I did not watch the televised murder of news reporter Alison Parker and her cameraman Adam Ward in Virginia. I don’t watch ISIS beheading videos and when I detect something wicked this way coming on the TV I reach for the clicker.
I know the world is a sad enough place as it is without needing visual reinforcement. Yet, in testimony to how pervasive and infiltrating television and social media have become, I almost feel as if I did see this awful crime live and in color.
This most recent (sad to think this qualifier needs to be employed), act of real televised violence is another grim reminder of how television and its out of wedlock child — the Internet — taint and twist the imaginations of broken natures. In a way, they are complicit to the acts themselves.
The “everybody is a celebrity” culture television and social media fertilize on a daily basis had its effect on the slayer of Parker and Ward. When the police entered the apartment of the murderer, already dead by his own hand, the only photos they found in the otherwise spartan surroundings were posed self-portraits of a failed and bitter news reporter with a pathology that percolated for years until finally exploding in an act of perversely staged violence.
It wasn’t enough for this murderer to kill while the reporter and cameraman were on the air. He had to attach a camera to himself to record it from his point of view. He then went to the trouble of posting his work of “art” for all the world to see — which it did in droves — until the social media platform he was using either responded to public outcry or maybe even a sense of decency, and took the post down.
The killer pursued a career in front of a camera and his second to last act, an act of extreme horror and violence was “performed” for all to see. From snippets of the killer’s “Left Behind”-like manifesto, the murderer of these two innocents seethed with rage and was at the same time addicted to attention — the kind of attention, as a failed on-air reporter, he felt he was unjustly denied.
He craved notoriety the way some people crave chemically produced endorphins and it was an addiction that drove him to the outer edges of human decency and well into the darkness.
Television did not create this particularly awful ramification of original sin, but public murder goes way back. Though Brutus may have had ulterior motives that he thought were above reproach, selecting the Roman Forum, about as public a place as one could find in 44 BC, to practice a little freelance regicide, had a decidedly theatrical component — at least Shakespeare thought so.
Further up the historical ladder I cannot think of a better fellow traveler of the Virginia murderer than John Wilkes Booth.
Booth was also a man who loved the limelight. He was the equivalent of the kind of modern day celebrity that is hunted by TMZ and Entertainment Tonight outside the most fashionable Westside nightclubs and restaurants.
Booth was a regular cast member of the nightlife of his time and if there was a “Keeping up with the Booths” show, he would have been the breakout star. Booth differed from the Virginia killer in that he experienced substantial professional success.
Like Brutus, who Booth had played on stage, John Wilkes Booth could have chosen any number of venues to murder his victim. … It was a time before the round the clock Secret Service protection we take for granted for our presidents now.
I guess inside a packed house was a performance too perfect for Booth to pass up. All eyes would be on him in a moment remembered for as long as Brutus’s moment in the limelight lasted.
It was the second best thing to having a Go-Pro camera strapped to the chest. Booth even had lines to read after his performance to be delivered for effect to a shocked audience to hear — the fact he allegedly got tangled up in the American flag, which caused a broken leg, is a 10 on the worldwide irony scale.
Television ceases to be a conveyor of information during these episodes of graphic and gory news stories and becomes more of a desensitizer to the wages of narcissism and violence. We have come a long way from the “scandal” Clark Gable created by uttering the word “damn” at the end of “Gone With the Wind” to the full frontal exposure of murder in the first degree and in real time with real people brought to you by programs sponsored by laundry detergent.
There are now certain words we cannot say on television or anywhere else, but there is an increasing permissiveness for what we can see and a lot of it just isn’t good for us.
After Lincoln’s assassination a cartoonist in a paper created a very creepy rendition of Booth staring off to the side as a traditionally drawn demon whispers in his ear like Iago to Othello. Can’t help but think that in light of these recent public tragedies television and social media have supplanted the more traditional imagery of how evil worms its way into the darker recesses of our souls.