This was originally published on Incite Politics.
Incite is a subscriber blog, so I re-post original articles after a couple of weeks.
One of the more lamentable tendencies of political and media culture is to invoke certain recently-deceased as fetish objects in service to some cultural or political cause célèbre. Safely unable to speak for themselves, the dead become a sort of macabre rhetorical soapbox for the obsessions of cynical politicians and activists.
This is not new, of course: John Brown’s body quite literally became a rallying-cry for the Union army in the American Civil War. Horst Wessell’s corpse inspired the Nazis’ favourite anthem. In modern times, death transforms petty criminals into saints of civil rights.
Sometimes this fetishism of the dead serves to highlight some urgent political or civil issue. The murder of media employee Jill Meagher highlighted the alarming legal environment in the state of Victoria, where dangerous repeat offenders were routinely released on bail. More often, though, this public metaphorical necrophilia is riddled with humbug and hypocrisy.
Even in the case of Jill Meagher one must wonder whether the crime would have attracted such monumental public attention had the victim been, not a pretty young woman working in a powerful media organisation, but, say, a toothless, middle-aged, drug-addicted single mother living unemployed in the poorer suburbs.
When a teenager from the wealthy North Shore of Sydney died from the effects of the illegal drugs she’d perfectly willingly imbibed, her death became an object of public obsession. Despite the fact that some 500 other Australians similarly died from drug overdoses that very year, it was the pretty young girl from the rich end of town who became the public fetish object. Her death was used to promote policies such as zero-tolerance for any amount of illegal drugs: policies which, as journalist Jack Marx pointed out, would have seen their anointed martyr thrown in jail.
The latest outburst of necrophiliac cant follows the killing of a young, female comedian walking home at night through a Melbourne park. It goes without saying that this crime is abhorrent. But, surely, any murder is abhorrent? Yet, by the latest statistics, there would have been roughly 100 murders in Australia so far this year. Why were 99 murders all-but ignored, yet one become a cause célèbre?
It does not seem too cynical to suppose that it has much to do with the profile of the victim: young, female, attractive and associated with the entertainment industry and radical politics. For Australia’s media and cultural elite, this particular victim was one of them.
Most are not.
Criminology data indicates that murder victims in Australia are overwhelmingly male. Most come are socially disadvantaged, living in rough neighbourhoods with dysfunctional families, in a milieu of poverty, substance abuse and crime. Bogans, not to put too fine a point on it. Chavs. Rednecks. People the elite neither know much, let alone care about.
Eurydice Dixon’s background does not justify her death. Yet neither do the backgrounds of the poor men from bad neighbourhoods who make up the majority of Australia’s murder victims. So why does one dominate headlines and not the others?
The answer seems to lie in what Patrick West calls “conspicuous compassion”. West originally observed this phenomenon in the public hysteria following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Today, even a career burglar killed in the course of committing crime is rewarded with public vigils and masses of flowers and teddy bears.
Coupled with such public displays of “crocodile tears and manufactured emotion” is naked opportunism. Even Diana’s death was exploited. The same sanctimony and hypocrisy is flowing freely in the wake of Eurydice Dixon’s death.
Activists rant about women’s right to walk streets in safety. This is true, certainly: but men have no less right to walk streets in safety, surely? Why did none of the far more common murders of men move these activists to such outrage?
Melbourne has for months been subject to a wave of violent crimes committed by African youths. Yet the very same political and cultural elite who sniffed that Melbournians had nothing to fear are now wailing that they don’t feel safe there at night.
Politicians assert that “men have to change”. Note the universal: “men”. Not “some men”, as in the very few men who do actually perpetrate such violence, but all men. These are the same politicians who insist, in the wake of this week’s Islamic terror attack, that “not all Muslims” bear any responsibility, and indeed that the killers were not even “real Muslims”. Twitter users suggested a curfew on men, because of male violent crime. Suggest an identical policy apply to Muslims at your own risk.
Feminists keep careful count of murdered women and can rattle off the current tally at a moment’s notice. Yet try asking how many men have been killed at any given time. The only answer forthcoming is abuse, even though statistically we know for certain that it is roughly double the feminists’ tally of women. Is someone less dead, less of a murder victim, simply by virtue of their sex?
Contrary to the assertions of self-serving politicians, there is no “culture of violence” towards women. Australian society does not celebrate, justify or excuse violence against women. Violence is punished, and the perpetrators reviled.
Eurydice Dixon’s death is a tragedy. So is every murder. They are also rarer and rarer events in modern Australia. We live in a safer society than almost any in human history.
This does not, of course, diminish the personal tragedy of any murder victim. But it does expose the ensuing hysteria for what it is: an opportunistic and hypocritical fetishism of the dead. This is not compassion, nor is it virtue: it’s public necrophilia.