Old article that originally appeared about a year ago in my old student newspaper. It's about Madeline McCann, but it sums up my feelings about most moral outrages, especially ones involving kids.
Have you heard the one about Madeleine McCann? Chances are you probably have. Whether it was via text message, e-mail, or a conspiratorial whisper from a friend in the pub, there’s a strong likelihood that over the last few months you’ve heard a distinctly off-colour joke about Britain’s most famous missing person. You may even have laughed at it. If you did, congratulations – you got a chuckle out of child abduction. You are now officially a monster.
Or are you? Do you genuinely find the kidnap and possible murder of a four-year-old girl inherently hilarious? Or is it possible that you feel so suffocated by the blanket media hysteria surrounding Maddy and her parents that a silly joke, even if it is tasteless and unfunny, is a welcome release from the relentless, unwavering empathy that you are supposed to display as an upstanding member of the community? If it’s the latter, then you’re probably OK. But whatever you do, don’t tell anyone.
Don’t be like comedian Dave Longley, who last week achieved some kind of bad taste comedic nirvana by cracking a joke that referenced both Madeleine and 11-year-old gang victim Rhys Jones whilst performing a gig in Rhys’s home town of Liverpool. To the surprise of no one, the throwaway gag brought the show to a halt. Longley was booed off stage and was later forced to cancel his remaining gigs in the city. The chairman of Everton FC has asked for Longley never to perform in Liverpool again.
Here, paraphrased, is the offending joke: don’t you think that after Madeleine and Rhys Jones, parents would have figured out not to dress their kids in Everton shirts? Implications of bad taste aside, as a joke it just doesn’t work: it isn’t funny, and deciding to tell it onstage in a city not exactly renowned for its emotional detachment was undoubtedly a catastrophic misjudgement. But does it really justify the torches-and-pitchforks treatment? Do people really think Longley found the abduction of one child and the death of another funny? Was it not clearly just a slightly desperate attempt by a comedian to shock and therefore entertain his audience?
It seems that even in the age where comedy appears to have no boundaries of taste (even next week’s supposed chick flick rom-com The Heartbreak Kid features an extended discussion on ‘queefing’ – www.urbandictionary.com), there are some things that you are forbidden to laugh about. Surely there can be nothing about the McCann case that is a justifiable target for ridicule? Well, what about the Daily Mail’s desperate clamouring to put something, anything about Madeleine on the front page every single day of the week. Now, the headlines just appear to be the editor having a conversation with himself – Mon: IS Madeleine IN MORROCCO? Tues: Madeleine IS NOT IN MORROCCO Wed: DID KATE CALL FOR HELP? Thurs: POLICE SAY THAT KATE CALLED FOR HELP Fri: YEAH, BUT CAN YOU REALLY TRUST THE POLICE? and so on.
The Daily Mail readership laps up these nuggets of information because they are completely embroiled in the Madeleine story – they care. These are the people who put up Madeleine posters in every library, who create ‘Find Madeleine!’ Facebook groups, and inundate police stations constantly with news of possible sightings. They do this because they care.
Making a joke about the Madeleine furore or even just making it clear that you find the media circus distasteful infuriates these people because it shows that you don’t care and it confuses them. It displays an insouciant apathy towards the story that they are unable to understand, as it should be obvious even to the most conservative of critics that behaving passively does not mean that you are in favour of child abduction.
So why as a nation have we become so hysterically concerned with all things Madeleine? It would be cynical to suggest that the public have come to regard the story as just another soap opera, with its myriad twists and turns and varied cast of characters. Cynical maybe, but no one can deny these elements are exacerbated by the popular media. And, for all their empathy and caring, it is hard to picture a Madeleine-obsessed Daily Mail reader going on a march to support the Buddhist monks and the people of Burma – a situation with massive social, economic and political implications that is going on right now, with literally thousands of innocent lives in the balance. Unfortunately the political complexities of the crisis mean it cannot be easily resolved and more importantly, it can’t be distilled into something as emotionally affecting as a pretty, sad-faced little girl on a poster, and as such it will never usurp Madeleine in our media consciousness.
That doesn’t mean that you should feel compelled to join in the circus, however. If you take a step back and put things into perspective, it’s unlikely that anyone will brand you as heartless or unfeeling. Which is not to say you should go around antagonising people who have been affected by the story: if you start telling a bunch of Madeleine jokes at a party people will rightly think that you’re a bit of a dick. But no matter what the Daily Mail or Sky News tells you, there is no shame in being apathetic towards a situation that you have no emotional connection to or any influence over. It’s time to let Madeleine and the McCanns go.
But keep an eye out, obviously. Apparently she might be in Belgium.