Friday, October 22, 2010

Russell Williams, the Media and Us

Alpine simplicity
I’m having a hard time these days coming to terms with both the story and the storytellers concerning the crimes and the trial of ex-colonel Russell Williams. Maybe it’s a mistake to try, like an attempt to rationalize the existence of the devil in terms of our daily lives. Right now, I’ve got my computer playing CBC’s Q with host Jian Ghomeshi; he’s assembled a panel that’s trying to analyze the news regarding the depravity of this powerful Canadian military man. A representative of the Toronto Star is just saying that there was no consensus on how to report the facts on the Williams’ case. Another panellist is responding with something like, “. . . the public has a right to know the facts, but they don’t have to be assaulted by the [the images of Williams in women’s lingerie.”] Apparently the Star had juxtaposed a photo of Williams in uniform and one of him in lingerie on the front page. Another panellist thinks the photo was powerful and true, compared to the story in the Globe and Mail, which was “dull.” A representative of the Globe and Mail is protesting that the G & B took the restrained route, and that images are different from words and that with text, one can stop reading when one wants. This is not possible with images, and so reportage has to exercise different choices with photos as opposed to text.

Not a bad argument, but I’m amazed at how much of what we’re hearing today is the media talking about itself, about whether or not they’re getting it right. Firstly, I don’t know if it’s any more legitimate for the press to charge, try and judge itself than it is for the RCMP. Normally, one would put more trust in the judgment of persons who receive the news, not the people who make it.

Consumers of cookies are the best judges of their quality.

Secondly, it seems to me that the media are constantly being tugged toward more explicitness, more raciness, more lurid content by the simple fact that the public can’t look away when traditional taboos are flaunted and exhibited. It’s the “I just can’t seem to look away . . . “ syndrome, or the impulse to run toward a fire or accident rather than away. Like I said, I’m having a hard time coming to terms with the interaction between me—a news consumer, the reporters—the news presenters, and the uneasy feelings that accompany any new revelation of the depravity of which men are capable, especially when the men in question are apparently “normal” . . . like me or you?

I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve seen of the Williams case on the TV news. It occurs to me that the more we tell the story of Williams’ crimes, and the more luridly we portray the man, the less likely we are to feel any responsibility for what happened to that man and what happened to others as a result. It’s the externalizing of the horror; the blacker we paint the villains, the whiter we seem by comparison, the less we’re likely to be implicated in their horrible deeds.

The world I dream about doesn’t breed people like Williams, Bernardo, Homulka and Pickton. It’s possible that the detailed reportage on their crimes will make the world better. Or worse.

And some fell in the gravel

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