Friday, September 17, 2010

The Pied Piper of Tucson

One of the ways you know summer is over and it's time to get serious again is when the Main Stream Media kick off yet another campaign to blame everything evil on the Internet.

Yesterday, Globe and Mail Columnist Bruce Dowbiggin, one of the country's best sports writers, had a major whinefest about bloggers wanting access to team locker rooms and the same journalistic privileges in the sports world that the big boys (like Bruce) enjoy.

Aware of how much these bloggers have eroded his own ability to be first with the news or mold public opinion, Dowbiggin suggested "if a blogger wants a place in a press box or dressing room environment there should be something more tangible at stake - say, a bond of $10,000 that a blogger would lose should a court or arbitrator find he or she broke professional standards or libel laws."


Dowbiggin made it clear that bloggers, who he calls "the gypsy cabs of journalism" just don't know how to behave at the big people's table, and then went on to relate the story of TV Azteca reporter Inez Sainz (pictured above) and her inappropriate dress issues with the NY Jets, in the process getting his own facts wrong by stating she had turned up at a Superbowl presser to interview Tom Brady while wearing a wedding dress.

His confusion between Senorita Sainz and the other bride Brady left at the altar, one Inez Gomez, had a number of commenters asking when the Globe would cough up ten grand for their own lack of fact checking.

Luckily, the immediacy of the Internet allowed the paper to pull the embarrassing gaffe from their online site. No word on whether anybody ran around taking back all the print editions.

In a less humorous example, media across the country today relayed the tragic story of young woman who had been gang raped in Pitt Meadows, BC with photos of the attack posted on facebook. The TV coverage featured an RCMP Officer choking back tears as she said she couldn't imagine what this young woman now had to deal with and cautioned about the dangers of cyberspace.

It was the second time in a week I'd watched a Mountie tear up, the first in a news report on the dangers of back to school parties advertised on social networks.

When exactly did crying become an essential tool in policing? Or is this how the RCMP convince soccer moms they're really not as heartless as those taser videos made them appear?

On the other hand, such emotional presentations and the sympathetic responses evoked might be what the Mounties have been told best gets the message across by the media they most often encounter.

A media that values the quick sound bite and drive-by hit of blame which absolves them of having to go deeper with a story and maybe get in the way of "Access Hollywood" starting on time.

But I digress.

The point is that once again activities such as social networking which counter what the powers-that-be can control are being falsely blamed for society's ills.

In the 1920's that led to prohibition. In the 1930's it forced Hollywood to enact the Hayes Code.


By the 1940's it was decided comic books were causing all the harm. It was Rock and Roll's turn in the 50's and Television pretty much ever since.

A couple of years back, a college massacre was blamed on video games and before that one at a high school was connected to bowling. Finding a whipping boy is always easier than admitting the problem is more human in nature and perhaps much harder to eliminate.

And God forbid that anybody might want to tamper with the Young Offender's Act.

In 1975, I appeared in a play at the Toronto Free Theatre called "Heat", playing the lead character in a story based on the life and crimes of Charles Howard Schmid Jr. who had been dubbed "The Pied Piper of Tucson".


A popular high school gymnast with Hollywood good looks, Schmid had murdered three young women in Tucson, Arizona; killings that local teens were widely aware of but never reported to police.

Some had even attended parties with Schmid on the promise of being able to witness a murder first hand.

He had a hypnotic attraction to those around him, convincing friends to hand over their girlfriends to be slain and then help him bury them in the desert.

Schmid was finally convicted of the murders in 1966 and sentenced to Death.  And the play examined many of the same questions people in 1975 were still asking about how well bred kids had evolved into the Manson family.

So, as part of my preparation for the role I wrote a letter to "Smitty". And he wrote back.

He was very open about what he'd done, the pages he sent filled with the bravado of somebody whose charisma had blinded him to the damage he had brought upon so many others. He detailed how he felt he should be portrayed and even applied to the prison Warden for permission to come see the show.

When that was obviously declined, he vowed to escape and come see it anyway. Unfortunately, his travel plans were interrupted by two other inmates who stuck a shiv in him 47 times. He died in a prison hospital a few days before we opened.

At the time of his trial, Life Magazine, Time and Playboy all ran stories about the Tucson murders, each coming up with their own theories on why so many local kids had admired Schmid and enjoyed the vicarious thrill of his handiwork.

A lot of people in Pitt Meadows and elsewhere are probably trying to get their heads around the same questions today. But implying that facebook is any part of the problem serves no other purpose but giving the established media an opportunity to kick around some of their competition.

In the early 1960's, those following the Pied Piper of Tucson passed notes in class and whispered over chocolate shakes in the burger joints along Speedway Boulevard. Today they pass the same notes on Twitter and upload photos from the camera in their phones.

The method of communication may be different. But what motivates it is the same. It's a need to be part of something more exciting than what you've got, a desire to have or share in a persona that's recognizable and apart from the sameness that's all around you.

Life magazine described Charles Schmid this way…

"He was different. He was Smitty, with mean "beautiful" eyes and an interesting way of talking, and if he sometimes did weird things, at least he wasn't dull."

…at least he wasn't dull.

The power of most social networking sites is their ability to give users an opportunity to transform. They can populate their pages with what matters to them instead of what permeates their lives and reconfigure their social circle into the group of "friends" they'd really rather have.

Most of them do that in a manner reflecting their hopes and aspirations and unspoken or still unfocused desires. 99.9% will never harm anyone or anything except maybe their own future employment by posting a picture of the first time they got drunk or pulled up their shirt.

Judging by the popularity of the inane games on facebook, many are there because they're just bored or lonely.

But the human animal is not perfect and some of us are downright evil little fucks. They're the other .1%.

Those guys don't make "mistakes" or behave "inappropriately". There is real malice in the world and they embrace it. And they know how to use digital cameras and wi-fi too.

A smart lawyer might wring some sympathy from their juries by blaming splatter movies, too many Twinkies or facebook. But they either knew full well what they were doing was wrong or were already so far gone the difference between right and wrong didn't even register anymore.

It's too easy to believe that by reining in facebook we control the rage or venom that powers those people or that a crying policeman sharing our pain is helpful. What solves the problem is simply making sure the .1% in this case never have the opportunity to be alone with a 16 year old girl again.

Within the body of its story on Charles Schmid, Life magazine detailed all sorts of vague teenage angst and alienation in searching for an explanation of what happened in Tucson. They also included the lyrics of a song that had been popular at the time of the killings, Crispian St. Peters' "The Pied Piper".

"Hey, c'mon babe, follow me,

I'm the Pied Piper, trust in me,

I'm the Pied Piper

And I'll show you where it's at."

Evil always knows "where it's at" and we need to be there waiting to kill it instead of following where some Main Stream Media Pied Piper would rather lead us.


The Motorcycle Boy said...


Goes to show that fucked-up people have always been part of the thread of human civilization.

Only now, our 'connectedness' will ironically be our unraveling.

What we need is - not a RCMP force that strolls into an airport waiting room and casually tasers a man to death - but a Vigilante Force that knows how to turn meat into pulp with heavy blunt objects.

And a Citizens Brigade that polices the Vigilantes.

And some Raging Grannies to police the Citizens Brigade.

Et cetera.

/forgive me, the hard-boiled novel is coming around nicely.

Dana said...

Really good blog, Jim. I'm going to share the link round and about if that's OK with you, as I'm sure it is.

How often do we witness carefully thought out, well written, useful, informative articles in today's newspapers? Not very often I'd say and on the occasions when we do they're almost always about something other than crime.

How many times do stories in today's newspapers eventually turn out to have been simply wrong on the facts? Ofttimes because the journo in question was unquestioningly quoting a government or corporate official.

How often does the amount of space and ink given over to advertising dwarf the amount given over to news?

Newspapers are about selling advertising and acquiring subscribers and nothing else. Full stop.