EDITORIAL TUESDAY 20.04.10.
It has been said for centuries that “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword”, and it seems that despite modern civilization, the rule of law, and the official rejection of vengeance and vigilantism, it still holds perfectly true. The only surprise about the fact that the notorious thug Carl Williams has met an unpleasant end, is that it was done inside the maximum security wing of a maximum security prison. Other than that, nobody would be particularly surprised, and I suspect very few would be saddened by his death.
At the same time, the recent debate about television and the media in general supposedly glamorizing or glorifying criminals and their crimes has sprung up again in the wake of his death. Carl Williams was the central character in the original “Underbelly” television series, and many people outside of Melbourne might well have never heard of him if it wasn’t for the on screen dramatization of his life and crimes. But does that mean that it is appropriate to abandon scheduled programming and televise what amounts to tribute to such a figure?
There’s no doubt that the event is big news, and it is only to be expected that it would dominate the evening bulletins. But a number of people have expressed some discomfort with the manner in which Channel 9 has appeared to be opportunistically cashing in on these events to shamelessly promote the new “Underbelly” series. So is it appropriate for 9 to milk it for all it’s worth, as appears to be the case, or is it morally and ethically wrong? Is it promoting and glorifying the evil deeds of an evil man?
Personally, I would have preferred to watch the scheduled episode of “The Mentalist”, but about a million people watched the Carl Williams program, so it would seem that a great many people wanted to see what it was all about. People have always been fascinated by evil. Crime and violence has always been a popular form of entertainment, whether between the pages of a detective novel, or on the movie screen, or of course in our living rooms on television. It is a legitimate form of entertainment, and factual stories are also a matter for legitimate interest.
I can only repeat what I said before Carl Williams was killed, and that is that far from glamorizing the bad guys, these stories are morality tales. They have no happy endings, as Carl Williams discovered at about 1pm yesterday. Just because we watch them, doesn’t mean we want to be them. And I suspect that anybody who does is already a sandwich short of the picnic anyway, and watching a show like “Underbelly” isn’t going to be the cause of their life choices.
And as for whether the television coverage is responsible or appropriate, the audience will decide as it always does. If Channel 9 crosses the mine and goes too far, the audience will turn against them. So far, that hasn’t happened.