Death Note witch trials

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There's a popular anime series called Death Note whose plot revolves around a magical notebook (the "Death Note" of the title).  Humans whose names are written in the Death Note, die.  The book falls into the hands of a high-school student who uses it to go on a killing spree - starting with criminals he thinks the world will be better off without, but quickly moving on to killing the police too in order to protect himself from discovery.  This series is currently being shown on US television in translation, and it's already been very popular in the original Japanese, and as happens with popular anime series, there've been licensed products based on it.  Including notebooks styled to look like the Death Note.

Inevitably, a certain number of US schoolchildren are buying these notebooks and writing names in them.  And, probably also inevitably, this has upset school authorities and there've been occasional news stories about it.  The most recent one (late February 2008) is of a student in South Carolina removed from school (I think that means suspended, but the news report says "removed") for possession of such a notebook.  See also the Anime News Network item on it.  I don't have other links ready to hand but am pretty sure this isn't the first similar story I've seen.

Now, if you had just a regular notebook and you wrote a list of names in it, that wouldn't raise any eyebrows at school.  Even if you wrote "I hate these people and wish they would die:" above the list, I doubt it would provoke a response quite as severe, though what with the current War On Teenagers it's still probably possible to get suspended just for that in some parts of the USA, too.  What I'm interested in is that the book looked like the Death Note in the TV show...  so that writing a name in there isn't just like writing in your diary that you wish someone would die, it's actually on some level casting a spell (or appearing to do so) to cause the death.  This situation looks like someone trying (seriously or not) to kill someone else by witchcraft, and being punished for that.

So, isn't this situation pretty much exactly the same thing as a witch trial?

Also worth noting is the conclusion of that SC Now article I linked:  parents should "talk with their children about what he or she watches on television and the Internet." Not, y'know, talk to kids about the difference between fantasy and reality, or about whether it's okay to kill people.  Television has to be the real threat.  And the Internet, even though it's completely irrelevant.

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Comments

Backgammon from 80.179.197.154 at Wed, 05 Mar 2008 11:56:21 +0000:
Can i catch "Death Note" on TV outside of America?

Matthew Skala from 216.75.183.126 at Wed, 05 Mar 2008 13:19:27 +0000:
According to Wikipedia, it is running or has run on television in South Korea, the USA, Canada, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, and Poland. (Ordering of names theirs.) Of course there was also the original Japanese television run as well. You'd have to check your local television listings, though; I don't have specific details.

Cernael san from 82.209.147.48 at Wed, 05 Mar 2008 17:16:19 +0000:
I may be way off the mark here, but I get the impression that the school officials aren't really aware of the plot of the anime, but rather treating it like a "these are people I'd like to kill"-type list. The "inspired by anime" part looks like how Columbine was set forth thanks to Marilyn Manson.

Seth Schoen from 68.120.144.115 at Fri, 07 Mar 2008 23:13:27 +0000:
This reminded me that David Friedman wrote an article several years ago about whether the law should punish people for attempting to commit crimes in ways which the legal system or prevailing culture does not believe could possibly have worked:

http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Impossibility_attempt/Impossibility_attempt.html

Apparently this is a response to the article

Deterrence and the Punishment of Attempts
Steven Shavell
The Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Jun., 1990), pp. 435-466

which is only available on-line for $14 (boo). Shavell, according to Friedman, argues that there is no need to try to deter people from committing crimes in ways that could not have worked. Apparently he gives the example of trying to murder someone with a voodoo doll, which he considers impossible.

If we imagine people who think that the Death Note notebooks could actually kill (by casting a spell which could be efficacious) joining the debate on the side of the police -- or that evidence comes forward that some of the students explicitly believed that they were casting spells which could be efficacious -- then this does seem to raise a number of complicated questions. (I agree with Cernael san that it's much more likely that the police want to interpret what's happening as threats rather than as spell-casting, though!)

Matthew Skala from 216.75.183.126 at Fri, 07 Mar 2008 23:49:00 +0000:
Worth noting is that it's not the police we're talking about here, it's the school authorities - who tend to be much less cautious about deep legal-philosophy questions than the actual police.

desunoto123 from 68.146.134.146 at Sat, 12 Apr 2008 04:32:53 +0000:
These people have corrupted what the Deathnote anime is about. It is supposed to be about a highly intellectual battle between a detective and a teenager with a vision of the world that he goes on about in a wrong way. It is made more interesting and special with the introduction of a deathnote and Shingami. It is not supposed to be about "witchcraft"(which I think is the wrong word for this), but an example of higher level thinking. I know there have been many students in trouble because of the Death Note anime, and I should know since I am one of them. With people who make assumptions about the Death Note just by seeing the notebook, without knowing about cosplay, or even looking into the series. Things like these are common in human nature, but it is something that should be changed and is noted by the Death Note series. Many people have been trying to change the world, and this is just one example of a person taking advantage of the chance to do this. Ghandi tried to spread peace to everybodies souls. Joan of Arc fought and died for what she believed. Jesus went against a way of life and died for his people. Kira tried to create a world with only good hearted people, fought the world's countries, went against how the people of the world were driving the world to destruction, and eventually died to create this world. If people want and know that the world has to be changed, then why to they go against their own thinking at a higher level? Being a victim of a corrupted system I know how these other people are feeling. I must say that I am offended about how people treat owners of the Death Notes. I want people to post on here to agree or disagree with what I have said. I don't care what you post, but just post. Honesty is another part justice.

Captain Smokeblower from 24.8.121.51 at Thu, 17 Apr 2008 03:32:02 +0000:
The problem of being afraid of something not understood is not 'local' to the Death Note series, but wide spread.
I live in the Denver, Colorado USA area (When it happened I lived four miles from Columbine HS and my son was attending the high school Columbine students went to for the remainder of that year. That's when I began realizing fear reigned in many people's lives.) and recently a local school principal was suspended for not reporting a minor sexual harassment incident directly to the police, but rather handling the incident in accordance with one interpretation of school district policy. The victim's parents were not satisfied with the principal's handling and reported the incident to police as a crime. This triggered the principal's suspension, which she's fighting. Immediately teachers and school administrators began reporting every little incident to the police to avoid being suspended. The police became overwhelmed with these reports so went to the school district officials to recommend educating the educators on which incidents should be handled by police and which by school officials. The school district set up a meeting with educators and in two experts, intending to have the experts clarify school district policy to the educators, but the two experts disagreed on their interpretations. According to some teachers one expert would give direction for a particular type of incident and then the other would contradict that direction.
I may be labeled a fear-monger, but I'm afraid we have succumbed to fear itself. What I see is the irrational flight or fight response to boogie men under the bed. As a religious person I'm most sorry to say I see fear propagated by Church leaders who may have forgotten, "True love casts out fear."

Tsugmi Ohba from 196.201.207.17 at Wed, 22 Jul 2009 17:10:19 +0000:
listen all my fans and others that go against death note. My intension of when creating death note was to make the best phycological and intulectule battle while making it a manga. Seeing people taking a liking to Deat Note and L, light and others makes me happy but to take it as far as to write peoples names in a fake not book is kind of well ... creepy and wierd. but there are 2 parts to this story as there always is, the police i think should tell people it is wrong by news and leave it. not to arrest or suspend, but do that. because nothing would happen if an extra freaky otaku uses a fake note book, actully just by letting them do that the truth would be more clear because as i said nothing would happen.
thanks for taking a liking to death note but dont get obsessive about it and kreepy. bye

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