Commentary

Metamurder

Alison Parker and Adam Ward were shot to death last week in Roanoke, Va. Soon thereafter, suspect Vester Flanagan shot himself as police closed in.

You know all about it. All about it, including Flanagan’s checkered work history and his catalogue of grievances toward his ex-employer and white racists and homophobes. You even know his erstwhile professional name, Bryce Williams. Why do you know those things? Surely not because of the violence itself. A gun murder in the United States has all the novelty of a departure from Roanoke-Blacksburg Airport.

It isn’t the body count that got your attention, either. Three dead -- it sickens me to say -- has lost any measure of newsworthiness. Aurora, Co: 12 dead. Virginia Tech: 32 dead. Sandy Hook: 26 dead. Ft. Hood: 13 dead. Columbine HS: 13 dead. Vester Flanagan, former local newsman, well knew that a double murder is no path to prime time.

Unless it were somehow to influence public policy. Ha ha. As if.

None of the hundreds of thousands of gun murders and suicides over the past 30 years, including the slaughter of moviegoers, high-school kids and Connecticut first-graders, has emboldened cowardly legislators to fight the metastatic evil that is the NRA. There is no single event -- nor endlessly mounting collection of tragedies -- capable of weakening the gun lobby’s stranglehold. 

So, no. It’s not that. 

You personally know about Alison and Adam for one reason and one reason alone: it happened live on TV, like disgraced Pennsylvania pol Budd Dwyer’s 1987 suicide, like O.J. Simpson’s slow-speed chase -- hell, like Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction.  

It is possible, I suppose, that because the victims were white TV journalists, the item might have been number four in a wire-service roundup of the day’s notable murders. Or not. But like Caitlin Jenner’s transformation and Paris Hilton’s sex romp, the episode was caught on video and suddenly it was not a mere commonplace crime or anonymous tragedy, but a must-see reality show.

The lip service of condolence has been duly rendered, the boilerplate pieties -- our "thoughts and prayers" -- duly expressed. But as long as we’re talking about life and death here, let’s be real: how many times did you watch the video?

Come on, viral Roanoke is no more about tragedy than it is about news. It’s about the frisson of being an eyewitness, and the social-media fueled orgy of voyeurism. YouTube is rich with sudden-death videos, of course, racking up so many millions of views that they’re sponsored by advertisers. Thank you, Michelob Ultra, for “Business Woman Killed Instantly by Skidding Out of Control Car.” Thank you, Stella Artois, for “Man Killed Instantly.”

Unsurprisingly, there’s a whole Web site for this fare. TheYNC.com is equal parts horrifying gore and porn -- which is to say, 100% porn.

But Roanoke wasn’t just your garden variety macabre spectacle. It was the apotheosis of post-modern media. Because in addition to live TV and endless replays, there was to follow that second video, recorded by the shooter from his own point of view. Now there is a way to get to a Top 50 market. All of them, in fact, all at once. Just as the shooter knew it would.

As if the product of a dark Hollywood satire on media culture -- a la "Natural Born Killers," "The King of Comedy" or "The Truman Show" -- the gruesome act overflowed with self-reference. An alleged killer filming and releasing a reverse angle of what the victims were recording of their own deaths, all with a million-fold more audience than the video they had been broadcasting to a handful of southwestern Virginians for years.

For ironic good measure, the particular terminology for this sort of news segment is “live shot.” Deranged killing as performance art. A perfect, premeditated metamurder.

All I ask for you to remember is that unlike "Natural Born Killers" and very much like "Rashomon," there is in this horror a third point of view. It is that of the grieving and altogether untitillated loved ones of Alison Parker and Adam Ward. They are planning funerals and trying to pick up the pieces, if they’ve even managed to catch their breaths.

They don’t think this is a show.

 

 

 

13 comments about "Metamurder".
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  1. Phillip Nones from Mullin/Ashley Associates, Inc., August 31, 2015 at 12:31 p.m.

    It isn't so much cowardly legislators ... or even the NRA itself ... that we're up against when it comes to changing gun legislation.  It's this sort of daunting challenge:    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/423183/rant-second-amendment-repeal. 

    Anyone who's actually serious about making the effort will need to actually get serious when it comes to action, not talk.

    ... And then be prepared to spend the next quarter century or more attempting to make it happen. 

    Good luck!

  2. Bob Gordon from The Auto Channel, August 31, 2015 at 1:53 p.m.

    Serous article on a serious subject... thanks Bob

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 31, 2015 at 1:56 p.m.

    Better to change it in 25 years than not at all, Phillip. Clockwork Orange or Purple.

  4. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, August 31, 2015 at 2:02 p.m.

    say it, brother.

  5. Jeff Millman from gkv, August 31, 2015 at 2:41 p.m.

    Incredibly well-written and incrediby sad.

  6. Erik Sass from none, August 31, 2015 at 3:05 p.m.

    I am proud to say that I watched the video(s) zero times. Strangely I don't feel obliged to let a worthless degenerate bring garbage into my life. 

  7. Kurt Ohare from ohare & associates, August 31, 2015 at 3:13 p.m.

    To use a quote from Ed Koch:  "nobody asked me but..." 

    I wonder if Vester Flanagan would have killed without the access to social and professional media?  Maybe - maybe not - there is no way of telling but he certainly wouldn't have been able to obtain the level of notarity and "fame" for his "cause" without it.

    If we would stop "glorifying" these horrible acts it may have the same impact as when the media stopped glorifying high school suicides. 

  8. Steven Lentz from Lifevideos.com, August 31, 2015 at 3:24 p.m.

    As a Los Angeles television and radio journalist for a number of years, many of us thought and talked about the potential for an angry co-worker shooting a manager who fired the person and then shooting any of us he/she thought deserved it.  Everytown for Gun Safety is organizing a billboard campaign for Washington, D.C. in the wake of these murders to ask and question congress persons' resolve for stricter rules, if they have any.  Thanks, Bob

  9. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, August 31, 2015 at 5:59 p.m.

    Immovable object meets unstoppable force.  We're so polarized on this issue, between the paranoids who will accept no limitation on their access to guns and ammunition, and the rest of us, barraged with every damned minute detail of every horrendous slaughter by our click-bait addicted media, who cannot believe that nothing can be done to keep guns out of the hands of these people. No, nothing can be done as long as politicians live in fear of the NRA and their minions of pistol-packin' perverts for freedom.

  10. Mark Paul from Mark Paul, August 31, 2015 at 7:04 p.m.

    I haven't seen the video, but I did see Ruby shoot Oswald live. That was enough for me. 

    I don't own a gun, never even shot one. I wish they were as difficult to obtain here as they are in just about every other developed country. 

    But here's something to think about: despite all the energy expended in an effort to establish some meaningful gun control, we've actually gone the other way. Open carry is legal everywhere now, I think, and even concealed carry is legal in a lot of other places.

    The same thing has happened with campaign finance reform.

    Bizarre. 

  11. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 31, 2015 at 7:31 p.m.

    I saw the Ruby shooting too along with the Bud Dwyer suicide in Harrisburg by WHP. Remember the movie "Little Murders" with Elliott Gould ? Open carry and open shoot. Power, absolute power is a game of paranoia where nobody wins where the ones with the most money can play the longest and raise the stakes the highest. They "win" by others killing each other. 

  12. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC replied, August 31, 2015 at 8:16 p.m.

    Exactly.  We're going in the wrong direction.  The NRA has added insult to injury by persuading some state legislators that guns in bars, malls, even churches should be legal. What could possibly go wrong?

  13. Jayne De Sesa from Freelance, September 1, 2015 at 11:24 a.m.

    Thank you Bob, for your as always excellent critique.

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