Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Our Fascination with True Crime

I have lost count of the number of days that poor Natalee Holloway has been missing. Like many other people, I fear that her case may remain a mystery unless her body washes up on shore or one of the guys gets drunk and says something idiotically incriminating. It's a tragedy, however, the more I see of Natalee and her family on TV, the more worried I become about the way that we report the news.

There is such a fine line between reporting and sensationalizing. Long ago, both network and cable TV realized that true crime was profitable. Viewers are fascinated. People tuned in in droves to watch OJ's famous car chase. I can hardly remember the car that I drove 12 years ago but I will never forget OJ's Bronco!

As sad as the disappearance of Natalee Holloway is, how did it manage to displace Africa or Iraq in the news? Why is it more important than the bombings in London? Is it because the news itself is so horrific, overwhelming and unbearably depressing that we would prefer to focus on one single individual rather than to mourn for the multitudes? There is a phenomenon called "compassion fatigue." That's what happens when people are subjected to too much sorrow or bad news. They can't respond appropriately anymore; they have to numb themselves out a bit.

Perhaps it is easier to compulsively follow true crime stories such as Laci Peterson, Lori Hacking, Elizabeth Smart, JonBenet Ramsey, and Cecilia Zhang. That way we can relate and identify with that one individual. We can collect data and follow the facts day in and day out, so that we try to be amateur detectives. Does this explain the popularity of shows like Law and Order or CSI and authors like Ann Rule?

I'm not saying that Natalee doesn't deserve media attention. She does, however, the publicity that she is receiving is way out of proportion to her place in the world.

OTOH, we seem to have very ambivalent feelings about true crime. For example, the recent movie about Karla Homolka, and her sociopathic husband Paul Bernardo, was banned at the Montreal film Festival. I know that the families of the victims did not want that movie to be made and I sympathize with them. Truly, my heart breaks for the Frenchs and the Mahaffeys.

However, the movie MONSTER was a blockbuster hit in the theater earlier this year. It was all about one of the first female serial killers. What about movies like Hotel Rwanda or Schindler's List? Are people only allowed to make movies about war and murder if there is some redeeming social value to them? Ridiculous! We can't pretend that these events never happened like the Holocaust deniers. Better to analyze them out in the open so as never to forget what the dark side of human nature can do.

You may not agree with my opinion. I welcome dissent and discourse. Please sign my guestbook or make a comment on my blog. Thanks!

Sigrid Macdonald

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