Friday, December 19, 2008

Slightly dark humor

This is amusing, in a grim sort of way. (By putting up this grim post now, I am committing myself to posting something else before Christmas, come what may. I can't have this up at the top of the page on Christmas!)

Lawrence Auster has been talking about a gruesome story out of the UK that no one else seems to want to talk much about: A 63-year-old man named Patrick McGee was murdered and beheaded outside his home, his head thrown in a trash bin. The news stories (such as we have) have said bizarre things to the effect that he was "decapitated after a dispute about noise" by a neighbor "said to be suffering from mental illness." Say, what? You know, you've gotta watch this business of asking your neighbors to turn down the radio (or playing yours too loudly). If you're not careful, you might just enrage the poor fellows to the point where they cut off your head. I swear, it is impossible to satirize the UK anymore. Every story out of there is self-satire.

But here's the darkly amusing part. In his search for more information about this (as in, what is the name of the suspect whom police have arrested?), Auster turned up a story from the Scotsman that had as the headline "Tribute to 'Gentle' Victim." Not, mind you, "Elderly Man Decapitated: Nation in Shock." (I also note that people, including people in the media, simply do not know how to use scare quotes. The headline would give the impression that maybe he wasn't really gentle, even though that obviously isn't what the author intended. But that's a hobbyhorse for a different day.) Says Auster:

The fact that the man was murdered and beheaded is placed in a subordinate clause, while the "real" news, the news in the main clause, is that the man was kind and gentle. Wow. A man was kind and gentle. These people really have an instinct for news, don't they? If they were reporting the news on the day in 1453 when Constaninople fell to the Moslems and the city's population was slaughtered, their headline and lead would have been something like this:

Lovely City Remembered
May 29--Constantinople, which was conquered and sacked by the Ottomans yesterday, with many thousands of its Christian inhabitants slaughtered and others sold into slavery, was described by survivors as a place of many wonderful memories.

I have to admit, that made me laugh out loud.


Richard D said...

Oh my. I read your post just after finishing the bedtime story for my son. As a break from Alexander Dumas' Three Musketeers, I chose tonight to read Edgar Allan Poe's The Telltale Heart. He wanted more after that story, so I read him The Raven.

I then kissed him goodnight, walked into my study and read your post. I must admit that in my head I heard your post in the same lilting sing-song rhythm as the Poe poem. And with the subject matter being not too far removed from the storyline of dismemberment in The Telltale Heart, I was quite unprepared for the turn of humor at the end.

Great post. Thanks.

Lydia McGrew said...

Sorry, didn't mean to give you a surreal feeling!

If your son likes 19th century fiction and can stand listening to something longer (in installments), I recommend Charles Dickens's "The Haunted Man." It's about novella length, similar in length to "A Christmas Story." It is also a Christmas story, and to my mind, it would have made a wonderful movie. It's a shame no one ever made one. If you find a copy and read it yourself and like it, you can decide whether to read it to him. It is sometimes contained in books of Dickens's ghost stories or Christmas stories.

It has, by the way, nothing really to do with the subject of this post. It just came into my mind when you mentioned reading aloud.