On “Gone Girl” and today’s lynch-mobs

An example of “media frenzy” and vigilante justice – from the 19th-century



The 2014 movie Gone Girl explores the modern-day phenomenon of media frenzies, and how such frenzies can be manipulated by those who are apparently being manipulated.   (As a metaphor for the movie, picture a shark-attack victim turning the tables on the sharks…)

Which brings up Harry Truman, who didn’t have much use for the reporters of his day and age:

“Newspapermen, and they’re all a bunch of lazy cusses, once one of them writes something, the others rewrite it and rewrite it, and they keep right on doing it without ever stopping to find out if the first fellow was telling the truth or not.”

Truman also told of plowing a field with a mule, and how that was the “most peaceful thing in the world.”  It was something that gave old-time farmers plenty of time for thought, and made them such good voters and citizens.

But there was a danger, Truman added.  He said “there’s some danger that you may, like the fella said, get kicked in the head by a mule and end up believing everything you read in the papers.”  As updated for today, that could read, “believing all the news you see on TV.”

Some 20 years later – after President Truman had vented his feelings about the press – a brash young “AFL” quarterback named Joe Namath said pretty much the same thing.

Shortly after Namath signed with the Jets – for a then-record salary of $427,000 – a wise-guy New York reporter asked what he had majored in, down at the University of Alabama.  “Basket-weaving?”   Joe answered, “No man, I majored in journalism.  It was easier.”

Then in 2014 came the movie Gone Girl.  It’s a film that expresses pretty much the same feelings about “media frenzies” as Harry Truman and Joe Namath, only more so.

*   *   *   *

I reviewed Gone Girl back in October, for another blog.  I started with Wikipedia, which said the film “examines dishonesty, the media, the economy’s effects on marriage, and appearances:”

On the day of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Affleck) returns home to find that his wife Amy (Pike), is missing.  In the ensuing media frenzy, suspicions arise that Nick murdered her, and his awkward behavior is interpreted as characteristic of a sociopath.  (E.A.)

See Gone Girl (film) – Wikipedia.  In other words, the character Nick Dunne – played by Ben Affleck – ended up being tried in and by the media.  That media found him guilty, as so often happens these days.  But as it turned out, the process by which he was tried and convicted was “infected by the politicized, media-enabled ‘cult of victimhood.’”  (See the Rothman note below.)

As for the ending…  Like I noted above: “picture a shark-attack victim turning the tables on the sharks.”  And just as sharks have their feeding frenzies, so too do today’s reporters; tabloid, TV or otherwise.  As for the subtle difference between a media frenzy and a media circus, see Media Frenzy Global, a company that specializes in “frenzy manipulation:”

Whether you’re trying to pique interest, incite sales, stir the market, or fan the flames of controversy, one thing is certain – you need to cause a commotion.  Of course, you want to remain cool and composed in the midst of the excitement…   In other words, you want to harness the media frenzy…    We harness the media frenzy by controlling, managing and exploiting the media platforms…

All of which provides an interesting commentary on modern life…

Then too there’s the court of public opinion.   As an example, the Wikipedia article cited the media frenzy – or “circus“ – surrounding the Duke lacrosse case.  “It has been said that the prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse case attempted to try the case in the court of public opinion by making unsupported allegations to the media..

The article also noted that in “the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case, it was alleged that parties were using court pleadings as press releases.”

Which brings up the fact that there is a genuine cause for concern these days, as explored by the movie Gone Girl.   (And yes – in case I’m being too subtle – I am saying that such media frenzies and/or circuses are indeed a form of modern-day vigilantism…)

Which is being interpreted:  There’s a reason we have things like the Sixth Amendment.

That constitutional provision is supposed to guarantee that a person accused of a crime can only be convicted after a public trial “by an impartial jury … and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”  See Bill of Rights Institute.

And by the way, these aren’t “new-fangled pointy-headed liberal” legal protections.  They go back to Bible times and the Apostle Paul and beyond.  And there’s a good reason for this Biblical protection:  In way too many cases “the crowd” – or today’s media – just gets it all wrong.

On the other hand, some people in that “crowd” might have their own agenda, hidden or otherwise.  (And they might even be using things like Media Frenzy Global, noted above.)

In Paul’s case, that came in the form of certain “rabble rousers,” starting at Acts 21:28.  Then in Acts 23:12, these same rabble-rousers wanted to take the law into their own hands.  (They didn’t trust “Roman justice.”)  There followed a dramatic midnight ride to Caesarea, where the authorities took Paul to save him from a potential lynching.  Finally came a trial before the Roman governor Festus, after the former governor Felix had passed the buck:

Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king.  He said: “There is a man here whom [former Roman governor] Felix left as a prisoner.  When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.   I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over anyone before they have faced their accusers and have had an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges.”

See Acts 25:14-16, emphasis added.  All of which is another way of saying Gone Girl is a thought-provoking movie well worth seeing.  That is, provided that you are in the mood to explore some deep and unsettling questions about “coupledom,” as well as the potential underlying suspicion that such being-a-couple “necessarily entails victimization.”



A still from Gone Girl.   (Note the “askew” angle…)


The upper image is courtesy of Vigilante – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the full caption, “A lynching carried out by the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1856.”  The article added:

“Vigilante justice” is rationalized by the idea that adequate legal mechanisms for criminal punishment are either nonexistent or insufficient.  Vigilantes typically see the government as ineffective in enforcing the law; such individuals often claim to justify their actions as a fulfillment of the wishes of the community…   In a number of cases, vigilantism has involved targets with mistaken identities.

The lower image is courtesy of What “Gone Girl” Is Really About, a review in The New Yorker, dated October 8, by Joshua Rothman, which includes this telling tidbit:

[W]e’re fascinated with stories of victimhood – and … especially in tabloid, cable-news culture, we endow victims with specialness, sanctity, and celebrity.   “Gone Girl” asks whether genuine expressions of sympathy or solidarity with victims can ever happen without being infected by the politicized, media-enabled “cult of victimhood.”

Rothman’s review compared the movie with “what I heard” about the book version, and concluded that what’s best about the movie is that it “gets at what is unsettling about coupledom [i.e., marriage or “serious relationships”] : our suspicion that, in some fundamental sense, it necessarily entails victimization.”  See also Gone Girl (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  

As for the “askew”camera angle, that seems to symbolize the them of “media frenzy.”

The Harry Truman quote on reporters is courtesy of Plain Speaking[:]  An oral biography of Harry S. Truman, by Merle Miller, Berkley Publishing NY (1973), at page 251.   The “field-mule” quote is at page 258.

The Namath quote is courtesy of famous alabama football quotes – Angelfire.  See also Joe Namath – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which noted that when Namath signed with the Jets, the NFL and AFL were separate leagues, engaged in a “bidding war” for college players.

Re:  “I reviewed Gone Girl back in October…”  See “Gone Girl” movie review and Media Frenzy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *