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Maclean’s glamorizes Magnotta to sell magazines

June 29, 2012 - Maclean’s magazine is well known for its sensational covers, for exploiting or torquing a piece of information to increase the drama and thus boost newsstand sales.

But this time they’ve outdone themselves.

The cover of the June 18/12 edition leaps beyond the pale and into the mucky mire of gratuitous exploitation. 

A question: when you first saw the image above, who did you think it was?

With those high cheekbones and smouldering eyes, I thought maybe it was Jon Bon Jovi. The type that identifies the face is quite small, so it takes a while to figure out who is in the photo.

But yes, it’s Luka Rocca Magnotta, who allegedly killed 33-year-old Jun Lin before dismembering his body and mailing parts to certain unfortunate recipients.

I don’t object to putting notorious killers on the cover of the magazine. Lord knows, we have a curiosity about such things. 

However, I do draw the line at glamourizing the killer and feeding the urge that likely drove him to kill in the first place.

In writing this, I am reminded of a blog entry I wrote on April 16, 2007. The situation then was different, with a mass murder at Virginia Tech. However both killers seem to share similar desires – both wanted notoriety and attention for their terrible deeds. And the media gave it to them, in spades.

The entry from 2007 was my first experience with an entry going viral, since it was posted shortly after the event took place and was sucked into an information vacuum. It didn’t hurt either that I had quoted renowned anthropologist Elliott Leyton in the piece, and approached the incident from an entirely different angle.

It’s not a long piece, so I will reproduce it here, in full:

Thirty three people dead, at last count. The largest mass murder in American history.

In the deluge of media coverage that will engulf us, following this terrible shooting spree in Virginia, there is one piece of information I don’t want to know.

Please spare me the name of the killer.

You see, I have a theory that the warped minds who commit these crimes do so, in many cases, with one primary motivation: notoriety. They want to be remembered as the bad-ass who went out in a blaze of glory.

It is my firmly held opinion that we shouldn’t give it to them. In mass murder situations like this, the news media should not report the killer’s identity. We should not see pictures of the killer posing in camouflage gear, wearing an AK-47. We don’t need to read the manifesto of murder posted at his web site. By doing so, we fulfill the killer’s wish to live in infamy, while inspiring other like-minded individuals to do the same thing.

As it turns out, I am not alone in this thinking.

“I reached that same conclusion some time ago,” said Elliott Leyton, a retired professor of anthropology at Memorial University whose research into mass murder is now applied by law enforcement agencies around the world.

“I think it has been a great mistake but it’s kind of hard to get the press to come on board with that idea. I agree with you that their names and details should be very cautiously handled. The victims should be getting the attention, not the killer. American culture is so saturated with intoxication about violence.” 

Leyton’s voice already sounded a little tired when I called him at 7:30 pm. He had been taking calls from media outlets across North America. Before moving on to his next call, Leyton added one more observation, which he will be talking about on The National tonight.

“One of the greatest works of 20th century criminology was Archer and Gartner’s ‘Violence and Crime: A National Perspective’,” Leyton said. “In that book, they showed clearly that, every time there was a major war, there was an effect on the larger culture. People were bombarded with brutalizing images and it kind of validated violence more. Archer and Gartner studied every major war over the last hundred years and noted that, near the end of every war, there was a real surge in excessive violence. You know that the American murder rate dropped in the 90’s, where they weren’t invading anyone at the moment… So when I gave my last lecture at the university last year I said, ‘You watch, if Archer and Gartner are right – and I think they are – we should expect a big increase in homicides as the war grinds on. And it looks like that’s what’s happening. The homicide rates in all the major cities are going way up.”

I can see Leyton’s point. In order to build public support for their foreign conflicts, governments will attempt to glorify the war effort. Certain American networks are keen to play along, playing the ‘shock and awe’ video to its maximum, desensitizing effect. Is it any wonder Americans are killing each other?

Going back to the first point, persuading media to stop reporting names – and every mundane detail of the mass murderer’s life – is easier said than done. The competition to ‘get the story’ is too intense and any attempt at enforcement through legislation would be challenged – probably successfully – as an infringement upon freedom of speech.

In the meantime, one can’t help but wonder how many sick minds are watching this story unfold, fantasizing about stealing dad’s semi-automatic and making some history of their own…

Incidentally, my theory about the Virgina Tech killer was substantiated two days later, when NBC received a package in the mail from the killer. It contained “a rambling and often-incoherent 1,800-word video manifesto, plus 43 photos, 11 of them showing him aiming handguns at the camera."

You can read that post here:

Clearly, the killer wanted attention. This is something he has in common with Magnotta, who is apparently a narcissist, obsessed with his own public profile. To publish his most glamorous photo on the cover of Maclean’s is to give the alleged killer exactly what he wants.

In big type on its cover, Maclean’s says Magnotta is “the new face of evil.” But I don’t get it. Is it because he is good looking? There’s nothing “new” about that: Paul Bernardo and Russell Williams were handsome.  Nor is he the first killer to make a snuff film, dismember his victim, or make use of Facebook.

No, he’s just a handsome guy whose pretty face is going to turn heads in the supermarket line. After that, the sensational story might actually sell a few magazines.

The Maclean’s article offers a collage of images of Magnotta, from Facebook and various fashion shoots (he tried to establish himself as a model). But the most glamorous photo by far is the one that appears on the cover.

No doubt, that made Magnotta’s day.

And when other psychopaths see the likes of Magnotta gaining such a positive public profile – a sexy photo on the cover of Maclean’s – well, won’t they feel empowered to make their own twisted desires a reality? 

Thanks for nothing, Maclean’s.

Normally, I advocate for openness in the media. I abhor censorship. But on this, I think the media should think carefully about how they portray – and even glorify – psychopathic killers.

I know I’m a voice in the wilderness on this one, but I’m pretty stubborn about it. What’s your view?

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Recent comments

  • Tim
    July 01, 2012 - 21:35

    The line "competition to get 'the story'" is the key phrase here. As much as this has to do with the conscious decision of editors to use this material, it would not be done if there was not an identified market that would be attracted by it to the point of buying the magazine. The subsequent issue of MacLeans had several letters of objection to using these images. I wonder how the editors process the feedback.... Do they take them seriously, considering new perspectives on the issue? As a widely read publication, do they consider if they may be contributing in a negative way to society as a whole? Is any heed given to personal pleas to not do this kind thing again? Or do they see controversy in itself as a means of attracting even more attention, which ultimately sells more magazines and makes some people a lot more money? When things like this happen, it proves just how important it is that we not only hold our cultural institutions and leaders to account, but also the media organizations whose lens we often have to view them through.

  • Anna
    July 01, 2012 - 17:23

    I think you make a good point about copycat crimes. This has been my main concern with the notoriety of the crime and the large amount of people who have viewed the video, and why I think the media should not have repeatedly posted the name of the video and where to find it in coverage of the crime. At the same time, I find it odd how upset people are about "glamourous" photos being used of Magnotta. Commentors demanded the less attractive German mug shot and photos from his extradition be used. Before that though the glamour shots he posted on the internet were the only ones available. It makes me wonder if there's not some general discomfort with seing sexualized photos of males that is separate from the horror of the crime. There's endless sexualized pictures of females in killer roles (basic instinct) and as victims (almost all "slasher" movies sexualize the female victims) yet no-one is concerned with these kinds of glamourized images promoting copycat crimes, as imo they should be. The photos seem to part of Magnotta's apparent attempt to portray himself to be a rich glamourous model rather what he really was - a poor mentally ill gay prostitute and porn actor with no friends or family. I know people think the reason for his horrific crime was to get attention and this may be true, but its hard to believe that is the primary problem for a person being so deeply disturbed. p.s. things are back to normal - Macleans is back to the usual cover sexualizing a young female.