Perhaps because it was juicy clickbait, a wanton disregard for decency, the need to be alarmist or all of the above, Time Magazine felt it necessary to disclose the “identity” of one of the people who passed away in the tragic derailment from Washington State.
And instead of mourning the victims on board, Time assures us there’s much to be afraid of and also relieved about. One of the people who perished was a “sex offender”. What’s more, he was on lifetime supervised release with his probation department and you know what that means: He must have been dangerous. Therefore, Time’s subtle but ultimate message is: Be careful, there are a lot of sex offenders out there. They could be anywhere: On trains, planes or in automobiles but at least this one bit the dust. So that’s one less perp out there for you to be worried about.
Then we turn our attention to an article that tells us about the same person, only you wouldn’t otherwise know it. This article from the Seattle Times tells us of a man who was obsessed with Amtrak trains since he was two years old. Described by a loving mother as an “awesomely autistic son” who….”lived life to the max” one conjures up a very different image from Time’s disturbing but brief portrait.
Yet the Seattle Times did address a very serious mistake this man made for which he’s paid the price. In 2013, he was convicted in Federal District Court and sentenced for 2 years in prison for possessing illegal images of children. At sentencing, the judge expressed sympathy towards the defendant (despite giving him lifetime supervised release) and said the following at his sentencing….”If the statistics are to be believed, pornography is rampant on the Internet, and it is too easily available to people who may not even understand what they’re getting into, and that’s the lesson that I hope people will take from Mr. Gran’s situation.”
Fortunately decent people still exist in the world. The vast majority of comments on Twitter berated Time for this type of tabloid journalism.
What I find striking is our collective need to find a scapegoat even after death. In this case, we have an individual who likely never harmed a child in real life, was probably very lonely and had a documented developmental disability. We can’t excuse what he did but we’re so quick to sum up his entire existence with his very worst act. The witch hunt continues unto death and even beyond as we try to identify aspects of ourselves in others that we’d rather have repressed. I find it interesting that in Florida, they keep registered individuals on the list even after they die. Perhaps this is all too symbolic of our need to project our own dark shadows onto others even as we think we are cleansing ourselves. But isn’t it sad when the targets we pick are among the most helpless among us?
Whatever your religion might be during this holiday season, let this be a reminder to celebrate the scapegoat rather than to smear him even after death. After all, we’ve all made mistakes and we all could easily be the scapegoat ourselves, and we know it.