responsible or invested anymore. Nobody is your keeper. You might die and people would see the incident but nobody would see you. Bystander apathy–a psychological term coined after a 1964 New York murder which was witnessed by so many people that not one of them took the initiative to intervene. Too many people for anyone to see Kitty Genovese, in need of help.

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