Sadness For Fun & Profit

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I recently finished Dave Cullen’s incredible, agonizing book ‘Columbine’ and it got me thinking (and crying), namely about the nature of tragedy in the media. Where do we draw the line on profiting off the misfortune of others?

This came to mind specifically with Columbine because in one of the ‘basement tapes’ with the killers confessing all, the discussed who they would want to helm a movie adaptation of the attack. Spielberg and Tarantino were tossed around as names. In actuality the attack they had been planning was much larger – it would have been the largest terrorist attack in America, up until 9/11 anyway. So perhaps there would have been a movie.

But where do we draw the line? I sincerely doubt anyone will ever make a movie on Columbine, because it would essentially be giving into the killers wishes – to be famous for mass destruction. But then, with the actual world’s largest terrorist attack – 9/11 – we’ve had several movies come out and fare not horribly (United 93, World Trade Centre). They aren’t commercial runaways because it’s just too painful to process, or they focus more on the action and heroics over the facts…but they’re out there, and within a short time frame of the attacks. Conversely another large, infamous bombing – Oklahoma – has never had a film made about it to my knowledge.

I suppose the argument could be made that the 9/11 films focus on heroics while making a movie about a story where there really only is a villain wouldn’t fare well. Case in point – Karla, the ill-fated movie on one half of the infamous ‘school girl killers’, starring Laura Prepon as Karla Homolka, was considered so tasteless it basically got shut down before it was released. I believe the families saw it though, and I remember seeing ad for it in the papers once.

But again, let’s move back over to Monster, the film Charlize Theron won best actress for portraying a mass murdered. There were no heroics, maybe a bit of sympathy cast for Aileen (played by Theron) as a prostitute who’s life is endangered when she takes her first stab at murder. Somehow this movie was marketable. As are several other true crime / tragedy films – Natural Born Killers was shorthand for the Columbine killers’ plans, they often wrote about “NBK” coming soon.

We’ve also got Bowling for Columbine, one of the world’s most successful documentaries of all time. The movie wasn’t just about the incident, it was really about larger issues of violence and gun control in America, but it certainly was boosted by the national attention to the attacks (that are still prominent today). Certainly though, I can’t imagine a re-enactment of the attacks will happen ever…I get chills and lightheaded from just thinking about that book.

So circling back, the book. There are many books written on tragedies. In the case of Columbine, they are successful almanacs when it comes to debunking myths and setting the story straight (which Cullen, as a journalist guilty of many of the media-proliferated myths, admirably does). The book is Cullen’s opus, ten years of exhaustive research compiled into one, solid, readable (yet painful) tome that tries to find answers in a thankless situation. I say, Cullen deserves the hefty pay cheque that will likely come from the sales of this book. But I also wince and realize that the psychotic, messiah complexes of the killers would be tickled at the idea that a guy spent a decade to write a book about them (and even then probably didn’t get it ‘entirely right’) and their senseless acts.

Having a book written, vetted, and fact checked means the truth is out there – which is great. But the concept that select individuals are profiting off of tragedies bothers me, not so much in that it’s insulting to the victims, but that it’s giving credence to the initiators that spawned these acts of terror.

That’s a hard one to swallow.

- Britt’s On

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