There has been a worrying trend in the past decade regarding blame. I don't where it comes from or who thinks up the clever links, but I think that - in the light of another tragic school shooting (in Finland) this week - I can already see the parallels popping up again.
Condemned Number One: Christopher Michael Benoit
May 21 1967 - June 24 2007
Over three days from June 22 to June 24 the professional wrestler Chris Benoit killed three people. He strangled his wife Nancy to death to a phone cord, killed his seven year old son Daniel with a choke hold and then took his own life by hanging himself using the cord from a weight machine in his home gym.
A tragic occurance.
Any rational, logical person would rightfully condemn Benoit for these horrific crimes. But in 2007, this is not so. For some strange reason, the blame seems to have been placed at the feet of Benoit's employer: World Wrestling Entertainment.
The link between professional wrestling and steroids/prescription drugs is much like Tom Cruise's sexuality; an open but dirty secret within the entertainment industry. Merely looking at the attached picture one can see that Benoit - a decidedly normal 5ft 10 inches tall - was built like a small truck. He was receiving shipments of steroids from his GP (Dr Phil Astin) on a monthly basis. While nothing may appear out of the ordinary (too much) for a professional wrestler to be receiving prescription steroids, it quickly came to light that Benoit was receiving enough steroids to last a normal user TEN MONTHS. That is nowhere near the realm of "normal usage". The history of steroid abuse in wrestling is a long and storied one, and not one which I will go into here, and is something that seems to have become the sole media focus of the entire tragedy.
Once the media had a nice, juicy story to get their teeth into with professional wrestling they were stunned to learn that in the last ten years over one hundred wrestlers and former wrestlers under the age of forty have died, almost half from drug related issues. The seedy underbelly of the carny world of professional was even more salacious than the media had thought.
Now Benoit becomes the figure head, a Christ like Messiah for the attackers of the faux "Sport of Kings". And with Benoit as Christ, there can be only one Satan: The owner of WWE, Vincent Kennedy McMahon. Benoit - a prolific steroid abuser - committed these horrific acts under the watch of World Wrestling Entertainment, and it seems that they are the ones being held responsible for his crimes.
I ask three questions:
Who was taking the steroids prescribed to Chris Benoit?
Who killed Nancy and Daniel Benoit?
Who killed themselves to avoid answering for his crimes?
Condemned Number 2: Cho Seung-Hui
January 18 1984 - April 16 2007
Cho Seung-Hui marched into Virginia Tech University on April 16 2007 and murdered 35 people. He wounded 25 others. He was armed with a Glock 19 and Walther P22 semi-automatic pistols, which were loaded with hollow point bullets - bullets designed to expand on entering the human body, resulting in greater tissue damage. He shot himself in the head when police breached the doors of the building he was in.
He also made a video tape, chronicling himself preparing for the attack, and listing his alleged motivations. Of course, the media quickly pounced on this story, and must have been overjoyed to find images of Cho mimicking the poses of the actors Choi Min-sik and Kang Hye-jeong from the South Korean movie "Oldboy".
Media organizations, including Newsweek, the BBC, the Daily Mail, MSNBC, Reuters and the Associated Press all ran stories linking Cho to the influence of the movie. They described the more graphic scenes of the film, those which would fire the imagination of the reader and created maximum reaction, in an attempt to draw some kind of direct parallel between Cho and his actions and the movie.
Not only does no one get shot in Oldboy, Cho had not even seen the film.
I ask three questions:Who purchased the guns and ammo weeks before the shootings?
Who pulled the trigger?
Who killed themselves to avoid answering for his crimes?
Condemned Number 3: Eric David Harris and Dylan Bennet Klebold
April 9 1981 – April 20 1999 / September 11 1981 – April 20 1999
The Columbine shooters. I will not go into graphic detail, as pretty much everyone knows the sotry (Michael Moore even made his last good film about it). On April 20th 1999 Dylan Harris and Eric Klebold walked into Columbine High School armed with automatic and semi automatic weapons and murdered thirteen people and wounded twenty three others before committing suicide with single shots to the head.
The world was shocked by such a tragedy, and the search for rationale was on. The media looked high and low for what could have caused two seventeen year old boys to commit such a horrifying act. They seemed to gloss over the apparent answers that were evident in the lives of these two troubled, bullied and isolated boys, and the media machine seemed to settle on one target: Marilyn Manson.
It did not matter that neither Harris or Klebold were fans of Manson, it didn't matter that they only quoted his lyrics a few times in their recovered journals, while they mentioned the movies The Matrix and Natural Born Killers far more often. The media had fixed their target, and they ran Marilyn Manson into the ground.
Every rumour and myth the lanky goth rocker had courted to increase his noteriety earlier in his career came back to haunt him, especially the small matter of the Priesthood in the Church of Satan that his friend Anton Szander LeVay bestowed upon him in 1995. Manson was hounded and turned into a hate figure. An easy target for a relentless barrage of criticism, revulsion and finger pointing. It closely resembled the witch hunts of years gone by.
I have three questions:Who wrote about what they were going to do?Who pulled the triggers on their respective guns?Who killed themselves to avoid answering for their crimes?
No one ever bought up Charles Manson's LSD usage when discussing the murders that The Manson Family committed under his orders. No one ever rifled through Hitler's CD collection to check what he was listening to. No one ever checked out Geoffery Dalmer's all time favourite movie list.
So why then, in the (allegedly) more enlightened times that we live in, do we see blame being placed so recklessly at the feet of people that had nothing to do with the crimes?
My conclusion is two fold. One; the perpetrators of the crime are dead. They cannot be hounded, they cannot be interviewed, they cannot be photographed, recorded or reacted to. Without a live body that can react to their blame, the media believe they have no story. Charles Manson is alive, so all the blame for his actions can be placed on him. But Chris Benoit is dead, so it must be Vince McMahon's fault. The media turns tragedies into ratings wars, where they act as God like entities, positioning every party they choose to deem accountable on collision courses with one another in order to generate maximum ratings. Look at the McCartney/Mills divorce, the McCann drama or any daytime chatshow. And all the while, the media companies remain unaccountable for their actions, above the squabblings of the people whose lives they may ruin, quietly reaping the rewards.
The second part of my conclusion is something that is more telling about our society as a whole these days: No one wants to accept responsibility for their own actions. No one wants to place blame on Cho Seung-Hui, because the violent movie industry is a much bigger and easier target. No one wants to condemn Eric or Dylan, because the music industry is a much more accountable focal point. No one wants to admit they're overweight and weak willed when one can blame skinny models, McDonalds or advertising that emphasises beauty, good taste or luxury.
This is the overarching problem of the three cases highlighted, and the wider problem with our society today. People refuse to accept that maybe, just maybe, they have to be responsible for themselves. Feral, "hoody" gangs of teenage kids are influenced by violent culture. It has nothing to do with the fact that their parents drink as much as they do and are practically non existent entities in their lives. People with a weight problem are bullied into eating by advertising and fast food. It has nothing to do with the fact that they spend too much time on the couch in front of the TV, not exercising and feeding their face. "Ladettes" who get too drunk every weekend are influenced by cheap drinks and the actions of Charlotte Church or Paris Hilton. It has nothing to do with their lack of ability to know when they've had enough, or their questionable moral and sexual scruples.
Until society learns that sometimes you have to be answerable for your actions, cases of misplaced blame and trial by media will continue to happen. It's an unpleasant truth that Europe allowed Hitler to become the problem he was, but one we cannot hide from. It's time society started acknowledging the unpleasent truths in its midst and actually doing something about them before another tragic event cum media circus happens again.