Is Evil Cool?
Viewers in the UK and I think around the world will be familiar with the long-running TV series ‘Midsomer Murders’ – Midsomer being a fictional group of English villages where murders take place with alarming regularity. However, on 6th January 2016, Midsomer’s failure to actually have a murder, never mind solve one, was a veritable crisis! The Twitter feeds went into overdrive with the consequence that apologies appeared in the press next day as actors repented before ‘bloodthirsty fans.’
Meanwhile, The Week (9th January 2016) published a little article on Mariane Pearl, a journalist whose husband Daniel Pearl, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped and beheaded by al-Qa’eda in 2002. Footage of his murder was posted online for the world to see. The US network CBS broadcast parts of the posting. Mariane Pearl has never watched the video and, she claims, never will. She has moved to Barcelona from New York in order to avoid the persistent press with its macabre fascination for the brutal and grotesque. “There is something creepy about people’s fascination with horror and I don’t want to deal with that,” she says.
Roger Shattuck, writing in The Atlantic Monthly in 1999 (When Evil is Cool, Vol 283,1,73-78), warned us of this propensity to engage with evil and see it as ‘cool’. We intellectualise the processes used, the media that delivers it and rationalise the motivation. And in doing so we are escalating the violence into a category all on its own, a category with superiority and exemption from the ordinary laws of mankind.
Are Shattuck and Pearl right? Do we have a fascination for the brutal and grotesque? Is this what the gruesome video footage put out by ISIS is feeding in us? And if so, is this an appetite we need to get a grip on even more urgently than the one for excessive calories?