Biting the Apple: The Rubber-Neck Effect

Amanda Talbot ’15

Connecticut State’s Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky III stands in my kitchen. He’s got a bright yellow sweatshirt on and he’s stamping his feet and rubbing his hands from the cold. He came in through the side door, walking through my garage and walking past the washing machine and my family’s pile of boots and sneakers still dripping with snow. He did so because he found a funny article in the paper about pit-bulls and thought my family might like it since we have one. Connecticut State’s Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky III is my neighbor and just a normal looking guy. I like seeing him this way, since media likes to paint him up and down with colors of both honor and a healthy dose of infamy. He’s the man with a tight grip on the first amendment and the safety of the children and families of Newtown. Over the last several months Sedensky fought to keep the explicit details of the tragedy including 911 phone calls, texts, time-tables and photographs out of the hands of the media and from they eyes of the town’s youth. Pushing but ultimately losing the case of child endangerment upon its release, it is easy to be upset with the man who refuses to give up information.

Yes, it is extremely important that we learn from our tragedies, we examine our loops holes and we understand the errors our past, and yes, these reports do provide the kind of evidence that can be used in the future to bolster arguments, fluff the regulation of gun sales, school safety and research into special needs. Yes, I see and agree that there are surmounting issues that come with the territory of the growing knowledge of the case, but I cannot help but take the arm of my neighbor on this one. As I watch news source after news source update their social media pages about the oncoming full report about the shooting which will be provided on Connecticut’s state website at 3 pm on Friday, December 27th I feel an incredible unease settle on me.

Upon the first release of the initial report of the shooting on November 25th 2013 the media rushed to involve itself once more into the nightmare this town had to live through. Divulging in pictures and graphic details, news sources gallantly flaunted the cold facts- the psychotic knacks of the shooter, his video games, his computer files, his old elementary school writings, and every last gun in his home. The pictures of destroyed windows are chilling at best and the time-tables are difficult for me to read. What kind of apple are we biting into here?

I understand that we all at some point have a particular macabre scratch we’d like to reach for. We all have sat and watched a few moments on a Columbine special on television, read about a car wreck, stopped to skim the article about the drowning in the quarry. It is human nature to seek out information, it is human nature to be interested, but as I flick through my favorite time-burning websites and stumble onto their own articles about the “20 most creepy things about the Newtown shooting” right next to “The top 13 things curly haired people are tired of hearing” I get upset.

My town is not a freak show. This shooting is not an attraction. That man was not a villain whose effigy you still need to burn.

There is an extreme and explicit difference between using police reports to help the country in ensuring that these kinds of tragedies cannot happen again and using the evidence to exploit the victims and even the villain.

I read the “article” in horror as the authors pulled out the juicy bits of the murder of 26 people from my town and gave online spectators the ability to comment on the out-of-context bullet points. And what can I say? Of course, there will always be people who will snoop out a story or search for it with the same morbid curiosity that can settle on us, but as I read comments from men and woman assuring readers that the whole event was a sham it really hit me. We were being trivialized. These days everyone is waiting for the next big thing. Tragedies wash up on shore everyday, and just as the water rolls out, so do they. We forget what frightens us, we forget what scares us. I am by no means saying that we regard some tragedies and not others, what I am saying is that we must respect them for what they are: a horror for some people whose lives are actually altered. It is wonderful to be supportive of those in need. It is not wonderful to forget about us or make us a spectacle. Highlighting the madness that was the shooter in list format does the victims no justice. It is only a sore, sick reminder of something we didn’t see coming. And while those unaffected may look to the right side of their screen and follow the link to the top 25 greatest moments of the VMAs, those affected by the tragedy may sit in embarrassment as the worst day of their lives is broadcasted in a harsh, unbridled way.

We will always have tragedy- some will stay with us more than others. I expect no one to keep track of every sad moment on the world’s history- I am asking however to practice love in a pure sense. Because when Mr. Sedensky comes to my house it is not to lament or whine or lash out about what details he knows of the case. He stops by to show love to his neighbors, even if it is just a newspaper clipping of a silly story. That is healing and that is strength.

In short, please, do not trivialize tragedy. Save the shock and awe for a Miley Cyrus video- not on my town’s history. When the full report comes out please reserve your right to take a big juicy bite.

Amanda is a Junior management major and a theatre minor. She is a proud resident of Newtown, Connecticut. 

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