Sunday, September 03, 2006
What Do Bloggers And Serial Killers Have In Common?
The man pictured here is not me or any other blogger - although he might as well as be, considering how bloggers are generally envisioned. Homely, unprepossessing, ordinary in all the bad ways. In fact, this man is the notorious serial killer BTK. Yet that, too, makes him ordinary in all the bad ways, because the accusation of ordinariness is the cruelest punishment society can give him. When a serial killer is caught these days, it is not enough simply to call him "evil" or a "monster". To envelop anyone in such an aura of melodramatic otherness will inevitably make that person appear special, magical and larger than life. It is the ultimate backhanded compliment.
What both the press and law enforcement officials do instead is to remind us of the serial killer's fundamental averageness. He is portrayed as a little man, a loser, a total obscurity who accomplished nothing worthwhile in his life and would never have drawn our attention if it hadn't been for his unspeakable crimes. We are reminded, in other words, that he is just like us. We are told implicitly that, if we keep our heads down and do our jobs without complaint, pay our taxes, obey the laws and raise our children - and never, ever attempt to do anything else - we may not achieve either fame or wealth. But we will be rewarded with the hypocritical false reverence of our betters, who will flatter us with phrases like "good hard-working folks", "fellow Americans" and "solid citizens". These fulsome sobriquets accentuate the good side of ordinariness, while "loser", "little man" and "total obscurity" illuminate the dark side. In the final analysis they describe the same condition. The worst public humiliation that our society can impose on us is to reveal what it really thinks of us, and had always thought of us even when we were obeying its laws. The best reward it can give us is simply to hold that judgment in abeyance.
If such criminals have any positive social function, it is to elicit the secret contempt that our society feels for the vast majority of its members. The nature of this contempt is identical to that which is often shown when one of the "little people" without the proper education or connections starts a business, or runs for office, or tries to create art - in short, if any one of us aspires to anything beyond the suffocating and tiny circuit of the family, the neighborhood and the cubicle. We, like serial killers, are castigated as "little men with big dreams". As in the noir movies of the 1950's, we are derided for the hubris of not knowing our place.
American journalists, with their belief that they hold exclusive rights to the English language and an elite franchise on an understanding of human nature, are content to write about us, and talk about us, and vivisect our spirits even as we live and breathe in their presence. We are the animal and they are the naturalist - but in our case the animal, too, is capable of thought and language. Yet when we try to speak out in our blogs, even if we acknowledge our debt to the journalists, they will rail against us as if we have forced the sun to revolve around the earth. They will do anything to belittle us, as that littleness is where we belong. We are all lazy, paunchy dilettantes tapping away on our keyboards as we sit in our pajamas, munching on midnight snacks. We have violated the supreme law of knowing one's place, and our punishment is a contempt as profound as that imposed on any serial killer or child molester. By humiliating us, they are showing you what they would do to you if you tried to speak out as well.