Monday, December 30, 2019

The Ecstasy of the Mob

In his review of the 1946 French film Panique, critic Bilge Ebiri observes that mob behavior is often not an expression of panic, but of a “monstrous ecstasy.” Mobs are driven by a religious fervor that provides a high. Mob rage is a blissful drug. This is evident in the new Clint Eastwood film Richard Jewell. The movie tells the story of Richard Jewell, who was working security in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta in 1996 when he discovered a backpack containing a bomb and alerted law enforcement. The bomb exploded, and soon after the FBI and the media decided that Jewell was the main suspect. Jewell was completely exonerated later, when Eric Rudolph was found to have been the bomber. In 2006, Governor Sonny Perdue publicly thanked Jewell on behalf of the state of Georgia for saving those at the Olympics. Jewell died of heart failure on August 29, 2007, at age 44. 
In a remarkable recent Washington Post piece, CNN producer Henry Schuster, who helped hype the Jewell story in 1996, offers an apology to Jewell. “Writing an apology is not something journalists are used to doing,” Schuster notes.

It took me years just to open a document and type those few words. But with the release of “Richard Jewell,” Clint Eastwood’s new movie about the aftermath of the 1996 bombing in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park, those of us who reported the story are doing a fresh round of soul-searching. No one emerged from the coverage with glory, although Jewell certainly deserved to.

Schuster recalls how after the FBI declared Jewell a suspect, the media was off and running: “The Atlanta paper reported it, we ran it over and over as breaking news, and those thousands of reporters covering the Olympics had their lead. By the next day, Jewell was notorious worldwide. (Now, with social media, a reputation can be destroyed in nanoseconds.)” 
Even before the Internet age, fallen and imperfect human beings were prone to outbursts of dangerous hysteria. Years before Eastwood’s Richard Jewell we had the great film Panique, recently rereleased in a beautiful new Criterion Collection edition. Mobs are fueled, notes Ebiri, by a “gleeful hysteria”—the “cruel madness of rumor, fear and spite. . . . It’s almost like these people want to wallow in their hatred, that the collective hatred and malevolence revealed in the final act is welcome. Their eyes glow with giddy delight at being able to torment and hound the other.” Joker has been called a mirror of our times, but Panique provides a more accurate reflection. (Read more.)

1 comment:

julygirl said...

The various news media have shamed themselves over and over but do not seem to learn from it and correct themselves in their desperation for a 'scoop'. As for the FBI, recently hailed by current news media as being the epitome of truth, justice and the American way, also continue to shame themselves and flagrantly declare untruths, injustices toward innocent American citizens.