Like many in the media on this otherwise ordinary Monday, I’m following the Colonel Russell Williams sentencing live via Twitter. It pains me to do it – I don’t even watch murder mysteries on TV – but it’s part of my job to monitor how coverage is playing out in social media.
Williams, the former commander of CFB Trenton, has already pleaded guilty to two murders. He is now revealing a dismaying list of crimes committed apparently for sexual gratification. The lurid details of these will sadly now be the talk of the internet and the coffee shops across the country.
We are shocked. We learn that Williams among other things, broke into homes, photographed the bedrooms of women and girls, stole their underclothes, wore them, and masturbated. This was a pattern repeated multiple times. The repetition of his offenses is shocking in itself.
It is dismaying, disheartening, disgusting, and sickening.
There’s little that might make murder comprehensible, let alone the flurry of crimes we now learn Williams was committing all along. Williams’ motivations were clearly those of a deranged mind. Now that we glimpse the peculiar nature of his derangement, we’re reeling from the revealed horror. Coast to coast we’ll hear the cries: how could this happen?
We watch fascinated, repulsed and confused – yet we’ve seen this show before. The difference is that before, it was only a show, one of the many crime dramas or suspense thrillers that we collectively consume on a regular basis in books or on TV or at the movies.
Perhaps we were protected by the fiction, but did anyone doubt that monsters like Williams really existed? Wasn’t that the basis for the success of all the “entertainment” that features grisly details of gruesome crimes as the main attraction?
Monsters like Williams, rare as they are, live among us, and we must struggle to know what to do with them. A common sentiment today is to reintroduce the death penalty, so that we may experience the satisfaction of revenge and relief by putting a monster like Williams out of our lives forever. It is an understandable reaction.
Still, it’s not Williams alone, but our collective fascination with his awful deeds that will make this story front page news. Consider the attention we’ve given to the monsters who went before: Bernardo & Homolka, Robert Pickton, Clifford Olson and their ilk. What’s that about?
Every vile character, real or fictional, to whom we’ve ever dedicated an hour of fascinated viewing or reading – was some part of that person’s shadow touching us, impelling us to watch and to read and to know?
Williams is a monster, whose crimes are beyond despicable. He is acting out a karmic role that defies comprehension. He has ruined countless lives, not just those of the ones he killed. I doubt there’s any help for a man like him.
But I would like to find help for what’s monstrous in all of us, who commit the everyday act of watching real or imagined vile deeds from a distance.
And I wish we would all stop watching.