There's a particular attitude to crime that the tabloids love to tap into. I like to call it the 'Cage this beast!" mentality - if someone commits a horrible crime, they are 'beasts' and 'animals'* or 'evil' and therefore must be 'caged', usually 'until they rot', or better still 'jail's too good for them, they should be hanged', as it's a quirk of many of those who'd like to bring back capital punishment that only the noose, as opposed to the lethal injection or more 'humane' methods of dispatching crims, would be good enough.
It is of course an understandable attitude, whether you agree with it or not. Our instinct when we are victims of inexplicable and violent acts is for revenge; and I daresay the trauma and horror, and desire for revenge, is so many more times greater when you have lost a child to such an awful event. But that instinctive part of the brain is not the only one which exists. There are other things that civilised human beings feel towards criminals - if not a sympathy then probably a desire for them to be turned away from doing it again to someone else, by whatever can achieve that, otherwise that victim's suffering was surely in vain.
So we come to Venables and Thompson, the killers of Jamie Bulger, who committed an appalling and shocking crime against a young child many years ago, when they were barely more than children themselves. The tabloids have always tapped into the desire for revenge more than anything else, whenever the treatment of the killers has been discussed, portraying the justice system as a wishy-washy organisation which has treated the killers with kid gloves and spent millions of pounds protecting their identities, and finally giving them back their liberty. These 'beasts' should have been 'caged' and 'left to rot'! That's the underlying logic. Not logic that everyone would agree with, but that's the unswerving tabloid narrative.
Now Venables is back in trouble - and the tightrope walk has begun by those who would like to see him identified, or don't care whether he is or not, or just don't care about anything. (Of course some will proudly trumpet this news as evidence that these 'beasts' should never have been released from their 'cages' in the first place).
I read an article earlier by someone who is a professional journalist with a major organisation - which I won't link to for fairly obvious reasons - doing his best to try and join the available dots with Venables's identity, or give as many clues as possible. If you read tabloid articles today you will see the details of his and Thompson's lives drip-dripping out - maybe not enough by themselves to give you a clue as to who these people now are, but when taken together... who knows.
The journalist I mentioned before licks his lips at the prospect of Venables being identified, even suggesting how someone might be able to get a precious photo of him and make money out of it by selling it to a tabloid newspaper. You might wonder, given the worldwide ban on their identification, what value this would have. But I could just about see a grainy mobile phone photo on the front page of a tabloid, with a big black rectangle over the 'face of evil' and squealing about how 'we are not allowed to reveal his identity, but THIS is a picture of Jamie Bulger's murderer..." and so on and so on.
Of course if Venables (or Thompson) were to be identified as a result of all this, and if some criminal were to kill them, or worse, a member of their family, or god forbid a child of theirs, if they have any, then some would see this as justice. I wouldn't.
What's pretty certain is that those who have been cheerfully revealing details - not quite enough, but plenty - about their lives in the light of this new information, sheltering behind the figleaf of what they consider to be working in the public interest, will not regret their actions for a moment. So someone found out who they were, they'll shrug their shoulders and say, it was probably on the web as well, nothing to do with us, if they didn't want to get in trouble they shouldn't have done the crime in the first place. These are just beasts who need to be caged!
I can't help wondering if nowadays the mainstream media like to see the web as a place that can do their dirty work for them. They like to portray the denizens of the internet as hysterically emotional souls who can't control themselves and who will, no doubt, reveal whatever information they have. Doubtless you can find plenty of details about the Bulger killers online, if you want. But that's no excuse for the mainstream urging people to reveal this information, then later on claiming it's in 'the public domain' and protesting at their inability to broadcast it. This may be the other strand to these latest events... if Venables were to be identified widely online, then the mainstream could make a case for saying it was ridiculous for them to be protected in the dusty old print and television world.
It's easy to dehumanise criminals by calling them animals and beasts, but of course they aren't. They may act appallingly and do horrific things which shock us, but they aren't animals, or beasts. But if harm does come to the Bulger killers as a result of any of this publicity and clamour for information, who then are the beasts? Who then are the animals? And who then is guilty?
* Some people then respond that 'it's not fair to call them animals; animals would never stoop so low', with which I would disagree. For example, I saw the delightful image on my drive on the M4 this morning of a magpie feasting on the recently-squashed corpse of a rather unlucky squirrel on the hard shoulder. As the lovely domino-coloured bird with its iridescent tail glinting in the springtime sunlight pecked away at the mangled body of the stricken rodent, I thought: I suppose that's wildlife for you. The magpie might look pretty - as I imagine the squirrel did before it got splattered by whatever vehicle ended its tiny life - but it'll rip another animal to bits without a second (or indeed first) thought when it's been short of a meal for too long.
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