Suicide, Politics, and Culture

Acts such as the self-immolation of Thích Quảng Đức, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, in Saigon in 1963 (pictured on the album cover on the left) can be seen as altruistic suicide. The act was a protest against the government’s repression of the Buddhist religion. The photograph drew international attention and persuaded US President John F. Kennedy to withdraw support for Ngô Đình Diệm’s government.

A similar act is seen as sparking the “Arab Spring,” in Tunisia in early 2011, as described in this clip, “Suicide that Sparked a Revolution.”  Since the global financial crisis of 2008, there have been numerous attempts of public self-immolation in Greece and Spain, which have been suffering through extreme “structural adjustment” and austerity.  According to a recent headline, “Suicide by self-immolation a rising trend in France.” Visually, what’s common among these public spectacles is the (usually red) fuel container, which appears in this 2011 music video from rapper, Kendrick Lamar — “HiiiPOWER”:

WARNING: The video contains language that may be offensive to some.  Unfortunately, all the “clean” versions I could find online weren’t actually clean.  I’ve added it here to show how trends in suicide might be linked to social conditions, which can even be global (supporting the thrust of Durkheim’s work on suicide).  As you watch it, look and listen for relevant sociological insights!

You may post on Durkheim’s Suicide until Monday (2/25).


4 responses to “Suicide, Politics, and Culture

  1. When we discussed this in class I was shocked to see what people are willing to go through to get there points across. I feel as thought the common man has truly lost his voice in the struggle to be heard. For people to be willing to set themselves on fire or commit such suicide acts they have to be going through a lot to choose acts like these as alternatives to dealing with what they are going through. Its very sad what times have come to today. Instead of bettering our economies and the world in whole it seems as though things are only getting worse. Then again what is truly the “right thing” to be done in situations as these.

  2. I would just like to say that the monk setting himself on fire in protest of the the Vietnamese government oppressing the Buddhist religion. The fire can be symbolic because fire is strong and a fearful natural element. People are afraid of fire and especially being set on fire and being burned alive. When this monk did this he was sitting down and just letting the fire consume him and eventually kill him, while most people would be whaling their arms and legs screaming for help. This act definitely got people’s attention.

  3. It’s sad to see that in our society today that people aren’t being heard and feel the only way they can make their voices heard is resorting to these extremes . When we were watching the video in class about AJE, my heart went out because this young man who was trying to make a living selling fruit, felt so humiliated after the police destroyed his fruit stand. He felt the only option was to set himself on fire. Durkheim’s definition of altruistic suicide would be a suicide committed to help benefit a group . By committing this act it will bring attention and awareness, that otherwise would not have been heard. The image of someone setting themselves on fire definitely attracts your attention and makes you want to know more.

  4. After watching the video on Muhammed Bouazizi a 26yr old man that set himself on fire by pouring gasoline on himself, thats crazy. Muhammad act started a revolt that toppled an Arab dictator. After watching the video I watched another one, a man explained that Muhammad doing what he did and the dignity he showed brought together rich, poor, women, men,and young together to Tunisia that helped bring down a dictator. I agree with previous posts it is very sad that people have to go to such extremes to be heard. it also is very scary what other societies are actually going through. After Muhammad death a huge reason that we found out about what was really going on and innocent lives were taken was because of Facebook. Its scary so see what people really have to go through in their daily lives and what sacrifice they are wiling to make.

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