Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Daily Male Blame Game

Chris Foster shot his wife and his daughter. He then set fire to his house and killed himself. Figuring out how such a thing came to happen - so we can reduce the risk that it happens again - is a great idea. Step forward Jon Ronson in the Daily Mail and possibly the most offensive article I've read all year.

Firstly this article is in the "Femail" section. This is an article of interest to women. Presumably women who don't want to get shot in the head at point blank range...? Sick.

Secondly large parts of the article are not about the case - they are about Jon himself:

"I’d love to live somewhere like this if I could afford it, I think ruefully as I drive through the village"

"I show him my Press card. ‘You look too scruffy to be a journalist,’ he says. We both laugh. Then I bid him farewell and drive away."

Of course lots of great journalists include their own reactions to situations, but this isn't his reaction, it's the minutiae of his day, the stuff of "Dear Diary". And it shows a kind of lack of respect for the victims I think. He's more interested in being jealous of the area they lived in and having a laugh with the local police.

But it gets much more sinister than that. The murderer is portrayed as a nice guy...

"According to his friends, Foster adored his family."

According to the gunshot wounds, he didn't. That is not the hallmark of adoration.

Then our intrepid journalist goes to meet Ian, a friend of Foster's. The guy explains that Foster was a big spender who liked to spend money ostentatiously but who was actually going bankrupt. And then mystically the subject of divorce comes up:

"‘I empathise with Chris,’ Ian says. ...‘I’m going through a divorce at the moment. I probably seem normal and relaxed to you, but inside I’m finding it very stressful."

OK, now I do find it weird that anyone would tell a newspaper that they empathised with a multiple murderer. I see where Shipman was coming from, that Peter Sutcliffe was so misunderstood...

"‘We’re supposed to be manly,’ ... ‘We’re not supposed to get upset. We’re supposed to be the breadwinners and the providers, especially in our children’s eyes.
We’re supposed to do miracles.’"

According to who? I have never said this. Who is telling people this? As far as I am aware - mostly journalists at the Daily Male.

"‘When I went to the divorce hearing, my wife’s solicitor suggested I sell this house and split the proceeds. The judge agreed. He knew nothing of the case — he’d just read a brief thing.’"

The judge agreed to a 50-50 split? What an evil bastard...

"‘If I sell the house I’ll have to sell the horses, too. My kids live for those horses. For someone to take that life away from the children…’ There’s a silence. ‘It’s heartbreaking,’"

I think your kids would rather lose their horses than their lives. And if your kids live for their horses maybe they need a more fulfilling family life. Maybe they would benefit from more time with their father, rather than just a lot of expensive toys.

"'Fair enough, it’s my wife who’s trying to take things away from me, but it’s somebody else who’s giving her that authority."

Giving her authority? She's been in this marriage as long as you have and she's been raising the kids too, it sounds like with rather little help from you. I think she's entitled to half the house. No-one is giving her that authority, the court is defending her right to it which you are trying to take away.

"‘You’re as mad at them as you are at her. That’s where I can empathise with Chris. The idea it puts into your head is getting back at the Establishment."

How does it get back at the establishment to murder your wife and daughter? He seems to have forgotten that they are people, not items of property that the state might have wanted to put up for auction.

"When you hear about bailiffs turning up the next morning, as the bodies were still smouldering, you think: “Fair play”."

You do? You hear of the bodies of two innocent women smoldering and you think "fair play"? Then you should be shot at dawn you creepy weirdo asshole.

Are you hearing what I'm hearing? That the reason Chris Foster murdered his wife and daughter was because of the difficulties of getting divorced? The article glosses over things like his being a member of a shooting club where the members tell obscene jokes and talk about suicide. The article doesn't bother to expand on the risks of the fact that he collected guns as a hobby. And when his career is mentioned it is to suggest that the state has no right to reclaim money owed by Foster. Yet even his business career had signs of danger in it, like this one:

"At the High Court, on February 28, 2008, Lord Justice Rimer said Foster was ‘bereft of the basic instincts of commercial morality. He was not to be trusted’."

But most incredibly of all after all this: Chris Foster wasn't getting divorced. His wife knew he had no less than eight mistresses and yet still "played the dutiful wife". Clearly she would have been much much MUCH better off if she had gotten divorced a long time ago. But that's not what the "Femail" section is there to tell women is it? Not when they can have a male journalist tell them it's their own fault when they're murdered.

Photo by Ian Britton, from FreeFoto.com


Jackart said...

You know the Daily Hate is read by (mostly female) authoritarian prudes. My advice: Don't read it for the same reason I don't read the 'Socialist Worker'


Since the Daily Male is staunch obsessive supporter of patriarchy then obviously this male journalist is right. Chris Foster is the real victim here because he was 'forced' to murder his wife and daughter since he owns them both. How dare the now deceased Mrs. Foster claim a share in her husband's property when she had no right since she was her husband's property.

See it all makes sense when one views it from the male supremacist or patriarchal stance - since women and children are the property of men. The Daily Male rightly (sic) printed this article in Femail because it was yet another of Daily Male's moral lessons to women. This one was saying - women who are the wives (sorry should read property) of men must not expect to be treated as human beings but instead if you dare to challenge male authority you might provoke the man and he will be forced to murder (sorry should read kill) you. Simple is it not? No? Oh yes how could I forget women are human too but you would never believe it if you read the Daily Male regularly.

John B said...

I think you've seriously misread this piece, not least because you're seeing it out of context - it originally ran in the Guardian's Weekend magazine, and has since been picked up by the Mail. They've subbed it a bit, but not dramatically so.

Jon Ronson's not a Mail hack, he's an investigative writer who makes a habit out of spending time with deeply weird and unsavoury people to understand what on earth they're about. His most famous book is Them, where he interviews extremists (left and right, violent and non-violent) in the same kind of fashion.

It's very clear, when you understand that context, that the piece is about the weird, macho-mysogynist, violent subtext running through this kind of superficially jolly community - that mentioning everyone's gun obsessions is making precisely the point you think it doesn't. Ronson doesn't say "these people are deeply angry, insecure and terrifying weirdos", because the piece speaks for itself...

Cruella said...

So why is it in the Femail section?

I know who Jon Ronson is - and he may have written a very clever and interesting book but I haven't read it so I just don't know. It may also be one of these things that is supposed to be frightfully clever in concept but hasn't actually been done all that well. Certainly based on this article - it sounds like it.

If when he talks about the local gun club he is remaining "neutral" or "allowing the facts to speak for themselves" by not saying "these guys are weirdos with a strange misogynist underculture" then why is it that when he talks about the murders later on he says "Maybe the murders were a type of honour killing, as if Foster simply couldn’t bear the idea of losing their respect and the respect of his friends.". That's NOT a quote from a weirdo he's interviewed - those are Jon Ronson's own words.

He also says "As I sit in Ian’s kitchen, it suddenly makes sense to me that Chris Foster would choose to shoot Jill and Kirstie in the back of their heads." Again Jon Ronson's words.

If his earlier word is, as you suggest, wonderful then he has lost his way. Badly.

Shazbat said...

This is a frankly terrifying article. Terrifying because it shows so very clearly and unconsciously how attitudes of ownership towards women lead to justifying violence.

John B said...

Again, I don't think you're interpreting Ronson correctly. 'Honour killings', under the generally understood definition, happen in 'primitive', religious cultures where wives and daughters are viewed as possessions. Using the term with reference to a white English middle-class community is a deliberate attempt to make that comparison, not an attempt to suggest that the murders were honourable.

Ronson's work is about consciously exploring the terrifying, illiberal values and prejudices that - despite being intellectually aware of - remain ingrained in our culture. Anyone who is a middle-class British male has absorbed some of the values that motivated Foster; denying that fact and pretending that any attempt to explore it is an apologetic for misogyny and violence is - to say the least - not going to be very helpful.

Do you think that any attempt to understand the motivations of terrorists or political murderers is automatically a suspect and suspicious way of justifying their actions? Because the language you're using regarding this piece is exactly analogous to the language that right-wingers use when trying to shut down that debate...

Similarly at Shazbat - it's not unconscious. It's deliberate. And yes, it is terrifying.

Unknown said...

You seem to have gone off at a tangent on this. Jon Ronson is a serious journalist and this is a serious attempt to try to understand why someone would do something so terrible.

The Daily Mail may be a load of rubbish but even they occasionally publish a worthwhile story.

Cruella said...

On the contrary if Jon Ronson ever was a serious journalist then this story either shows how far from his roots he has drifted or it shows how widespread misogyny is that even a supposedly serious journalist can print a deeply offensive artickle without even noticing.

You-all can defend his other workas much as you like. I am not interested in his other work - I am criticising this piece.

Now if you wish to argue that he wrote a great, balanced piece that the Daily Male have corrupted, go ahead, find me the original and the statement from Ronson saying how furious he is at being mis-represented and we'll talk. But without that the point of my post stands - Ronson's article is offensive. Very offensive.

John B said...

"this story either shows how far from his roots he has drifted or it shows how widespread misogyny is that even a supposedly serious journalist can print a deeply offensive artickle without even noticing."

No, it shows that your (reasonable) hatred of the Daily Mail, and of the ingrained negative attitudes towards women deep within our culture that the Foster case demonstrates, have made you incapable of reading the article on its own merits. It's doing deliberately *precisely* what Shazbat thinks it's doing unconsciously, and precisely what you don't think it's doing at all: exploring the scary set of pre-egalitarian, pre-feminist values that lie within the mind of any man brought up in a society that *is* still pre-egalitarian in a lot of ways, and pointing out that Forster's attitudes *really aren't* different from those of a lot of 'ordinary, decent' [*] men who don't kill their families.

Perhaps he should have put a gigantic "...AND FOR THE AVOIDANCE OF DOUBT, THE FACT THAT THESE ATTITUDES CONTINUE TO EXIST AMONG A LARGE SUBSET OF THE POPULATION IS A VERY BAD THING" on the piece, but it's entirely clear that that's what he means if you're reading the piece in the Guardian and/or have read anything else he's done.

Ronson's prior work is relevant because it's further evidence that your reading of the piece is likely to be wrong (just as, if Lenny Bruce used the word 'nigger' on TV to make a point about society's racism, their prior background would make that a very different piece from Bernard Manning using the word to mock black people...).

And no, the Mail haven't changed the piece substantially from its Guardian incarnation - but they've printed it in the Mail, which is a little bit like running Lenny Bruce's routine on the Bernard Manning show. The worst you can say for Ronson is that he should have realise that re-selling the piece to the Mail would risk, solely by the change of context, devaluing his original point. But his original point is *exactly the same* as your point...

[*] under the conservative, DM definition of 'ordinary, decent', not mine or yours or that of anyone sensible.

Cruella said...

In attempting to discover why a man murdered his wife and child Ronson discusses the cases of two men going through difficult divorces. One a friend of the murderer, the other a murderer himself. And these two cases were presented as part of an article about why Foster killed his family. But (1) Foster wasn't getting divorced. So BAD JOURNALISM - go find somebody in the same situation as the murderer, not a totally different one. (2) Divorce = not an excuse for murder. So the "reason" for the murder is not the divorce, that is step one on the route to finding the "reason" - need to find out why he holds such despicable attitudes.

And just to clarify - did Ronson know his piece was going in to the Femail section of the Daily Hate? Because that reinforces the victim-blaming message more than anything.

zooey said...

I don't know which is fundamentally more terrifying. The rate of 'revenge killings' of women and children for supposed slights against male privileges, or the fact that the media and society at large doesn't bat an eye at them.

John B said...

"But (1) Foster wasn't getting divorced. So BAD JOURNALISM - go find somebody in the same situation as the murderer, not a totally different one"

The divorced men would have been (certainly in my experience of grumpy middle-aged conservative men) more likely to be forthcoming about explicitly making misogynist statements, which makes their quotes better at making the 'this isn't just one madman, it's a deep-set attitude within society' point the article is trying to make.

People with more to lose tend to sound more reasonable in what they say out loud than people with less to lose (see: Tories on immigration vs BNP on immigration - same policies, different presentation).

"did Ronson know his piece was going in to the Femail section of the Daily Hate?"

I'm not a mind-reader, but I suspect not. If he did, I agree that'd have made his decision to resell a much poorer piece of judgement than if he didn't.

Madam Miaow said...

Every patriarchy imposes a burqa in some guise. Now we have a rationalisation of honour killings

John B — OK, Ronson has explored it. And what conclusion does he draw? Where is this in his own moral landscape? Where is his involvement in humanity?

Or are we all innocent rubberneckers? Nuthin' to do with me, guv. I'm only the messenger. "Let me through, I'm an observer."

butterflywings said...

Completely agree with Kate.

The way this was reported as almost empathising with Foster made me sick. Definite undertones that his wife and daughter were property. Ick.

No excuses: try and make all the clever-sounding excuses for Ronson you like, John B and others, but he is either a seriously bad journalist or sympathising with Foster.

I agree that trying to understand the actions of psychopaths is not the same as justifying those actions; but the article wasn't trying to do that, it simply comes across as justifying Foster's actions.

Noting the classism, too. Doubt the Male would devote space to such a heartfelt piece about a young guy shooting his family on a council estate. I don't feel sorry for a millionaire who lost it all due to his own overspending.

NB: love the way the fact that he had affairs is thrown in, boys will be boys I suppose...*sigh*.