The Web site www.deadmaneating.com is revolting for the disrespectful way it deals with its subject, but the subject itself merits some thought.
The Web address is a morbid play on words: Instead of the familiar “Dead man walking” refrain we associate with death row, we now have a Web site devoted to the last meals of those about to be executed.
A Californian named Mike Randleman operates the site, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Randleman—as one might expect—has been accused of “making a spectacle” and capitalizing on something as sober as capital punishment.
Randleman defended himself by sharing an e-mail from a site visitor who thought that www.deadmaneating.com “manages to humanize the most hated segment of our society. A difficult if not impossible task.”
The visitor may be correct, but for now let’s dwell on the fact that the site features graphics, wording and even merchandise that are in incredibly poor taste. Rather than discussing the topic of last meals with the gravity it deserves, the site treats a man’s last moments as a punch line.
If Randleman really intends for the site to be a sociological examination of last meals, then that’s what it should be. But it isn’t, and Randleman doesn’t deserve credit for his foul treatment of a serious topic. The weightiness of last meals should be evident: We’re going to kill a person, but we’re thoughtful enough to grant a generous platter prior to the act.
Regardless of your opinion on capital punishment, you can probably find something eerie in perusing the meals that people—knowing they are about to die—request.
Some request a steak and potato. Others want a pizza. Still others just want ice cream, while a few want nothing at all, too nervous to eat.
People who actually study last meals suggest that we’re interested in such information because it gives us a connection to the offender; we may not be mass murderers, but we like cheeseburgers, too. In that way, seeing one’s final meal does humanize the person.
As the site visitor that Randleman was quick to quote said, a person’s last meal may say a lot about his history: economic, cultural and educational. Some folks are comforted by the taste and texture of fried okra, whereas others have never tried it.
In the process of writing this column, I visited the Web site for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which posted the final meal requests of those about to be executed.
Coincidentally, I visited on the last day such information was posted. The next day, the link to last meals was gone. I contacted Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, who said the department had taken the link down as it works to determine the balance between providing information and offending people.
Lyons said the most frequently asked question about executions deals with the last meal, which prompted the link in the first place. The California Department of Corrections still provides last meal information.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.