Your treatment was interesting and you presented what seemed like a very thorough analysis of Chapman the person. In your attempt to be "even-handed," however, you offended me very much--lots of others, I assume--with your excessive "understanding" of the troubled individual. The product of your overemphasis on Chapman's "misalignment" is the suggestion that he was in fact driven batty by Lennon's falsity, fakery, pretence. You demonstrate so much sympathy with him that there's no room for the conclusion that he was paranoid, schizophrenic, psychopathic in some combination or other. I don't know whether you offered your (underline) position about whether Lennon was in fact what Chapman believed him to be, but in retrospect I have to say that I don't recall that you did. The effect of your feeling for Chapman was so massive that I don't recall either whether you said what his sentence was, whether the official statement was that he was insane, and whether you subscribed to that conclusion. You were also so non-judgmental that you couldn't spare a statement about how access to guns produced the tragedy, misapplying the principle of "distance" between commentator and topic.
Now that I think of it--a half hour after the program--it's a poor trade-off that you made: the dispassionate reportage on the one hand and a position on important social and moral points on the other. I believe that John Lennon was everything that he appeared to be: pacifist, iconoclastic about social fakery and dubious popular sentiments. And I'm not convinced that you share such a position. A few direct statements about Chapman's monomania and insanity would have been better than soothing his ex-girlfriend and other friends. I understand that you don't want to be shrill about it, but overemphasis on his identification with Holden Caulfield can also be an evasion of the point that he was a total nut. And in fact, giving him as much of the stage as you did--i.e. his statements, recorded and reported--and allowing as much time for the apparent logic of his reasoning and rationalization for the murder produced a skewed picture of the affair. After all, he certainly sounded forthright and sensible, didn't he? But that's not how juries are supposed to function, and you do tend to claim that there's a right side and a wrong side to the things you report on in Frontline.
I hope you will see that I am not condemning your production, even though I am challenging your emphases and focal points.
I just wanted to say that I agree with the Police - Chapman did what he did because of the choices he made as an individual- whether he thought he was TOTO or Holden really is of no consequence- he chose to buy a gun- he chose to learn how to use it. The law does not punish you for what you think about it punishes you because you are responsible as an individual for what you do. I do not want to live in a country where works of fiction might be censored because some unbalanced individual decides to rationalize his outrageous behavior and evade his own personal responsibility. Your program has reinforced what I had believed since December of 1980: Chapman is a "Nut". In the words of Forrest Gump:
"Stupid is as Stupid Does".
Keep up the good work.
Just one viewer's 2 cents' worth . . .
Thanks for providing me with long-overdue validation about the role of the writer Shames in the killing of John Lennon. I remember how appalled I was when I read his sarcastic piece in Esquire, in which there was a sing-song caption under a picture of a cow ("Old John Lennon had a farm, and on it he had cows that went for $250,000"). I thought, "This writer is irresponsible and dangerous--trying to goad the reader into thinking that John, whose life was his own, has sold out." Then, in the attempt to pound his cynicism further home like so many nails in a coffin, he ended the piece with a judgment about how Lennon's regular use of an immersion tank for meditation was akin to watertight proof that John was courting death. I wanted to write to Shames then, thinking, "all some wacko out there needs is to hear this, just a few words of this twisted sort, to fuel his own twisted agenda." And I felt then, even before the assassination, that Shames' name fit him well. I almost wrote and told him so.
Now that I know from your piece on Chapman that he did indeed read Shames' article (which I've always wondered) and that Shames has indeed had to face the fact (calling it a possibility) that he played a role in taking a human life (a public admission I've always thought was due but unlikely), I will always feel that a name could not be more fitting than this writer's name (note that it is plural).
Thanks for welcoming e-mails from viewers, Frontline. I've been wanting to get this off my chest for 16 years.
I realize the Chapman segment is from 1988, but felt compelled to voice my disgust over the airing of "his side of the story". Who gives a damn what went on in his psychotic mind. All that matters is that a great musical artist is dead, and he did it. J.D. Salinger didn't do it, he did. He's not even fit to live, much less be heard on TV. I like Frontline, but hate that program.
New York, NY
With rare exception, assassins, overwhelmed with their own failure in life, seek to murder someone who has over achieved in their life. To even think that Chapman had anything other than glorification in the cowardly act of killing John Lennon was nullified by his comment that "the Beatles changed the world, now I've changed them."
Now you have lifted this vermin to a status he sought in the first place. I had hoped that he would live and die in prison without this outlandish stretch of motive and mystification of personality
I am an avid watcher of your series and am generally impressed by your in-depth, muti-facetted coverage of issues. I was kind of bothered by your recent piece on "The Man Who Shot John Lennon". The overall presentation was ambivalent and tended to buy into the desires of this murderous, misguided flake. People who grew up with Chapman said the usual "Yeah, he was a nice guy..." and "Boy, was I surprised that he shot John Lennon...", etc. When presenting the point of view of Chapman, you presented his testimony/statements in the context of his own warped reasoning, stating that his intentions were to "end an era of phoniness" and become immortalized by becoming the personification of "the Catcher in the Rye" for John Lennon. By presenting Chapman in this light, there is an implied identification with Chapman's definition of himself, and through this broadcast, he has truly immortalized himself in this context.
I feel that in doing so, Frontline has in fact elevated Chapman's status from that of an obscure deranged gunman to that of a tragic anti-hero, an elevation that could be used as justification by other twisted loners for similar despicable acts of violence. In the piece on Lee Harvey Oswald, no such attempt was made to enter his psyche in such a way or represent him in a similar light. The viewpoint espoused by the one psychiatrist (psychologist?) who stated that most people are constantly identifying with characters in books or movies, yet do not commit such acts is of extreme importance. I can understand Frontline's drive to be as complete in their coverage of an issue as possible, but to represent a murderer in the context of his own ravings tends to romanticize a banal, blatantly reprehensible act of violence. Following the execution of those involved in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, a statesman noted "Let us here their names no more". I feel that this is a much healthier attitude for our society to adopt in the aftermath of an assassination than the present attitude of instantaneous bestowal of celebrity status.
Thanks for Listening,
I'm puzzled by your recent program on Chapman. What was the point? Seems to me that all you did was elevate his own particular psychosis to the level of literary analysis. While it (sorry to say) makes for boring television, the real tragedy is that some other disturbed individual might well be encouraged by such programming, seeing in it the possibility of presenting his/her own life story to a mass audience.
What a one-sided point of view for a documentary. I'm amazed that you could find so many freaks that claimed what a gentle, kind individual Chapman was. How about presented people for the defense of John Lennon. I'd like to know who funded this film, the Christian Right Coalition. The two statements at the beginning of the film that clearly were incongruous deductions were 1) Mark Chapman had a profound change in his personality when he started playing Beatles music with the profound change of taking drugs. What so profound about playing Beatles music and what does that have anything to do with drugs? 2) After taking LSD Mark started hearing voices that told him what to do. So the conclusion that you are drawing is if you take drugs the drugs may tell you to go shoot John Lennon. Give me a break, the guy was a maniac-depressive that needed help and found his identty in Holden Caulfield. We've all tried LSD and we've all read The Catcher In The Rye and neither one of those elements made me want to go out and shoot someone.
You presented him as a victim of art, he was no victim, he was a hard, cold-blooded murderer. John Lennon songs stood for peace, love and compassion. Art won't make you kill someone unless your mentally unstable. With your doctumentary you give Mark Chapman exactly what he wanted, to become famous. Wake up PBS and come back over to a more liberal point of view. And if you don't I won't be watching.
By accident I found your show on Chapman, and stirred memories of doom that encompassed me when I first heard about the murder of John Lennon. Immediately, my perception of the assassin was biased. A sick man who is proud to have "changed them [The Beatles]," by murdering John, demonstrated to me that he deserves no pity, certainly not mine.
In the same vein that he thought of those he did not like as "dead," that individual has effectively died in the eyes of the world. Ironically, he died when he killed Lennon. Interesting that he signed as John Lennon (almost graphologically correct!) when he left Hawaii to perpetrate his premeditated crime. Any attempt at making him seen as a victim of a warped mind that adopted a fictional protagonist to give reason to his existence, is at the least presumptuous, and to the most insulting.
As Prosecutor Diaz said, he chose to behave the way he did. The current New Age approach of toxic families while growing up, or any other therapeutic fallacies, have given the populace that righteous view that make them quick to judge anyone according to the fad of the day. And your show appears to try to make Chapman a victim of destiny, some pawn of an strange series of situations that led him to kill. I think this follows the murderer's mind that tries to make himself the victim, therefore not really guilty. And then, the indictment of "Catcher in the Rye,"as if it was the murderer's bible (Hinkley had it also!!) is most gruesome. That the book is weird, well, that may be right. But to make it an anthem to save children from phoniness, and murdering in its name, well, that is far too much.
Anyway, it infuriated me, and as such, your show was effective. Let Chapman die in prison, and may the world be rid of the killer of an era, a cultural influence, a legend. Chapman represents our scientific, technological society: all myths, legends and folklore have to be assassinated so that Man can live "better," and fall off the cliff into the bottom of alienation, insignificance and dreadful existence: everyone carrying the name Nemo (Nothing!).
Your program about Mark Chapman's life and his reasons for murdering John Lennon was a highly informative piece of journalism that gave great insight into the mind of an insane killer. It is also one of the best arguments I have seen in recent years for capital punishment.
It is bad enough that a human being was senselessly slain due to Chapman's twisted inability to separate fiction from reality. It is even worse to think that precisely because of his insanity, he will live out the rest of his life at taxpayer expense, never being punished in any meaningful way.
He sought attention and celebrity through violence, and while the human life he extinguished will never be rekindled, his will continue - no doubt with a sense of fulfillment. It's a shame he wasn't arrested with a bag of marijuana in his pocket: at least then they would have sent him to jail.
If a person is so depressed that they wish to end their own life, that is their choice and their right. When their depression leads them to end the life of another, they are guilty of murder - and _that_ should be the foremost concern of the law in setting punishment.
Somehow my faith in the wisdom and righteousness of American justice isn't bolstered by this case.
Excellent history of the events leading to the death of John Lennon. To think that Chapman did it for publicity and that he 'chose' to identify with Holden Caulfield is just stupid and highly psychologically unsophisticated. Chapman was a very disturbed young man with a serious depression and an obsession with the morality of the character in the book. He saw Lennon as a turncoat because Lennon stopped being a little boy, grew up and became a conservative middle aged man. Chapman could not handle that because he also wanted to be just like his ideal of Lennon. Since he could no longer identify with Lennon, he identified with Caulfield and punished Lennon for letting him down. The murder was done out of a serious psychological disturbance. Leonard Diamond, Ph.D., Clinical, Forensic Psychologist in private practice in Camarillo, California for thirty years.
I cannot believe that you just gave Mr. Chapman what he wanted, which he summed up in his final statement--to paraphrase: The Beatles were the biggest cultural phenomenon of our time--they changed the world and so, in turn, did Mr Chapman. You trivialize the death of John Lennon by letting his killer attempt to help us understand him and his actions. I will most likely choose not to watch your program in the future because of this choice in programming.
Just finished watching the above. The writer/producer/director/editor are to be congratulated on bringing into being the essence of the era, the motive, the substantiating factors that bring fate and coincidence together. Memorable TV and story line. But don't let us make "Catcher in the Rye" the heavy for Lennon and Reagan. There are plenty of us Hold Caufield fans who just said how did that author seem to know the pain? Most of us didn't take to a gun.
Your chronicle of Mark David Chapman's descent into his own madness was compelling and in true Frontline style--no sensationalist recreations, sedate, complete interviews, and without bias.
I was moved by the fact that the report left me without hatred toward someone I've never known who killed someone I have greatly admired and yet also have never known. Instead, interviews with Chapman's former acquaintances showed me that he was "dead" (in his once-used sense of the word) and that a broken mind killed John Lennon.
And yet, I cannot help but wonder what things would be like today if Chapman had succeeded in his attempt to take a life in 1977 (his own), thereby preventing his taking of a life in 1980.
Thank you for airing the story about Mark David Chapman. Although it's been 15 years since the death of John Lennon, I find that in some ways I'm still mourning his loss. While in some ways this story helped to understand things a bit more clearly, it also raises some other questions which may never be answered.
I watched the Frontline special on Mark David Champman last night on WGBH. I was 8 years old when Lennon was killed, and couldn't figure what the fuss was over--I had no idea what a "Beatle" meant to anybody. Your show was excellent--the thoroughness of the examination of Chapman, his life, and the relevance of Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" to the events was impressive. As I grew up and found out just what the Beatles were, and what John Lennon meant, I realized I probably would never fully comprehend what Chapman did or why, because I had missed the understanding at the time of the assassination. But I now feel, after seeing your tightly constructed and cogent Frontline piece, that I have a better view of what happended, removed from the tabloid journalism, unfounded rumors, and charged emotions that surely clouded the issues at the time. Congratulations, and thank you.