I’ve noticed the internetz/newspapers/tabloids making a little noise recently over Joran Van Der Sloot, the dude suspected of killing Natalee Holloway (an American teenager who went on vacation in Aruba, then disappeared). He’s recently confessed to the murder of another woman, Stephany Flores (a Peruvian business student). Which means I get to see the crime scene photos of Flores’ bludgeoned corpse lying in a hotel room every time I stop at the convenience store to get booze. Thanks, tabloids! I sure appreciate it.

Pointing out that these murders would not have gotten as much coverage if the victims had not been pretty young ladies from relatively privileged backgrounds is kind of like pointing out the high Catholic population of Vatican City, so I won’t really say much about it besides that. What I did want to talk about is the weird, gross appropriation of grief I see all over the internet and elsewhere when it comes to crimes like this, which does have to do with the construction of those women (and women like them) as “ideal” victims.

There was a local example of this, a little over a year ago. A young woman, Zoe Sarnacki, was murdered by a fellow she had recently started hanging out with. He then set his apartment on fire to attempt to cover up the killing. Due to the gruesome nature of the crime, it got quite a bit of coverage in the local press. I had a hard time finding an article that wasn’t totally gross and sensationalistic, but here is a brief overview.

I didn’t know Zoe Sarnacki – we had a few mutual friends but we never hung out. I met her killer once (he was drunk and incredibly obnoxious), and knew him a little by reputation (which was: weird, creepy, misogyny issues). So, yeah, I was sad and angry at her murder, in the general sense that I am whenever someone dies or gets hurt because someone else is an abusive asshole. I was sad to hear that some former girlfriends/lady acquaintances of her killer had experienced abuse at his hands, but hadn’t come forward about it because they feared retribution from his friends. (Speaking of his shitty friends, they made an appearance too. I can’t remember where, but on some hXc messageboard [dude ran in hXc circles] some reprehensible twerp was bragging about “shutting up” a woman who had accused him of rape. Fucking gross.) BUT I was not sad in the same way that Sarnacki’s actual friends were sad.

I was deeply weirded out when Facebook posts and such started appearing, which said things like “I never knew you, Zoe, but you are such a beautiful soul and I will miss you forever.” After her death, it seemed like some people were really invested in building Sarnacki up into this romantic ideal of a youngster which may or may not have had anything to do with what she actually was like as a person. Which is not to say that she wasn’t a good person – the people I know who knew her said she was a sweetheart. But it’s just weird to make all these grand pronouncements about how awesome someone is when you didn’t know them and never will. I see this a little bit, too, with Holloway and Flores – like, “oh, she’s got such a sweet face, I bet she was a terrific lady.” Huh?

Which, for me, begs the question: why does someone need to be a “good person” in order for folks to be outraged at their murder? And why do some people feel the need to get personally invested in a crime in order to be sad about it? Isn’t it obvious that the flipside of this is that there are “deserving” victims, and that the category of “innocent” is informed by (to name but two factors) race and class hierarchies? Even “innocents” like Holloway, Flores, and Sarnacki have gotten some shit from the peanut gallery. Oh, no, Holloway was probably drunk! Oh, no, Sarnacki was a high school dropout and met her killer at a tattoo shop! (ALSO: Sarnacki’s killer being heavily tattooed led to some of the most annoying, pseudo-journalistic, OMGTATTOOZ scare-mongering bullshit I have ever seen from a supposedly serious newspaper. And you thought the coverage of Michelle McGee was bad.)

You don’t have to want to be someone’s best friend to think that their murder was, y’know, a bad thing. Maybe instead of building up a few people as “ideal” victims we can instead start thinking about why we need victims to be ideal in the first place.

~ by Smellen on June 18, 2010.

2 Responses to “griefernetz”

  1. Thanks for writing this. I also have problems with this “ideal-victim” narrative. And I think it makes it harder for victims of any kind of abuse/injustice to come forward because they compare themselves to the “ideal-victim” and may come to the conclusion that they don’t deserve justice because they are less than ideal.

  2. Well said. This reminds me of an incident that happened in my city a few years ago where a 20-something-year-old white woman was randomly murdered on the street. The stir it caused perplexed me in that anonymous bloggers and people writing into the local papers kept going on about what a good person she was. Even though they did not know her personally, people were especially upset because she worked for some environmentalist organization and was, therefore, a good person. What perplexed me was that just two weeks earlier, a teenage black female had been randomly murdered in the same neighborhood, yet she didn’t get the same outpouring of public outrage and grief.

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