Less than an hour ago, a news story broke reporting a foot and hand had been delivered to two Vancouver schools. Police can not confirm whether these are related to the alleged crimes of Luka Rocco Magnotta, and the murder of Jun Lin.
What do we do with this information? What can we learn from the story?
I have worked in media for more than a decade. Television news is driven by two principles (whether the medium admits it or not): ratings (entertainment), and public service.
The axiom “If it bleeds it leads” is no secret to newsroom staff internationally. Car crashes, bicycle accidents, and pedestrians hit by cars all make the top of the show rundown, especially locally. Supposedly these stories educate the viewer about existing dangers, and encourage changes in habit, thereby reducing similar incidents in the future.
A murder and dismemberment becomes as macabre as it is sensational; due not only to the violent loss of life, but the gruesome facts which accompanied it. As this particular story develops, a conundrum exits: a news gathering organization can obviously not ignore a foot delivered to a school. What if your child attends that school? What if the part belongs to an as yet unknown victim? And yet, how is the average person served by this new discovery?
But, the level of fascination grows disproportionately as the details become more and more gruesome?
Why? What is our fascination with dismemberment, and car crashes, and blood?
Is it our effort to learn about the victim or the criminal? To protect ourselves, with thanks to newsrooms around the world? Or are we mostly peeping Toms (and Tammy’s) trolling for images in tweets and video on blogs?
I don’t have an answer. I’m just, ironically, posting the question.
photo of question mark on chalkboard Shutterstock