24 April, 2006

In Cold Semen

I've been waiting to see the movie Capote for some time. I don't generally care for Truman Capote as a person. By all accounts he was boorish, duplicitous and self-centered. But he did write one of the best books I've ever read. In Cold Blood invented the true crime genre and reinvigorated American Fiction. It tells the story of the murder of the Clutter family in their home in Kansas. One night, acting on a jailhouse rumour of hidden cash cache on the Clutter property, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock entered the unlocked farmhouse and shot all four residents.

The Clutters left their doors unlocked, as did most of the inhabitants of Holcomb, KS. Of course, they don't anymore. But back then, doors were not locked. They were simple farm folk who knew all their neighbors and trusted them. Besides, from what we know about Smith and Hickock, we know they had come prepared to break in regardless. The unlocked doors just saved them some time. There is little doubt in anyone's mind that once they made it all the way to Kansas that there wouldn't be some bloodlust and savagery.

Did the Clutters deserve to be hogtied and shot? No. But wait! They didn't lock their doors. So certainly they asked for it, right?

What about Steve Parent? He decided to try to sell a stereo to a casual friend, and was out after midnight. Of course that quite clearly means that he deserved to be knifed and then shot four times by Tex Watson on the outset of their Cielo Drive Helter Skelter murder spree.

Parent was in a very respectable millionaires' neighborhood. The Clutters were in their own home. Nothing these people did could protect themselves from the blood and demons of fate. Rape is kind of like that. Maybe you're in the right place at the wrong time, like Parent. Or maybe you're in your own "home"--church, school, grocery store parking lot. A place of familiarity. Part of being in familiar territory is the comfort of letting down your guard, of not locking your doors. In either circumstances a predator is a predator.

Human nature tends toward self-preservation. One of the first responses we have to tragedy is to wonder what circumstances led up to the fated instance so it won't happen to us. "Well, they weren't wearing a seatbelt" and "they shouldn't have been out that late" are common responses. And to a degree, they're true. There are things you can do to minimise your risk of being killed in a car or by a crazed stranger high on drugs. And there are things women can do to minimise their risk of being raped. But you know what? Ultimately it's the other car that hits YOU. Ultimately it's the violent predator that rapes or kills you. That's what characterises evil. Life is not a chess game where women can checkmate rapists by wearing bulky sweaters or outflank murderers with artfully arranged bishops. Life is animalistic and violent. So, sure, you can do whatever you can do to protect yourself. But ultimately the one who committs violence is at fault for their own misdeeds.


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