'Miami zombie' Rudy Eugene face-chewing attack video spawns dark humor, jokes on social media

The disturbing jokes emerged more quickly than the details of the face-eating assault.

The attacker, Rudy Eugene, was quickly dubbed the Miami Zombie and the Twitter handle @TheMiamiZombie was created within hours of last weekend's MacArthur Causeway attack that left a homeless man without a face.

Users of social media jokingly warned about an imminent zombie attack. Morning radio show hosts played the opening theme of "The Walking Dead," the popular zombie gore show.

Making fun of horrific events has always been a human defense mechanism, experts say. But while there is usually a brief mourning period between a horrific event and the ensuing humor, the advance of Internet social media has all but eliminated that time for respect.

"One of the missions in comedy is to find a line and deliberately cross it," said Will Watkins, who teaches a comedian course at the Fort Lauderdale Improv. "A man having a face eaten? That's the line right there. With outlets like Twitter, that line is crossed immediately."

Eugene, 31, was shot and killed by a Miami police officer who tried to get him to stop chewing on the bloodied flesh of Ronald Poppo, 65, on the MacArthur Causeway on Saturday afternoon.

The grisly attack made international headlines, with graphic photographs of the victim lying beside his nude, dead attacker circulating on social media websites. Other photos — some clearly fake and others altered — ripped across the Internet with silly captions making fun of the incident.

Facebook, the photo sharing site Instagram, and Twitter — whose users "tweet" short messages to their followers — fueled the circulation of dark humor.

At least two phony Facebook accounts with the name of Rudy Eugene were still active Thursday.

As of Thursday, the Twitter account @TheMiamiZombie had more than 800 followers. A competitor, @MiamiZombie, had more than 260 followers.

Twitter users, who label topics with phrases called hashtags, pushed the hashtags #MiamiZombie and #ZombieApocalypse, making those phrases the top trending topics on Twitter.

Mentions of the word "zombie" on Twitter went from an average 15,000 tweets a day to more than 80,000 mentions Wednesday.

The top link associated with zombie-related tweets originated from Gawker.com, a prominent news and gossip website, with the headline: "Grab Your Broomstick: The Zombie Apocalypse May Actually Be Upon Us."

The Gawker story has been read more than 313,000 times since it was posted Tuesday. It has more than 184,000 likes on Facebook.

Bill Dorfman, a psychology professor at Nova Southeastern University, said a main reason for the quick humor is that the case is dramatically different from other heinous crimes.

"It's because it's so bizarre and so clearly distant from most human experiences except when it comes to movies and science fiction," he said. "With something this horrific, you have to find a way to cope and distance yourself from it. Thus, the zombies."

Eugenio Rothe, a professor at Florida International University, added that social media is merely a new vehicle to release the anxiety that comes with dealing with a terrifying event. Social media's sense of anonymity further fuels the black humor.

"You can be more anonymous and not have to compromise yourself," he said. "The anonymity lets a person become even more outrageous."

While social media is helping society make light of a horrific attack, Joyce Curtis, who runs the Jubilee Center, a soup kitchen in Hollywood, said she believes people are quick to make jokes because Poppo was homeless.

"We tend to categorize the homeless as 'others.' They are not one of us. This is how we are able to go to war," Curtis said. "By dehumanizing the person, we feel better laughing at it. What is lost here is that there is a victim right now who will never be OK even if he recovers, And that's not very funny."


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