A couple days ago I reviewed Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, his play about the Salem Witch Trials. If you’ve been reading the news lately, you know that this story fits right in with the mass hysteria case at a New York high school. According to Slate, it all started when 16-year-old Lori Brownell began experiencing Tourette’s-like symptoms, such as twitching, clapping, and stuttering, after passing out from a rock concert last summer. Since then, 14 other students (mostly female) have shown similar symptoms.
While many people have offered reasons for this mystery–pollution, poisoning, etc.–none seem to hold any weight. Most experts have deemed this particular breakout an instance of conversion disorder, or mass hysteria. Slate also discusses many similar cases over time, including the Salem Witch Trials.
Unlike most people, I have actually experienced the effects of mass hysteria when I was in school. In about fifth grade, a popular girl started telling the class that she had multiple personalities. She named the spirits in her head, and had conversations with them. Because she had influence, other girls began developing schizophrenia too.
Pretty soon, this whole debacle escalated into a bunch of girls (including me, alas) doing acts of “witchcraft.” Needless to say, mob mentality got to us, and it got out of hand. We were sent to the principal’s office and essentially told to knock it off. And from what I remember, that was the last any of us tried that nonsense again.
My point is that I completely believe that these symptoms are all in the students’ heads. I’m not a doctor, but I watched two of the girls on “The Today Show” and they seemed to have no problem talking to Ann Curry. They even admitted that their symptoms have gotten better with time. Mass hysteria seems the only reasonable explanation.
Again, I’m not a superstitious person at all, so I’m sorry if I sound harsh. I think that these girls are no different than me or my classmates when we were ten, or even the girls of Salem. We were all trying to get attention and bring excitement into our lives.
I hope for their sake that they enjoy their 15 minutes of fame (Brownell even uploads YouTube videos about her tics), and then go about their days, because if any money is spent or lawsuits brought up for their alleged lying, we’re just as gullible as the citizens of Salem.
So what do you think? Is witchcraft afoot, or are these girls playing a practical joke?