Of Flogging and Blogging

From the 14th through the 16th centuries, the City of Florence Italy was the epicenter of what became known as the Italian Renaissance. It was a time of reaching back to banished thinking, of great works of art and architecture, when the talent of Michelangelo was first beheld, when the genius of Leonardo DaVinci was optioned off to the Dukes of Milan who were to sponsor many of his great works, when the world, bored with religious austerity, seemed ready to shed centuries of indifference to the works of Greece and Rome and embrace classical education. Plato in particular enjoyed a revival in much of Italy, nowhere more than Florence.

The Medici family who through resourcefulness and wealth controlled Florentine government and society for much of this time frame were generous and earnest patrons of the arts. Michelangelo, a particularly gifted boy, he who saw the beauty in the stone, was plucked out of the school founded by the Medici’s for gifted artists and brought to live in their home.

Despite the best attempts of the Catholic Church, the years prior to the Renaissance were never as dark as they have been portrayed; progress was made on many fronts and the Age of Enlightenment was part of a continuum. The Renaissance was not one great leap for mankind. Nor did it match its linear artistic goals in its treatment of fellow humans. Lorenzo Medici, one of the great backers of Renaissance art and architecture despite his death at forty two, could be as ruthless as required to maintain control of his city state. A homeless, perhaps harmless man was accused of attempting to assassinate Lorenzo. According to the interesting look at the Medici’s by British historian and author, Christopher Hibbert, the might have been attempted assassin, had the skin flayed off the bottom of his feet before they were held to the flame until the fat started to drip down his legs. He was then stood forced to stand and walk over crusted salt until he succumbed to his horrible wounds.

Public executions, torture, crucifixion, burnings at the stake and floggings were commonplace in olden days and thrived in the Renaissance. While there was renaissance, there was also the Inquisition. Cruel punishment and gruesome death were open spectacle so that the people could both enjoy the entertainment and learn not to cross the local tyrants or the church. Human heads were spiked on display as frightful warning to anyone harboring seditious or blasphemous design. Except for some parts of the Middle East where word of the 21st century has been slow in arriving, such horrors are no longer common.

Though physical torture in front of an audience of blood lusting folk is largely passé, the public has not lost its appetite for such extravaganza. Mixed-martial arts are one example. Don’t think for a moment the Roman Amphitheater or countless other sites wouldn’t be packed if gladiators could hack each other to the death or lions could fight tigers.

The lust to see people degraded and injured stokes us still. Though it is not lawful to flog, burn or behead people publically, the deranged in the Middle East and certain indigenous tribes in Ecuador being notable exceptions, we have found a new outlet for retribution and bitterness.

The recent death of Michael Jackson, while mourned by many, brought the haters out in large numbers. Peter King, the sour congressman from New York who is not happy unless he is outraged, angrily shook his jowls that the United States could grieve and celebrate a person he believed to be morally bereft. Among other pejorative terms, he called Jackson a pervert and pedophile, someone worthy only of contempt, reducing a musical prodigy to his supposed pathology.

King wasn’t alone in his hatred. Many in the media were equally affronted and thought noting of defaming a genius as if he had been the reincarnation of Joseph Stalin or Adolph Hitler. If the media decides to gang up, there ensues an uncontrollable feeding frenzy short on fact and ripe with vitriol. Is it any wonder that people like Jackson seek escape from the cameras and the rancorous, shallow reporters who follow them around like groupies?

The internet has changed the world – bringing facts, entertainment, sex, lovers and much more to our computer screens. While few would argue that the internet is a good thing, so good it now seems that we have never been without it, it also has shown that the world still oozes with ignorance and hate, the virtual lynch mob.

The hate sites are one thing, the demented ranting of repugnant morons. Most are easily avoided and receive little attention. Then there are the dirt sites, the Drudge Report for example, which bottom feed off the misery of others, and publish unsubstantiated bullshit that corporate media outlets can then legitimately quote. Given the number of media looking for gossip, we are blasted with an endless frenzy of misinformation, innuendo and lies.

This is all old and well-known. What is relatively new and particularly annoying are the internet sites, especially online versions of respected newspapers that invite people to join their forum. There is no development that has proven more revealing and revolting than giving a voice to the uninformed fools that were heretofore discarded by editors before their ignorance could be shared. Freedom of the press is the most important pillar of democracy but giving a soap box to bigoted zealots is not freedom of the press, it is the raving of madmen. I suppose there is a ratings reason to give assholes a stage on which they can strut their ignorance and vile but there are far more compelling reasons to shut these people up.

If we have to hear from the readers, be they political hacks, religious kooks, haters or just stupid, surely they should have to pass through a filter that strains the worst and limits the comments to what passes for a modicum of understanding of which they write.

Online newspapers and sites should be read for the insight or lack thereof of the people who are engaged to write and inform. To make this a cluster- fuck of venom and asininity serves nothing except to let the nutters out of the asylum.

Before the internet, letters to the editor of a newspaper provided interesting, often informed counterpoint to received opinion. Such readers made the newspaper more interesting. What is happening now and why the papers allow it, is beyond justification. Character assassination at the click of a send button. For every well-thought out comment, there are ten that scream invective and get away with saying anonymously what would put them on trial or get them punched in the face if repeated in any other venue.

There is nothing more important to a writer than an editor. The same can be said of newspapers, the front line of freedom. The newspaper or website that puts its opinion out there and doesn’t feel the need to publish its readers’ diatribe deserves plaudits. It seems however that few, if any, are secure enough to ignore the bleatings of the mindless or the vitriol of the coward. It is the contemporary version of social spectacle, one that has replaced what used to draw throngs to the town square. Today’s targets may not literally go up in smoke but we are still quite happy to see them twist slowly, slowly in the sweeping wind of humiliation.

Copyright © 2009 Paul Heno

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