It doesn't matter what you do to earn your fifteen minutes of fame, someone will find a way to contact you and threaten to kill you. They used to do it over the phone--and many still do--but thanks to caller ID and so on, most are smart enough to keep it anonymous. Whether you or someone in your immediate family is accused of a crime, appears on local television promoting a car dealership, or you just happen to be around when some public figure opens their mouth and self-destructs, death threats will occur.
I bring this up because recently, Rabbi David Nesenoff interviewed veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas. Veteran is an understatement: Thomas was in the press corps during the Kennedy administration. At 90, she has outlived five of the Presidents she's covered. The woman is a legend. Nonetheless, this week she told a reporter for rabbilive.com that she thought the Jews needed to "Get out of Palestine" and "Go back to Germany and Poland." In point of fact, there already are many Jews living in Germany and Poland, albeit not as many as their used to be...
Anyhoo...Mrs. Thomas is entitled to her opinion, and I'm not here to debate whether she's right. The point is that the Rabbi/reporter who interviewed Mrs. Thomas has now been thrust into the public spotlight because of statements made to him--NOT by him--that resulted in a public figure's disgraced exit to an otherwise admirable career. And, as I guess we should all have come to expect by now, he's been getting death threats. That'll teach him to ask a question! In fairness, I'm quite sure Mrs. Thomas is getting her share of death threats because of the ordeal. It's wrong no matter who does it. And if you're wondering about the source anti-Mexican stuff in those death threats, apparently Mr. Nesenoff's attempt at ethnic comedy has been unearthed in an attempt to swing the pendulum back at him.
I've heard of cases where the families of people accused of a crime get death threats from strangers. While I can understand the anger, many times these family members had nothing to do with the crime and are being harassed simply because they are the easiest target.
Far more common, it is for political reasons. One of the most notable examples is then 12-year old Graeme Frost, who gave the Democratic response to then President Bush's promise to veto the popular SCHIP program. Regardless of how one feels about SCHIP, or about the Democrats letting a child give the radio response (he was personally affected by the veto, but he was also a child) threatening to kill him or harm is family is just detestable.
Then, there is the flat-out stupid. Ever seen Dirty Harry? Classic movie, and one of my favorites. It was controversial for it's time, not the least of which because of how recently the movie was made in the wake of the Zodiac killer, a real-life serial murderer whose crimes were a loose basis for Eastwood's nemesis in the film: the Scorpio killer. The villain was brilliantly played by actor Andrew Robinson, a legendary character actor who Star Trek fans will remember as the Cardassian spy-turned-tailor Garak from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In fact, so brilliant was his portrayal of a cold-blooded psychopath that for years after the event, he received death threats because of it.
Let me repeat that: Andrew Robinson RECEIVED DEATH THREATS FOR A ROLE HE PLAYED IN A FUCKING MOVIE!!! The man is an actor, people. AN ACTOR! He played a role in a film. He didn't actually kidnap a school bus full of kids or rape and kill a teenager. Nonetheless, some people are incapable of separating fact from fiction and believe--somehow--that people are actually the same as the individuals they play in films. Much in the same way that people ask me if I'm related to the little nerdy cartoon character on Felix the Cat. Come on, people...this isn't Cool World or *shudder* Last Action Hero. I can understand a child not being able to make this distinction...but an adult should know better.
Incidentally, this happens in reverse, as well. People can't separate the characters a performer plays in a movie from their real-life personality when they are positive traits, too. For example, several years ago actress Sandra Bullock was castigated for being rude in public after years of being called "America's sweetheart." I can't find a link to the interview (it was like 20 years ago or something) but Bullock said that she wasn't as sweet as all her movie characters: she was just a regular person who sometimes has a bad day or is in a bad mood. People shouldn't expect her to be nice all the time.
Back to the point, I'm sure you're wondering if I've gotten any death threats. Well, I'm not actually famous. I have gotten death threats, anonymous and otherwise, but not because of my perceived fame. I've got all that to look forward to when my book comes out. Rather, the few death threats I've received tend to be from men who think I've slept with their wives or from people who know me personally. I can certainly understand this: I can be quite infuriating. Nevertheless, death threats have been rare. Threats of physical harm are more common, but they seem to be tapering off. More common are vindictive ex-friends spreading malicious nonsense, but that's life.
But death threats shouldn't be a part of that. If you don't agree with someone, or don't like them, just stay the hell away from them. Write an angry blog or whatever...but don't threaten them. People don't need that. Also, as if any more incentive is needed, it's dangerous. Threatening harm is illegal, especially if you describe how you're going to harm them...as so many of these jackasses appear to do. And that's if you're lucky. If not...well, one of the surprising consequences of threatening to kill someone is that they start thinking you might be trying to kill them. They may start carrying a weapon for protection, or decide to come after you preemptively. It doesn't tend to end well.
So, there is that.