Monday, 26 May 2008

Toilets Not Included

The other day I overheard two girls comparing the Fritzl case with that of Natasha Kampusch, another Austrian, who escaped to freedom in 2006 after seven years in captivity, in a bid to decide which case was worse. One of the girls definitively claimed that the Kampusch case was worse, “because she didn’t even have a toilet”.

Okay, now I am a big list-maker, as a sports fan I love statistics and league tables and the idea of comparisons, but the idea that it was necessary to decide which involuntary detention and rape was “worse” left me slightly queasy. Call me crazy, but I’m not sure that the provision of toilet facilities entirely compensates for the extra 17 years of imprisonment and rape.

Sharon Hogan wrote an interesting piece in The Guardian about how her hunger for details on the Fritzl brouhaha made her feel like a pervert. I would argue that the need to know these baleful details is natural - there's nothing more human than curiosity. Also, stories of incest and imprisonment are piercingly dramatic. As my former English teacher once said: "the three most interesting things in life are sex, death and suicide."

The truth is, it's part rubbernecking, part empathy. Hogan frets about hoovering up the gory details whilst luxuriating in domesticity. As she puts it: "I want the full story. I want to read about it in the morning while I munch a croissant with SpongeBob on in the background. We imbibe these tales of gruesome horror while going about our everyday lives." That is the nature of suffering though. If we spent every waking moment pondering other people's suffering, we'd be blithering, jelly-like moral wrecks. As Auden put it in his wonderful 'Musee des Beaux Arts':

the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on."

Sharon Hogan, 'From Josef Fritzl to Fred West, why do I lap up every sick, perverted detail of these vile stories?'

No comments: