Thursday, December 27, 2012

When the Media Passes Judgment ...

Part of being human is the capacity for making judgments.  For better or worse, whether it's right or wrong, all human beings judge.  The best among us look at all the facts and don't come to conclusions about other people, social issues, or whatever based solely on emotion.

I am as guilty of making knee-jerk judgments as anybody, and I have a tendency to give more credence to emotion than I perhaps should.  I also have a tendency to never forget a wrong that has been done to those I love.  I can (and do) forgive, but I never forget, and you'd better believe that past history plays a role in how I view a person or a social issue or a given situation.

I think everybody has their own set of rules, their own moral compass, to use a tired old expression.  That's our right and privilege as human beings, and I'd be shocked if any two compasses were 100% synchronized.  I'm good with that.

What bothers me, though, is when we are told what our morals and values should be...and even more so when we, lemming-like, follow those directions without thinking about them for ourselves and applying our own set of beliefs.

And it is especially deplorable when it's the media doing the judging.

This is a picture of Elizabeth "Lizzi" Marriott, a first-year student at the University of New Hampshire.

When Lizzi Marriott was reported missing on a Tuesday in October, New Hampshire's lone news station went crazy reporting on it.  Lizzi's family was making posters, volunteers were searching, she was a "good kid", a marine biology major, a Harry Potter fan, basically the quintessential "girl next door".  Daily updates of the search for Lizzi focused on what a tragedy it was, how her family was holding out hope, the volunteer turnout to look for her.

On Friday night, police began searching the waters off of Peirce Island in Portsmouth.  The heroics of the rescue team, the fact that evidence had in fact been discovered and was being acted upon, and, yes, the continued tragedy of Lizzi's absence were all over the news.

On Saturday, October 13th, 30-year-old Seth Mazzaglia was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.  New Hampshire news venues once again exploded; after all, now there was a clear-cut "bad guy".  Mazzaglia was described as an odd duck, a loner, a martial arts experts, a man with a college degree in theatre (and the media took pains to find and quote people as saying a pretty crappy actor).

Rumbles of a Fifty Shades of Grey-esque encounter gone terribly wrong began to circulate, although good old WMUR didn't report on this.  Instead, they quickly tapered off coverage of Lizzi Marriott over the course of a few days, briefly mentioning that the search continued for her body but essentially eliminating any coverage of Lizzi as a person.

If you wanted details on the sexual bondage aspects of the case, you could find them on national sites, but New Hampshire's media had pretty much washed its hands of Lizzi Marriott...and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to deduce that someone made a decision that her participation in what many would consider a deviant sex act placed some of the blame for her death on Lizzi's own shoulders.  

Does the fact that Lizzi Marriott was "either strangled or suffocated" by Seth Mazzaglia when S&M sex went too far change the fact that her death was a tragedy?  Does it make her any less dead?  Does her family feel any less pain?

Apparently the "murder victim" line blurs when the saga twists in a direction that will raise the "morals and values" hackles on the necks of some viewers.

Better to just let Lizzi Marriott disappear into the woodwork.

And that is the media passing silent judgment on Lizzi Marriott, which is terribly wrong.

On Christmas Eve, 19-year-old Kat McDonough was arrested on charges connected to Lizzi Marriott's disappearance.  Gone were the personal anecdotes about the young woman who'd volunteered with marine animals and was loved by friends and family in her hometown.

Instead, WMUR's reference to Lizzi Marriott was formal and technical.

A second arrest has been made in the disappearance and death of a University of New Hampshire student.
Michael A. Delaney, New Hampshire attorney general, Dover Police Chief Anthony F. Colarusso Jr., and Col. Robert C. Quinn of the New Hampshire State Police made the announcement on Monday. The officials said that Kathryn McDonough, 19, of Portsmouth, was arrested Monday and charged with two felony counts in connection with the disappearance and death of Elizabeth "Lizzi" Marriott, 19, whose body has not been found.

If you're interested in the basic details, Kat McDonough was evidently dating Seth Mazzaglia.  She and Lizzi Marriott worked together at a nearby Target store and were friends.  Lizzi had plans with McDonough the night she disappeared, and we can infer that those plans involved sexual activity that was more likely than not a bondage-based ménage a trois where something went terribly wrong.

We know that a young woman died when she'd barely had time to experience and enjoy life as an adult.

If you want to judge Lizzi Marriott's sex life, that is your prerogative.  After all, when you put the facts of this sad story into the matrix of your own moral compass, you'll more likely than not feel a little bit differently than if Lizzi had, say, been savagely stabbed by a stranger while walking to class.

What is not okay with me, though, is how the media coverage passed its own judgment.  It is their job to report the news, the facts.  If news outlets had matter-of-factly reported on Lizzi Marriott's disappearance in a hands-off manner from the start and continued in this vein as less-than-savory details emerged, that would be one thing.

What they did, though, is put her into the hearts of viewers initially.  We heard wonderful, personal, touching anecdotes about Lizzi Marriott as a person, as a volunteer, as a hardworking college student.  That angle disappeared as suddenly and shockingly as Lizzi herself, though, when it came to light that she had evidently made a choice to participate in a potentially deadly activity.

And that is just wrong.

Passing judgment is something human beings will always do, no matter what.  However, in the case of Lizzi Marriott, the media took away the rights of viewers to think about what happened and apply it to their own sliding scale of morality.  It skewed our perception of a young woman, first by putting her on a pedestal as "Girl Next Door of the Year, 2012" and then by coldly and callously knocking it away because she let a guy tie her up and choke her during sex.

This post is not about my opinions on Lizzi Marriott and the circumstances leading to her death, although I should probably mention that my older daughter is a college freshman, which makes the young woman more personally accessible to me than she might be to others.      

Instead, it is about the concept of passing judgment.  Do you agree that it's an integral part of being human, or am I way off base there?  What elements should be involved in judgments you make, even if you never say them aloud to anyone?  And does the media have the right to push the morals and values of its parent company when allegedly reporting news?

I'm curious to see what people think about this one ...   

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Why I Don't Love the Holidays

I used to blog a lot, then I got bogged down with writer's block, life, and foot surgery.  I took a series of "mirror pictures" the other day, and the metaphor of looking at myself in the mirror was not lost on me; it has, if nothing else, made me want to write again, which is a step in the right direction.

So here I am ...

And here goes my latest attempt at musings (I should mention that much of why I've been unable to write lately is because I have so much I want to write about--gun control, the asinine faux celebrations by some groups that are downright insulting when you get right down to it, the use of technology in schools, just to name a few).

Holidays are supposed to be a happy time, right?  I always--always--end up miserable, disillusioned, and feeling downright lonely.

I should make very clear that Christmas was wonderful and incredible for my girls, which is of course the most important thing.

In terms of me personally, though, it boils down to two main things that cause me angst around the holidays.

*  My step-father passed away on December 23 several years ago.  He was one of the best, and I miss him terribly.  My mother has it even worse, and my entire family is honestly pretty down in the dumps at Christmastime.

This year I had a new wrinkle added.

I went to the cemetery on the 23rd, put an ornament on the tree planted there along with a letter I'd written to him, and then I cried a lot.

I learned recently that my stepdad loathed Pythagorus (the blog pseudonym I use for my alcoholic, emotionally abusive ex-husband), felt from the moment he met him that he was weak and unstable.  He found Pythagorus to be completely pathetic, predicting long ago that Pythagorus would self-destruct because ... well, that's what mentally ill people unable to face their problems do when life doesn't go their own way.

I realized that I am angry with him for not telling me that his take on Pythagorus was that he was pretty much a sociopath, a person that sees life only in terms of himself (which is not to say that he didn't do good things but rather that he did them so that people would say, "Wow, what a good person he is!").

In other words, my stepdad had Pythagorus pegged perfectly, knew that he would cause me tremendous pain, yet let it happen anyway.

A sense came to me at the cemetery, a feeling that seemed like a message: "You have Belle, and you wouldn't otherwise."

That is true, and my magical Fairy girl is worth every broken glass and scream and lie and cruelty and bruise and humiliation he put me through.

Coming to terms with my stepdad--who was the best judge of character I've ever met--making a conscious choice to let life happen and the knowledge that it was the right thing to do even though it would epitomize the word "bittersweet" was exhausting, and it made me miss him even more this year.

I would have loved to have a conversation with my stepdad.  I kind of did at the cemetery (I always feel like I've spent time with him after going to his grave), but I wanted more, which made me miss him even more, and ... yeah, it snowballed.

*  I love to give.  The concept of doing things for other people--specifically taking the time to find a way to show the people I love that I care about them--is a beautiful thing to me.

I don't want anything in return.  Honestly, I don't.  And people don't understand when I tell them that.

What ends up happening is that people give me things that show that they don't understand me as well as I'd expected or know how to make me happy in a simple way, which is my preference.  With God as my witness, I'd rather get a piece of maple sugar candy than a diamond necklace.

So I get depressed on that level, which of course leads me to the obvious extension ... am I doing the same thing for other people?  Do I think that I am making them happy by spending time with them or having a lively conversation or giving a gift, and it's truly just depressing the hell out of them because it's all just showing how little I know them?

*  Something really amazing was supposed to be happening right around now.  It's not.  I'm sad.  

I'm realizing writing this post how selfish I sound (I am really and truly not selfish), but I guess I'm wondering if anyone else feels worse during the holiday season than any other time of year.

Here's a specific question for anyone reading this ... feel free to respond in the comments.  What are your thoughts on Yankee Swaps?

Me, I think they're fine for work parties and large social gatherings, but not for family.  The idea of taking the time, energy, and thought out of picking out a gift for someone (which could include a homemade coupon for a backrub or an afternoon of sledding, for example, or something like what Addie did for her grandmother, taking her to see Les Miserables the afternoon of Christmas day) in lieu of spending a little bit of money on something generic that involves absolutely no thought is just distasteful to me.  I realize that this is not a popular view; I almost caused a scene at Thanksgiving when I said I would refuse to participate in a family Yankee Swap (I did try to make clear that if everyone else was good with that, it was fine with me, but I just did not want to participate for reasons that I believe you understand if you're still reading this).

Anyway, I'm rambling ... but at least I'm writing :-)

The next post will be tighter, better organized, and hopefully more thought-provoking instead of me wondering if I'm the only one to wallow in self-pity at Christmastime.     

Are Minorities Discouraged from Taking Upper-Level Classes?: The Elephant in the Room

As a public school teacher for sixteen years, I sometimes feel like I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen Standards come and go (and despite the brou...