We don’t do it. We don’t watch television. We don’t read tabloids. We are much better than that. We scoff at the news as sensationalist entertainment disguised as the dissemination of information, and we rail against the paparazzi.
We prefer the better things in life. We like to curl up with a good book, take long walks, and go to church on Sundays. We volunteer our time to the local soup kitchen each Thanksgiving and to the Special Olympics come springtime.
We don’t buy those magazines, and we certainly do not surf the Internet for information about the latest scandals. We were disgusted by the OJ Simpson book and television deal, and we were revolted, I repeat, revolted by the footage of the hanging of Saddam Hussein that was broadcasted across the Internet and, in some countries, on television. I think Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post put it best, when he wrote “it’s history as snuff film.”
So, who do we hold responsible for the New Year’s Eve hanging death of 9-year-old Mubashar Ali in Pakistan? His parents? That is the correct answer, if you ask Rahim Yar Khan district police chief Sultan Ahmad. Parental negligence, he called it, “an accident which happened due to the carelessness of parents.”
Mubashar Ali died December 31, 2006 when he and his older sister, 10, attempted to imitate the execution of Saddam Hussein by attaching a rope to a ceiling fan at one end and tying the other around Ali’s neck. The parents and aunt of the children were only yards away, in an adjoining room. They believed the children were playing.
They were correct. The children had been watching the most popular television program in Pakistan that day, the Saddam Hussein execution show. They watched the interactive nature of the proceedings: the stadium-like cheering, the jeering from the good guys, the defiance of the villain, and the intriguing allure of the hooded hangman. Right there, safe in the comfort and safety of their own home, they then witnessed the hanging of Saddam Hussein. And then it was time for the children to turn off the television and to go off and play.
So, now it is time for us to express our shock and horror at the parents who would allow their 9- and 10-year-old children to watch such a thing. What were they thinking? How could this happen? And who else can we blame?
Well, me for starters. In large part, the tragedy of Mubashar Ali occurred because of me. I had many, many accomplices, but I’ve got to tell you, I did it, and I am likely to do it again.
I can’t tell you how many times I have sat in my doctor’s office, hungrily devouring the pages of a three month old edition of Entertainment Weekly. When the medical assistant comes to call me in, I toss the rag aside with well practiced disdain. “I was just catching up on my gossip,” I announce, guiltily.
While driving into work this morning, I heard an entertainment news blurb about some feud Donald Trump and Rosie O’Donnell are embroiled in over those naughty Miss USA gals. Oh my goodness, those two are annoying. I continued to roll my eyes, confident in my superiority to the two entertainment drama junkies, as I Googled up the scoop on my work computer. The exploits of Miss USA Tara Connors, now safe and sound in rehab, and Katie Rees and her nudie shots out of the way, I was now able to get to work. Thank goodness I don’t actually read this stuff.
None of us do. In fact, we don’t read it so often that Katie Rees and Tara Connors were listed as numbers one and two in the list of top gaining Google queries for the week ending December 23, 2006, according to Google Zeitgeist.
So, how did I help put in place the events leading up to the death of Mubashar Ali? I, along with several billion of my accomplices, am a member of an underground society that likes to watch other people fall down. I don’t admit it to many people. I don’t even admit it to myself very often. And I am utterly horrified by any sign of this penchant in my co-conspirators, and try, whenever possible, to distance myself from them, as they do from me.
I am not one of the 3,823,604 people who currently subscribes to People Weekly (Audit Bureau of Circulations for 06/30/06). I only buy the magazine occasionally, at full news stand price, and I only keep it in the bathroom. I say things like “I wish people would ignore OJ Simpson, so that he would just go away!” And then I check the Internet to see whether they are ignoring him yet.
Did I look for the video of the Saddam Hussein execution show on the Internet? No. But I am one of the people it was posted for. I am one of the people it was being televised to in Pakistan. Catharsis? Proof for the people? Nah- that video showed one of the world’s most despicable villains falling down.
Did I choose not to look for the video of the Saddam Hussein hanging because I wouldn’t go that far? No. I’m going to be utterly honest with you here- I would go that far. I simply did not look for it because that is not my cup of tea. I would rather watch Danny DeVito drunk on The View. Now, that I watched on YouTube. If a kid gets drunk, goes on The View, and dies as the result of a fall from Rosie O’Donnell’s lap, it’s on me, my friends. Me, and my billions of buddies.
The writing of this column isn’t going to cure me any more than outrage over the death of Princess Diana cured the world of buying magazines with pictures of the scene of her death in them. But, I thought I’d go on record and cop to my problem- if for nothing more than to show respect for the life of Mubashar Ali, and for that of his 10-year-old sister who will never be the same.
I don’t think reading People Magazine is evil, and I don’t think that we are Googling ourselves straight to hell. But we’re a pretty ripe audience these days, and we require a lot of stimulus. There are very smart people out there who have some very disturbing things that they would like to show us. We only have to look.
Pakistan showed the Saddam Hussein execution show on television. Here in the US, we have to hit a few more buttons. The Internet has become the black market of the media, and grainy cell phone videos of hanging dictators are lurking in Internet back alleys, waiting for our 9- and 10-year old children, as well. You know them- they’re the nice kids who taught you how to use the buttons on your taskbar to hide your videogames from your boss.
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women should check the boards carefully for banana peels.