The Glass Teat, October 18, 1968
Ladies and gentlemen - welcome to violence!
This column discusses violence in the media, from the coverage of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago to the gratuitous violence of westerns like Gunsmoke where "Little Joe Cartwright shoots down seventeen faceless hardcases" and we don't blink an eye 'cause they were Bad Guys and Got What They Deserved. In between, Ellison points up the fact that sometimes for the sake of the story violence is necessary (referring specifically to Herman Melville's Billy Budd.)
Media today seems to be more scared of sex than of violence (as long as it's the "safe" violence as in Gunsmoke - all the killing and only 10% the blood). It's more acceptable to show a violent movie than a sexual one - and what gets cut when the film makes its debut on network TV?
More interesting, though is the comment at the end of the column, about the proclivity even then of news reporters to exploit tragedy:
"Or doesn't it disturb anyone to see a video newsman shoving his hand-mike down the gullet of a grieving widow on her knees before the burned body of her seven-year-old son?"
Little did we know then that the explotiation of tragedy would turn into a full-time obsession for news outlets, from the initial minute-by-minute reporting, complete with reckless speculation, to the obligatory anniversal (is that a word?) references.
TWA Flight 800. John F. Kennedy, Jr. Princess Diana. Jon-Benet Ramsey. Chandra Levy. The DC sniper. School shootings. Luby's cafeteria. San Ysidro McDonald's. Jim Jones. Waco. Oklaholma City, 1995. Ex-employee massacres. Postal worker shootings. And, of course, the biggie, 9/11.