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A Suicide Goes Viral On the Internet 566

Posted by Soulskill
from the modicum-of-decency dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Will Oremus reports that Fox News showed a grisly spectacle Friday afternoon during a live car chase when the suspect got out of his car, stumbled down a hillside, pulled a gun, and shot himself in the head. As the scene unfolded, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith grew increasingly apprehensive, then yelled 'get off it, get off it!,' belatedly urging the show's producers to stop the live feed as it became obvious the man was going to do something rash. Fox News cut awkwardly to a commercial just after showing his death and after Fox aired the on-air suicide, Smith apologized to viewers, saying, 'We really messed up.' However BuzzFeed immediately posted the footage on YouTube, where it garnered more than 1,000 'likes' in under an hour, sparking immediate blowback. 'Who's worse? @FoxNews for airing the suicide, or @BuzzFeed for re-posting the video just in case you missed it the first time?' posted the Columbia Journalism Review. Gawker's Hamilton Nolan called his site's decision to post the video 'ethical,' because 'it is news' but research suggests that graphic depictions of suicide in the media can spur copycat suicides, especially among young people, and the World Health Organization's guidelines warn against sensationalizing it. Virtually everyone who has studied it agrees that, at a minimum, suicides should be covered with a modicum of sensitivity and context (PDF). 'Of course it's news that Fox News accidentally aired the video. And you can make a good case that Fox was inviting this type of debacle with its habit of airing live car-chase feeds. But Fox couldn't have known that it was about to air a suicide. BuzzFeed, by contrast, knew exactly what it was doing,' writes Oremus. 'That might be good business for BuzzFeed, but it's hard to see the benefit for anyone else.'"
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A Suicide Goes Viral On the Internet

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2012 @01:41PM (#41499899)

    Before anyone starts jumping on Fox News for whatever axe they have to grind with them, please substitute Fox News with "CNN" or "MSNBC" and ask yourself if your vitriol would be just the same.

    • by LehiNephi (695428) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @01:45PM (#41499965) Journal
      Good point. It also sounds like at least some of the folks at Fox were trying to prevent the footage from going live, and they apologized immediately afterward. Buzzfeed, on the other hand, deliberately posted the footage with full knowledge of its contents.

      I think Fox has the moral (relative) high ground here.
      • by bondsbw (888959) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @01:54PM (#41500065)

        My understanding is that they attempted to put it on a 5 second delay, but the delay didn't kick in. So it was live, and by the time they knew to cut it, it was too late.

        • by Plumpaquatsch (2701653) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @02:02PM (#41500143) Journal

          My understanding is that they attempted to put it on a 5 second delay, but the delay didn't kick in. So it was live, and by the time they knew to cut it, it was too late.

          The questions remains: why did they air that chase anyway? Because its journalism? Or because its sensationalism? Did they show it because they thought the guy would just stop the car and surrender, or because they hoped for some nice crashes (where you could pretend that nobody died) that they should over and over again, spinning it off into some Fox reality show? Sure, other channels would (or actually) have done the same - but its still not really news.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2012 @02:12PM (#41500223)

            Of course they aired it because it was exciting, and statistically, suicides are rare.

            On April 30, 1998, I decided to ditch the latter half of the school day with my girlfriend. On the news was the long, drawn-out suicide of Daniel Victor Jones [liveleak.com] [ WARNING: GRAPHIC! ] who was an AIDS patient protesting, on the Los Angeles' 710 freeway, teh lack of care he received through an HMO. The part that the video does not show is that he gets in his truck with his dog before he sets the truck on fire, then runs out of the flaming truck shutting the door behind him so that his dog dies in the inferno.

            Then, he gets his shotgun and blows his head off. All of this was televised LIVE on the news, which caused the news networks to actually put counselors on the air after the incident, it was a huge shitstorm.

            As for me, I felt sick to my stomach for the rest of the day. My girlfriend said, "well, that fucker deserved it. Let's go get some KFC. " I told her, "you want to eat right after watching a grizzly live suicide?!" She said, "Yeah, why not? He deserved it, burning his dog like that. Let's go to KFC."

            -- Ethanol-fueled

            • by djlowe (41723) * on Saturday September 29, 2012 @02:34PM (#41500421)

              She said, "Yeah, why not? He deserved it, burning his dog like that."

              I agree with your girlfriend and would like to subscribe to her newsletter.

            • by ifiwereasculptor (1870574) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @02:38PM (#41500449)

              Of course they aired it because it was exciting, and statistically, suicides are rare.

              Sure, but why was it exciting? Only because there were lives at stake. No matter how you frame it, that's why people tune in. That's also why you have so many medical and police shows on TV but so few accounting shows - people are more interested when lives are at stake, even in fiction. So you can't just say "oh, but it rarely happens" when this sort of possible outcome (death) is precisely why the guy was being filmed in the first place. Otherwise you might as well follow some random lawful driver with a camera and narrate his actions ("seems like he's now stopping at a drug store... what is he buying? Is that anal lube? Do we have a confirmation that it's anal lube? Oh, ok, it's just toothpaste. Right. Back to him, he's about to leave the drug store and I don't want to miss the moment he brushes his teeth, when we'll find out if he flosses or not.)"

              I'm not even against showing that sort of thing on TV. It's happening in a public space and people want to watch it, so let them. But this meaningless dance of "oh, we're sorry, we didn't really mean to show you what happened" is borderline unbelievable for a "news" channel that have been showing (and speculating on) every detail of the chase up until that point.

          • by PReDiToR (687141)
            Sure. Let's air car chases that cause death, mayhem, destruction of property and recklessness by criminals; glamourising their Darwin-award-worthy lifestyles, but no way on this green earth can we show sex or nudity because children might be watching.
            Natural and essential procreation that done wrongly can lead to STDs and AIDS (most agree), we're leaving to kids in the playground to speculate over. How to get away from the cops and spend years in a jail where you might get raped and/or murdered (if you sur
          • by Gordonjcp (186804)

            I was going to post a longer comment about sensationalism and reality, but then I remembered this:
            http://everything2.com/title/The+Projectionist%2527s+Nightmare [everything2.com]

          • by manaway (53637)

            Sure, other channels would (or actually) have done the same - but its still not really news.

            TV news hasn't been the dictionary definition of news for decades. When news stations aren't various flavors of the same propaganda popsicle, they are car chases, sports, and celebrity updates. The circus part of bread and circuses [wikipedia.org].

        • by LordLimecat (1103839) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @02:02PM (#41500149)

          My understanding from the apology was that there WAS a 5 second delay, and the guy in charge of The Button didnt press it in the 5 second time.

          • by Auroch (1403671)

            My understanding from the apology was that there WAS a 5 second delay, and the guy in charge of The Button didnt press it in the 5 second time.

            That's a nice job to have. How bad at your job do you need to be to mess it up?

            • by khallow (566160) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @10:08PM (#41503223)
              You have to remember that the person may have been too shocked to push the button.

              For example, a NASA project launched by balloon [csmonitor.com] damaged a bunch of property and endangered members of the public. This could have been avoided by the guy who was supposed to trip the failsafe release for the balloon. But he didn't do so even though it pulled a crane through a fence and an SUV. Story is that he was paralyzed by horror through the accident and just failed to act.
      • by joocemann (1273720) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @03:45PM (#41500993)

        I think that Fox, just like most of our mainstream media, are so fixated on the inflammatory and absurd instead of the productive and positive, that it is nearly impossible to avoid these kinds of scenarios.

        You take a media system primarily driven by shock/awe/horror/fear (obviously the scared viewers hang around for commercials), and combine that with high profitability, and what do you expect? A perfectly censored viewing of something horrible?

        We know there are pedophiles out there. We know there are horrible tragedies out there. We know that somewhere, someone at a workplace, did something unethical. And yet the news persists to demonstrate these rare (compared to the whole population) events and fixate on them. Eventually, what were small tragedies with few people inflamed/affected, become big talked-up national debates with wide scale fears and social responses.

        Ironically, good things are happening far more frequently, but even big-scale good things (like scientific progression, community efforts, etc) are ignored or understated.

        -------------------

        So you have a media that is basically focused, and profiting, on rubbernecking bloody car accidents (metaphorically), and then a dead body (something horrible) shows up on the live stream..... What did those highly attentive, can't-wait-to-find-out-the-next-horrible-thing, viewers expect to see? When you're the consumer, and you show these orginazations that you're going to pay the most attention when horrible things are on TV, what do you expect them to give you?

        You'd better be sure that the intense watching of the gay-meth-sex scandal of that (south carolina?) governor, was part of the juice that drives these news organizations to show more scary stuff, like live police chases, molested catholic kids, etc etc etc.... You'd better be sure damn sure, as a viewer, that when you paid so much attention to the child molesting teacher in LA this spring that you asked to see more of that....

        ------------------

        The major news organizations suck for not having an integrity beyond profit; that they will do what sells best over what is representative of real life.

        The consumers suck for actually paying so much attention, getting scared, and then paying even more attention. People should be informed enough to know how their role as a consumer influences the values and actions of other elements in life. They should, also, spend less time in worry, seeking wrongs, and more time in reflection and planning, seeking positive answers for the wrongs they acknowledge.
        -----------------

        I don't blame Fox (for this). I don't blame the site that echoed it. If you were watching the chase, you wanted to see something nasty, and got more than you may have bargained for. If you watched the echo, then you know exactly what you asked to see.

      • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@ g m a i l.com> on Saturday September 29, 2012 @04:35PM (#41501303) Journal

        Not to mention this is the classic "if they see X then they will do X" argument that has been full of shit yet used since the invention of film. I mean are you gonna ban the Deer Hunter because a few Darwin winners take themselves out the gene pool if they see it?

        Ultimately we can NOT baby-proof the world, yet for some reason you have those that try. Do I care to watch the video? Not really, but it has the right to be out there for anyone to see, as long as they know what it is. I was quite proud that nobody started calling for taking The Dark Knight Rises out of theaters just because one sick person went batshit and killed people, this is NO different. If someone is so damned close to the edge that simply seeing someone else commit suicide is enough for they to do it themselves? Then frankly ANYTHING can make them do it, because the slightest breeze wil push them over the cliff.

    • by amiga3D (567632)

      Nah, I think it unlikely for the opportunity to be passed up. They actually screwed up so it's even legit.

    • by Greyfox (87712) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @03:04PM (#41500681) Homepage Journal
      Well in the case of CNN or MSNBC, no one would likely be watching to see it in the first place!

      But seriously, how many graphic depictions of murder and death were aired on prime time that very night? If you didn't know the footage was really and that someone was actually dying, it would most likely be less grisly than the shit you see on an average night of CSI. But the violence isn't so funny anymore when it's real? Perhaps we should think about our values as a society. It seems rather hypocritical to imagine all manner of mayhem, and then turn away in horror at the sight of a little real mayhem. If you think it's terrible that you might accidentally see some guy splatter his brains on the ground on the news, imagine what your average soldier goes through in an average day in Afghanistan, and yet we're fine with demanding that of them.

    • by Shavano (2541114)

      Before anyone starts jumping on Fox News for whatever axe they have to grind with them, please substitute Fox News with "CNN" or "MSNBC" and ask yourself if your vitriol would be just the same.

      It would be a shitty thing to do no matter who did it.

  • by slasher999 (513533) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @01:45PM (#41499963)

    Wife and I were watching this live. It was shocking to say the least. I'm sad to say I've now witnessed two suicides live on television over the years. Live television is difficult since people can be so unpredictable.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by war4peace (1628283)

      No offense man, but people got so soft nowadays, especially in "civilized" countries. People from Western Europe, UK, USA, Canada et al seem to have become very sensitive to what they call "gruesome" images. But at the same time they watch Saw VII or whatever. Yeah, I know one's "the real deal" and the other is "fake stuff" but really, strictly from a visual perspective pretty much any live murder or suicide is less spectacular.
      Grow a pair and realize you just watched some troubled complete stranger do some

      • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @01:58PM (#41500101) Homepage

        strictly from a visual perspective

        Unless the viewer is a psychopath (in the clinical sense) that is never how it works.

        Grow a pair

        Grow up.

        • No, mate, the viewer might just be better in sync with how the world really is. You have no clue. Most people have no clue, and that's because their eyes are blind shut by a "world" of fake. If you live in a densely populated area (NY, LA, SanFran...), chances are that there's a murder less than 20 miles from you every single day, not to mention rapes, crippling beatings and the like.
          With the advent of digital cameras pretty much everywhere... expect the reality to hit you in the head more and more often.
          Yo

          • No, mate, the viewer might just be better in sync with how the world really is. You have no clue. Most people have no clue

            If "most people have no clue" then how can that be how "the world" really is? Surely, by definition of "most", more than 50% of "the world" isn't like that at all?

            expect the reality to hit you in the head more and more often.

            What reality? That horrible things happen? I actually knew that already. But most people's personal reality in the civilized world is going about most of their days more-or-less happily with little more to worry about than whether there's enough milk for the morning. Yeah, shitty things happen, and if you want to obsess over them (as the news chan

    • by fm6 (162816)

      So why the fuck watch live TV? Why even bother with cable news? Every time you look at it, your IQ drops a point.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      The footage is still on YouTube

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouYokSytV-A [youtube.com]

      It is terrible, does anybody know how to quickly remove it from the site? The video is flagged, but would Google be willing to remove it?
    • by amiga3D (567632)

      It is suprising that he shot himself. It's more common for them to come out and pretend they have a weapon or if they do have one, to act as if they are about to use it against the officers. Suicide by COP is the most often used method in these cases. If you subscribe to the usual /. view then his problems, whatever they are, are over. It makes one wonder why more don't choose this way out. If this life is all there is then, when it becomes unbearably fubared, oblivion is an obvious and easy way out.

      • by Nidi62 (1525137)

        If this life is all there is then, when it becomes unbearably fubared, oblivion is an obvious and easy way out.

        There's always a chance, no matter how small, that life can get better. There's zero chance that death can improve.

        • by yotto (590067)

          If this life is all there is then, when it becomes unbearably fubared, oblivion is an obvious and easy way out.

          There's always a chance, no matter how small, that life can get better. There's zero chance that death can improve.

          Yeah but what if your life sucks AND you're really really lazy?

    • by dr_dank (472072)

      Was R Budd Dwyer the other one?

    • by SpaghettiPattern (609814) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @02:34PM (#41500407)
      No offense intended. But do you watch all breaking news containing chases? It's at least the impression I get over here in the EU. Loud narrators commenting on some trivial incident. This man who put the gun to his head is quite tragic but the event as a whole is likely to be trivial compared to news items that affect more people. Not criticizing you personally, but have you been conditioned to watch this genre which is produced cheaply? Wouldn't you rather watch a program where people have gone the extra mile to produce valuable content? Without or with minimal commercial breaks? Like BBC does?

      (Disclaimer: I'm not a british citizen but I highly appreciate what the BBC does.)
    • by nebular (76369)

      I saw the video. Honestly, it's pretty tame. The camera is far away so you don't see many details, just the guy pointing something to his head, then falling down. Fact is we've all seen JFK's head blown open so something like this isn't too shocking other than the fact it was live and a suicide. I feel sorry for the guy's family more than anything, they shouldn't have to see this once, let along the number of times it will show up on the internet.

  • ... because Shepard Smith, in his apology, said they inserted a 5 second delay, which is what it's there for.

    Someone not hitting the switcher fast enough was bound to happen sooner or later, given Fox's practices.

    --
    BMO

    • In their drive for the sensational, they've stumbled upon the old, highly unethical "snuff video" genre. I wonder if their ex-commentator/madman Glen Beck would approve.

      Now its out on the Internet. I sense a new angle for net censorship coming in 3...2...1...

  • Ethical Not... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kbsoftware (1000159) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @01:47PM (#41499997)
    Gawker's Hamilton Nolan moral compass is way off, but greed has a tendency to do that. It was not ethical to repost the suicide just a cheap very sad grab to profit from it. They could of edited the video and posted a great article with class, dignity etc. but when your moral compass is pointing towards greed well there's the results. I'll stop ranting now :)
  • by future assassin (639396) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @01:49PM (#41500023) Homepage

    in a world full of war for the purpose of promoting democracy where thousands of civilians die from the fighting or aftermath? Oh yah we don't directly see it so its ok.... Out of sight out of mind.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      They don't show coffins coming home from the war any more either.
    • by Stoutlimb (143245) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @02:29PM (#41500375)

      I wish they would stop showing gruesome murder victims too. Especially that old one of that guy nailed to a piece of wood. Yuck.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      Suicide is taboo because /Sky Fairie wants live worshippers.

      "If we pretend it's not real we won't contemplate it."

      That's also why Assisted Suicide is mostly taboo no matter how much suffering it would alleviate.

    • by fafaforza (248976)

      A bit of difference, don't you think? As the summary said, it has been shown that seeing suicide can influence others, therefore that footage is withheld to protect other troubled people. Unless you do want to push people with depression or chronic pain over that last hurdle towards death.

    • Sorry, no. Yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater is generally accepted as a limitation of free speech. It's a crime, and it should be a crime. Likewise, suicides should not be shown on TV. They are much more harmful than your average TV violence. It is well-established in the psychology literature that seeing a suicide in detail can be enough to push someone who's borderline-suicidal over the edge. Do some reading. [wikipedia.org]

  • Some Middle Ground (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cluedweasel (832743) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @01:49PM (#41500025) Homepage
    Showing a suicide live on air is, in my opinion, going to far. The feed should have been cut earlier. On the other hand, the local media in my current home town has a policy of ignoring suicides completely and there have been some which would have been reasonably high profile if anyone had known. The suicide rate here is over 3 times the national average but the issue is swept under the carpet in case it takes away from our sunny, happy image and damages tourism. My concern is that it takes away awareness of the problem and leads to fewer resources for those who feel suicidal.
    • by kae77 (1006997) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @02:10PM (#41500207)
      I work with youth, and so I feel your pain on this one. In my local town last year there was nearly a dozen suicides, and none of them were broadcast or publicized in any way. That being said, the research, professionally and anecdotally, shows that if you broadcast or glorify the person who has committed suicide, there will be others. Almost do a disproportionate level. Even without the broadcasting, there were copycats or others suicides that were clearly and directly linked to prior ones. It has a lot to do with developing minds, and how some teenagers have a fragile sense of self-worth. Their social setting drastically affects the way they view the world, and if all they want is to be noticed, and they see someone who has committed suicide being glorified, or even lifted above the situation, some people take action to get the same attention. It's a tricky line to walk, and one that is very much in contention. One thing to make clear though: Just because it's not publicized doesn't mean it is swept under the rug. Counsellors, friends, communities are very much involved in those who are left in the wake of a suicide, and that effort goes unpublicized as much as the suicide itself. It is a long, hard journey for everyone involved.
    • by nick0909 (721613) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @02:49PM (#41500555)
      I agree there has to be some middle ground. Completely ignoring it and pretending it doesn't happen doesn't seem right, but we don't need to glamorize it. I used to be a photojournalist and shot pictures of a murder scene at a local college. We had a ton of pictures and the editors and I decided to run one that we considered in the middle of the road from everything I had shot. It was a wide shot of the whole scene at night with detectives and the street corner, and if you looked closely you could see a sheet covered object in the street. It was the person that had been killed, but small and off-center in the frame. Our goal was not to present a grotesque image but to show the scene as it was. A few people complained that it shocked them, and my best answer to them was I am sorry, but I am also glad you are shocked, we all should be shocked that someone was murdered on our campus. We can't just hide the fact that bad things happen, but we can take a minute to sit back and judge how we should present it. Live coverage doesn't allow that to be done.
  • Those 10 seconds delays aren't electronics lag.
  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @02:05PM (#41500179) Homepage

    The question is whether TV directly influenced the suicide. That doesn't seem to have been the case here. This was apparently a failed crook who didn't want to go to jail.

    It would be different if someone was attempting suicide to get attention, as in threatening to jump from a building, and that was covered on live TV. Then coverage would directly affect the odds of someone jumping.

  • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @02:08PM (#41500197) Homepage

    But Fox couldn't have known that it was about to air a suicide.

    Yes, they absolutely could, and did. A five-second delay was added when the guy got out of his car (why then and not before, and why it wasn't a one-minute delay, I don't know) but for reasons unknown it was, apparently, the in-studio monitors that got the delayed feed instead of the viewers.

    Want to avoid this in future? Put a one-minute delay in - at least then it will be obvious if you've mis-switched it. My impression of American news hints that this happens often enough that it wouldn't be unreasonable to have a special circuit added for this sort of thing. Then you've also got the added advantage of not struggling to narrate events as they happen - the gallery can clue you in on what's coming up, and you can even advise sensitive viewers to look away if something surprising but non-fatal happens.

    Of course, you could always try not appealing to lowest-common-denominator literal car-crash television in the first place.

    <satire>PS Imagine how much worse the outrage would be if the guy had waved his wang at the helicopter.</satire>

  • by tp1024 (2409684) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @02:11PM (#41500209)

    Ironic, isn't it?

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @02:22PM (#41500311) Homepage

    I watched the unedited footage, it wasn't that bad. In Europe they show traffic accidents in all their horror, burned bodies and all.

    I just don't get why this is such a big deal. I loath Fox News because they're the propaganda arm of the GOP, not because of something trivial like this.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @03:57PM (#41501081) Journal

      Honestly, the thing I find most distasteful about the whole episode is the sanctimonious hypocrisy of both the oh-so-apologetic talking head and the oh-so-outraged critics.

      They televise high speed police chases because televised hunting of humans for sport is illegal in most other contexts. That's just bread and butter airtime filler, not even worth mentioning; but suddenly everyone is oh-so-shocked when one such chase comes to an unpleasant end(as many do, although usually because of a crash which is rather more sanitary from the air). If the most overtly adversarial collisions of suspects and police are going to be just another flavor of live entertainment, suck it up and be honest about what you've been doing all along when something visibly messy happens. If you don't actually want that, then maybe a different flavor of 'news' would be in order...

  • They were lucky. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by arthurpaliden (939626) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @02:24PM (#41500325)
    I could have been much, much worse it could have been a woman exposing her breasts after she got out of the car. Then Fox News would be in real big trouble.
  • by Baba Ram Dass (1033456) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @02:35PM (#41500423)

    Maybe I'm just a desensitized product of the times, but I fail to see why this is a big deal. The video isn't disturbing to me. There's no blood or brain matter shown, no audio. A far cry from something like the detailed Bud Dwyer suicide that aired live sometime back in the 80s I think. I still cringe when I think about seeing it.

    Suicide is a reality. As a society we need to drop the taboo and understand suicide, genocide, war, etc. are all too real. I'd argue it is society, not me, who is really desensitized. Out of sight out of mind as a previous comment stated. The problem won't go away if you bury your head in sand. These things are shocking, sometimes disturbing, but they should be. Rather than ignoring them we should shed more light on them instead of living in a round corners, padded, molded plastic half true reality.

  • by WGFCrafty (1062506) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @03:33PM (#41500893)
    Eye on the TV
    'cause tragedy thrills me
    Whatever flavour
    It happens to be like;
    Killed by the husband
    Drowned by the ocean
    Shot by his own son
    She used the poison in his tea
    And kissed him goodbye
    That's my kind of story
    It's no fun 'til someone dies

Somebody ought to cross ball point pens with coat hangers so that the pens will multiply instead of disappear.

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