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Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Musings on Sensation

A few weeks ago there was an article on the Jeremy Vine Radio 2 programme asking whether relatives of the gunman Raoul Moat should be allowed to place flowers at the place he died. For those who don't recall, Moat is the man who sparked a manhunt in Northumbria last year after seriously wounding his ex-girlfriend, killing her new partner and blinding a police officer. He committed suicide after a stand-off with police in the village of Rothbury. A terrible case indeed. However, what was striking about the item Jeremy Vine covered was the fact that it came out that people go to the scene of Moat's suicide to recreate his death. Some visitors even use children as young as five to rest on the ground as Moat reportedly did.

I'd imagine most of us feel a sense of disbelief at that. After all, Moat committed some vile acts. It's one thing to allow his family to grieve for him if they so wish; it's quite another to glorify him in death. It strikes me as very nineteenth-century in nature. As much as we criticise the spectacle the Victorians made of crime and murder, we follow the exact same path as they did. Sensation means newspaper sales, webpage hits. More importantly, sensation means attention. For the media outlet, for the reporter, for the little old blogger having their say. I do, by the way, realise the idiocy of me writing a blog post to protest about blog posts.

I'm currently working my way through The Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders. So far it's a book I'd heartily recommend; I only wish I could devote more time to reading it at the moment. One particular case she mentions is the 1823 murder of William Weare. Flanders draws attention to the 'murder tourists' who plucked the hedges where the murdered man may have been dragged almost clean of their leaves. Everybody wanted a sovenir: even Walter Scott recorded going on such a sightseeing excursion.

Nothing's really changed, has it? The murdered dead still hold a fascination for us, as do the names of their killers. I can name many people, criminal and victim, who will be forever linked in the public consciousness. I won't go into them here; I think the sickening cases of the last decade speak for themselves. We will remember them though and perhaps some of us will indulge in these macabre activities to pay homage to them. The moral outrage that's erupted in recent weeks over the phone-hacking scandal is one significant burst of humanity against a tide of ugliness. But, as has been mentioned, if there wasn't an appetite for this ugliness then the News of the World wouldn't have been selling 2.8 million copies a week, would it?

Personally, I feel revulsion towards the Murdoch empire and everyone potentially involved in the hacking. I also cannot understand the motivations of those adults using their children as Raoul Moat substitutes in Rothbury. It seems like we're teaching the next generation to glorify death. I don't want to imagine where that one might lead.

Last year I blogged about the shootings in Cumbria and the ruthlessness of the journalists hounding the public - on the behest of the rest of the public. Somehow we need a balance. What is it within the 'public interest' to know? And what simply provides titilation for the masses? Can we make stuff up to fill that latter criteria so that innocent people aren't caught in the crossfire? Or did I miss a trick - do we just do that already?

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