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Posted at 08:54 PM ET, 05/29/2012

The horrible Miami face eater and the price of fame

“Until Saturday, he was a nobody. Now, he’s famous. All it took was a crazed cannibal attacker who had called the streets of Miami home.”

— CBS News, Miami

That’s all, huh?

As understatements go, this is a doozy.

I don’t know if you’ve read the awful story of the crazed, drug-addled attacker who was eating a man’s face on the side of a Miami highway, but if you haven’t, you are better off.

On Saturday afternoon, a cop shot the man to stop him from eating another man’s face.

Some people even think this is a cover-up of the inevitable zombie apocalypse (it is 2012, after all) so, er, stock up on canned food and rifles and the works.

A solid carapace of gallows humor formed around this story almost as soon as it surfaced. “At this point Miami police are just hoping to save face,” quipped Rachel Lichtman on Twitter.

It was unbelievable. It was so shocking that you couldn’t let yourself see that there were real people inside. If you did, you would never want to sleep or smile or look in the mirror again.

The story combines all the elements that make something memorably unwatchable. It is horrible and violent and there are drugs (bath salts? super-potent LSD?) and question after question.

First, “What?” Then, “Wait, what?” Then, “How? Why?”

What brought this on? What happened? How can we prevent this from ever happening to anyone again?

This is why this sentence, as the kicker to a story about the homeless 65-year-old victim of the brutal and disgusting assault, is so bizarre.

All it takes to catapult you to fame is to have a cannibal devour your face on the side of a Miami causeway.

Gee, you know what, I will pass! Give my fame to Snooki. I’ll just go languish in obscurity now, thank you. I happen to like this nose. I’m attached to it, in fact.

The demands of fame have always been onerous. New faces. New names. New companions. Strange bedfellows. But up to a certain point, everyone thinks, “Well, I could probably handle that.” Sure, in return for the loss of privacy, loss of friends, loss of actual human connection, celebrity can be a pretty thin pottage. But we still crave it.

Up to a point.

“Celebrity,” John Updike wrote, “is a mask that eats into the face.”

But I never thought of it in quite these terms.

What a strange carnival lens to glimpse this story through!

This man was living under a bridge and had no known relatives, and still no one has come out of the woodwork to claim him. But, hey, he’s no longer a nameless, faceless nonentity! Just one out of three!

What does CBS Miami’s other stories read like?

“He lost 200 pounds in just six minutes! And all it took was severing his head from his body!”

“First he was no one. Now he’s a household name: Charles Manson.”

In the sentence before its peculiarly surreal kicker, the article notes: “After 65 years on this earth and barely surviving on the street; Poppo is now the victim of a bizarre cannibal who has left him disfigured with deadly injuries and he seems to be alone in the world.”

Alone, but stared at.

By  |  08:54 PM ET, 05/29/2012

 
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