The Washington Post strung up a lowly Starbucks Barista over the weekend just a day or so after former sitcom star Leah Remini used her reality show to convict a man as a serial-rapist.
You know, things have really changed around here…
And not for the better, especially if you revere the fourth, sixth, and eighth Amendments.
We were once a society raised on To Kill a Mockingbird, The Crucible, The Lottery, The Scarlet Letter… Above all, we were taught to respect the presumption of innocence, and to reject the mob and the tyranny of the majority. Even popular culture hammered this point home. On top of Perry Mason, there were all those episodes of Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Wagon Train, The Riflemen, and Rawhide where one lonely man, one hero, stood between mob justice and the American ideal.
Look at us now…
We’re now a society making everything about the classic 1976 movie Network come true.
Mass media has become the leader of the mob, the Fury handing out torches (Twitter) and pitchforks (Instagram), the vigilantes looking to String ’em up with rope made of ones and zeroes.
The news media choose its daily villains for our Two Minutes Hate, and sometimes that villain is not the powerful, but just everyday people, the powerless who are tried and convicted in the court of public opinion without the benefit of nuance or even hearing their side; without the graciousness of that most American of virtues, the benefit of the doubt.
And the consequences of this are strikingly real: job and reputation losses, de-platforming, blacklisting. Yes, it’s back — the very scarlet letter we were once taught was so wrong. But the scarlet letter could be removed…
The Internet is forever.
Just this weekend, it was the Washington Post holding some hapless Starbucks barista up to the crowd to have his wings plucked.
Before that it was CNN and a nobody rodeo clown.
Before that it was BuzzFeed and a woman named Justine Sacco.
But even when it is the powerful targeted, do we really want to live in a country where some former-sitcom actress tries and convicts a fellow human being of rape in the big finale of her stupid reality show?
Accuse someone of rape and you get to be a TV star!
What the hell are we doing?
Here’s another question…
How many times does HBO’s electronic Kangaroo Court get to play us for fools before we wake up and realize just how grotesque this all is?
HBO broadcast a four-hour documentary that “convicts” Michael Jackson, a man who’s been dead ten years, for the worst crimes imaginable, but failed in basic fact checking.
HBO broadcast a documentary miniseries — a whole miniseries! — that “convicts” Robert Durst of murder and almost certainly resulted in his arrest, but only because the Big Finale was his so-called confession.
And only after all the damage was done did we discover the so-called confession was selectively edited.
The producers argue the edit didn’t matter.
If it didn’t matter, why do it?
Lifetime produced an entire documentary series to convict R. Kelly, to convict one man. As a result, his career’s been decimated and he’s now sitting in solitary confinement.
West of Memphis, is an award-winning 2012 documentary about the West Memphis Three, three men falsely imprisoned 18 years for murder convictions based on public hysteria as opposed to evidence. Hey, I love documentaries that use the power of popular culture to test the State, most especially the criminal justice system. Bravo! Let a million Thin Blue Lines flower! But then West of Memphis turns around and becomes the very thing that put those three innocent men in prison — the documentary itself becomes a mob chasing a man the producers suspect to be the real killer.
Same thing with Netflix’s Making a Murderer, which started out doing the Lord’s work, digging into a dual murder conviction, asking questions, testing the State’s case — and ended up leading a mob against a man the producers — not police detectives or district attorneys — believe to be the real killer.
I am more than willing to admit that some of those who have faced Trial By Reality Show might be guilty, maybe even all of them are guilty. But this is not how the system is supposed to work, and by The System, I don’t mean the legal system, I mean American Society.
Any conviction outside of a legal trial where a group of 12 everyday Americans have heard all the evidence and are willing to live with that decision, is an act of mob justice, is scarlet lettering.
And look at who’s behind these electronic convictions…
Is it not a bit dystopian when multi-national media corporations hold show trials, not only for our amusement but to feed our insatiable and demonic desire to be judgmental, to feel superior and sanctimonious?
This un-American nonsense not only allows us to sit home and pretend to be self-righteous detectives solving a diabolical mystery in the cause of justice, we’re then allowed to bring down a verdict, and thanks to social media we even get to participate in the lynching from the comfort of our own iPhones.
Off with his job!
Off with his career!
Off with his social media platform!
Off with his reputation!
Off with his ability to make a living!
Billion dollar corporations making billions more off kangaroo courts of public opinion where people can testify without penalty of perjury.
This is hideous.
Yes, I would much rather see 100 guilty men go free than see one innocent man in prison. Yes, I’m one of those, a bleeding heart when it comes to the power of the criminal justice system to strip us of our basic rights. You’re goddamned right I am. And that’s why our system, as flawed as it is, is the best in the history of the world.
But Trial by Reality Show…?
Shame on us.