Monday, August 3, 2009

Fear and Loathing In Perth

According to a very bold headline in a weekend newspaper, we’re living in fear. I hadn’t been aware I was living in fear until reading the headline, suddenly I felt very afraid. Mainly of newspapers, headlines are running rampant in this town.

I’m mourning the untimely death of Hunter S. Thompson who had to consume quantities of hallucinogens and go to Las Vegas in order to feel the kind of fear that we’re experiencing in Perth. According to the newspapers, fear is readily available, one need not tamper with one’s synapses in order to experience a shoddy, chemical version of it. Perth fear is organic and FREE! Surely this is a contributing factor to our ranking among the top twenty cities in the world lifestyle-wise. Baghdad, where fear is inorganic and very, very expensive, was the worst. So there.

And so to loathing. We love an opportunity to loathe. Two weeks ago we were served a delicious chance to loathe two relatives of an eighteen year old boy called Wayne, who had died in a stolen car while being pursued by the police. The dead teen’s cousin pleaded for a change in the way police apprehend drivers of stolen cars. This plea for change was paraphrased in the story’s headline and read “...relatives plead with police to stop chases.” This subtle swap of the word stop in place of change gave the whole story a very different meaning. Suddnely it was about blame. And blame must always be met with counter-blame. Blame ping-pong.

Like fourth graders shooting their hands in the air, puffed up little smarty-pants exploding with the right answer, we wrote to that newspaper and said Wayne would still be alive if he hadn’t stolen the car. One has to admire such rigorous thinking.

Which forces me into a mind numbing chicken-before-the-egg spiral. Is this the response the newspaper sought to provoke? Is the newspaper serving up what we want or what it thinks we want?

I wonder how we would have responded if it had been the police officer who had wound up with a piece of fence piping impaled through his thigh, lower abdomen and exiting at his back, for this was Wayne’s fatal injury. Would we have written him off so neatly in smug little letters to the editor saying he’d got his comeuppance?

I don’t like to imagine what it must be like to experience the death of a child. I think I would feel angry at the universe. I’d make an acid freak like Hunter S. Thompson look like Mary Poppins. I’d blame everyone, including myself, no matter what the circumstances. I would also expect to be forgiven for this without having to beg. But comparatively speaking I’m lucky, rich and white. Wayne’s cousin made a plea for change and was met with vilification.

So our loathing comes at a higher price than our fear. Our loathing, it would appear to me, comes at the cost of our humanity.

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