[LINK] "Amid the horror Magnotta case reveals, the moral order stands"
Law professor Dawn Moore's Ottawa Citizen article, published three days ago, provides a useful corrective to concerns of society's moral torpor as evidenced by the whole Luka Magnotta affair and the snuff film. Terrible things happen whenever, and our time is rather less violent than many (see Steven Pinker, for example). The fact that it caused such ruckus is a sign of our society's fundamental normality, that it can be so easily be outraged by something terrible happening.
Murder itself is a rare thing. Ottawa has about 12 a year. Almost all of these will receive media attention for a day or two and then quickly fade from memory. We tend not to be terribly interested in these murders because they lack salacious or sensational storylines. A drug deal goes wrong. A woman is killed by her abusive partner. Sadly, we see these instances of interpersonal violence as run of the mill and, despite the fact that they make up the “norm” of murder in most jurisdictions, we rarely see them as having any particular significance or impact on our own lives.
The case of the suspect in these crimes, Luka Rocco Magnotta, is different. It stands apart from the “norm” of murders and, as such, it takes on its own special weight and significance.
Newspapers, TV and online news sources have been awash with the gory details since the story broke. When we are inundated with descriptions and images of nightmarish actions it inflates our sense of danger. It makes sense then that we should greet the news of the Magnotta case with alarm. We draw an instant connection to our own lives, giving us the idea that threat (albeit vaguely defined) is both imminent and ubiquitous. Presented with over the top violence, we can’t help but be left with the sense that there is something very, very wrong with our society. The logic follows that in a society so horribly derailed, how can anyone be safe?
The apparent snuff video serves to heighten the sense of alarm. It’s not enough that a person was apparently assaulted, murdered and cannibalized. Countless others watched the images of the murder online. And, if the online comments responding to the video are any indication, many of these viewers got a little thrill in the watching. Some call for more gore while others speculate on the realness of the depiction of cannibalism. Granted, it would seem that most of the commentators believed they were viewing a staged scene and not an actual murder. Still, the apparent blood lust is distasteful. It’s no wonder this calls into question the state of society.
Crime, according to the philosopher Émile Durkheim, gives us an opportunity to reaffirm our collective commitment to the moral order. I’m sure Durkheim would be onside with those who decry the ubiquity of violence on the Internet and indeed in society. These same sentiments suggest the Magnotta case gives us an opportunity to collectively denounce the unregulated nature of technology for not only creating the opportunity for an individual to broadcast a murder unfettered, but also to give incentive to individuals to commit heinous acts as a means of securing notoriety. It is the same logic that condemns video games and horror movies.
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Neither Magnotta’s alleged acts nor the widely viewed video give credence to concerns that such events mark the downfall of society or reveal anything about our own personal safety. We have never lived in a safer society than we do today. Communities are less, not more violent. And the fact that untold numbers clicked on the link to download what appears now to be a bonafide snuff video speaks only to an enduring human fascination with the macabre, and not to any rend in the social fabric.