Sunday, November 11, 2007

On serial killers and hypocrisy

I quite like watching Dexter, the series about the serial-killing-police-technician. It’s not on a level with great shows like the Wire, the Sopranos or Deadwood, all the cop characters are straight out of the ‘dummies guide to American TV cop clichés’, but it passes an hour in the evening when you want your brain to rest. So I sat down on Thursday night to watch it, only to find it had been pulled from the schedule and replaced with nature documentary. Clearly the management of Finland’s Nelonen TV channel thought that showing a series about a serial killer the day after a school massacre was in bad taste. But isn’t serial killing as entertainment always in bad taste? Last week’s edition of the superb This American Life was called “How to Rest in Peace”, and listening to it the day after the shooting in Jokela and just before sitting down, in vain as it was to turn out, to watch Dexter was one of those slightly spooky coincidences. This American Life interviewed a number of people who had had close family members murdered. The first woman whose father had been killed and the murderer never found, said that most normal people don’t realise what a huge amount of popular culture is based around murdering people. Not just television shows and movies, but books and even games like Cluedo. She pointed out that people even go to murder-mystery dinners where someone gets killed and then all the participants have to detect ‘whodunnit’. She fairly points out that we wouldn’t go to a rape-mystery dinner where the evening’s entertainment is sleuthing-out who the rapist is. That would be sick. So why is murder OK?

So, back to my missing episode of Dexter. If it was OK for me to watch a witty and righteous serial killer set against Miami’s pastel shades and beautiful people last week, why not this week? Pekka-Eric listed lots of films and music he liked, but no TV programmes. So no one is trying to blame Dexter for seven dead innocent Finns, indeed Auvinen even helpfully wrote in his ‘manifesto’: “Don’t blame the movies I see, the music I hear, the games I play or the books I read. No, they had nothing to do with this.” It would be nice, like after Columbine, to again blame Marilyn Manson because - quite frankly - his music is shit and his dress sense ridiculous. Getting kids to dress as Goths should be illegal, but it’s not and his lyrics about killing and suffering and death did not put a gun in Auvinen’s hand.

I watched another TV show on friday, Law and Order, that makes entertainment out of rape AND murder. The amusing thing is that one of the lead cops, ever ready to dish out justice to street punks, is played by Ice-T. One needs to be of a certain age and musical inclination to remember that Ice-T was once public enemy no.1. After his band Body Count released Cop-Killer, he was more of a public enemy than Public Enemy – that’s clearly pretty bad; or cool depending on your perspective. If I remember right the President Bush at the time denounced the song, and gansta rap generally, as a threat to national security. And now Ice-T is in Law and Order, the same show that Fred Thompson – running in the republican primaries for the presidential nomination for 2008 – also appears. Postmodern or just the American Dream?

So this brings me, from laughing along with serial killers, via rapping about killing cops, finally to rhyming couplets about chopping off heads. Amina Malik – who wanted to be known as the ‘Lyrical Terrorist’ – was found guilty in London this week of “possessing records [and I don’t think they meant Ice-T LPs] likely to be used for terrorism”. All the media has gone big on the poetry which included ditties such as: "Let us make Jihad/ Move to the front line/ To chop chop head of kuffar swine". Nice. But, thank God, we’re not yet imprisoning people for bad poetry. Yet. She was found innocent of charges of possessing an article for terrorism purposes, but found guilty of a lesser charge of having articles that could be useful for terrorism purposes. The law seems horribly illiberal, as surely many people will have some articles that could be useful for terrorism somewhere. I hate to think what the Met would be able to charge me with if they went through my office bookshelves and lever-arch files. Luckily my office does not come under UK law, but I haven’t heard of them raiding the offices of university department, think-tanks, and research institutes in London where my fellow terrorism researchers do their work, to seize their files. So rather it seems that Malik’s bad poetry and professed love for the Mujahideen is what made it a bad thing for her to possess such written material, there being no suggestion that she was actually planning violence or knew anyone who was. That sounds like a thought crime. It might be amusing if the police raided the houses of every far-right activist known to them to see if they have copies of the Turner Diaries next to Mein Kampf on their bookshelves, then arrest them. But it would also be illiberal and immoral. If the Malik case does suggest one thing, that is that Britain has sensible gun control laws. She possibly is or was crazy enough to kill people had she had the opportunity. But unlike Finland where it is easier to get a gun license than a driver's license, and unlike Pekka-Eric Auvinen, she didn’t get a gun and instead kept writing bad poetry on the back of till receipts. So we act shocked, tut at news, think what a terrible person she is and what an awful person he must have been, then flip the channel and settle down to enjoy and hour of being entertained by a serial killing.


Jussi said...

Toby, the work of Marilyn Manson isn't shit. Your taste in music is.

Actually after all those great NRA and religious thinkers interviewed in Bowling for Columbine, Marilyn Manson was the only person actually making some sense.

I urge you to read his book "The Long Hard Road Out of Hell" It's in my bookshelf, It'd be my pleasure to lend it to you.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

> the work of Marilyn Manson isn't shit

No, it is. Really. :-)

I notice even you aren't defending his dress sense!

I have heard him interviewed and he definitely is a lot smarter than it looks. ;-)

On the book - errrr... I have a few other things I need to read first, but I'll get back to you on your kind offer at some point. :-)

Quizbo said...

Ice-T once said, "Rap is really funny you know, but if you don't realize that, it'll scare the shit out of you."

There's a great social history of hip hop that touches on a lot of those kind of inside/outside perception clashes: "Can't Stop Won't Stop : A History of the Hip Hop Generation", by Jeff Chang

Not that you are in any need of more things to read, but still... In case you're stuck at the airport and can't bear to read any more about the mind numbingly dull strategy over substance American presidential race ; )