Suicide is News Too

September 7 2005

So, according to my sister's boyfriend, who witnessed it, there was a nude jumper this morning on the DVP. He jumped off one of the overpasses near the BMW facility (either Queen St or Eastern Ave). Of course, they didn't bother to tell us that on the evening news. Instead, Global gave us a report of increased cycle-cops around schools to intimidate the 16 year old out on bail (whose face was graciously blurred).

Now, I understand that there's something like at least one suicide a week on the TTC, but they don't want to make the actual numbers public. It would seem they prefer the accuracy of innuendo and rumour. The same is true for people like this morning's fellow, who (if successful) chose to leave the earth as buck naked as when he arrived. I'll credit him with some performance art originality.

But why the silence? Why do news editors everywhere think we should care about the car wrecks and murders? I haven't been murdered lately, I don't plan to be anytime soon. But what business is it of yours if I am? The same goes for the car accident. If anything, that'll be between the insurance companies. I'll concede it's everyone's business inasmuch as it ties up traffic, but beyond that I don't want or need to know.

Isn't it true that murders are rarely random, but usually are the culmination of some dispute?

We may live in a time when Dr. Phil thinks the whole of the United States and Canada needs to witness the tawdry details of some family's anguish (today's episode on incest for christ's sakes) which completely disregards the reasons for confidentially in the first place.

Let's be clear here: there are some things of which it is none of our business. I don't want to know the problems of some abused family, unless I'm in the position of needing to help. But I'm not a priest, a counselor, a psychiatric worker, a bail officer, etc. And if I was, I'd be under strict gag laws. Confidentiality exists as much for the benefit of society as it does for the relevant parties. I for one felt I didn't need to know the details of Dr. Phil's incestuous family, and quickly changed the channel in disgust. (For those of you who advertise during his time slot, why not start sending that money to the Red Cross?)

The arrest of the local pedophile, the murder of an abused wife, or the coke habit of the local hoodlum, the grow-op of our neighbors ... all this is brought out to be part of the public record. This news is supposed to do what? If anything, it makes us feel less safe, but Toronto remains one of the safest cities in the world, and what crime exists just seems part of life. And given that seems a large portion of this crime is all drug related, it makes me think the only reason we keep our stupid drug laws in place is to ensure the police job security.

Anyway, I for one want to know how many people think Toronto is too awful to live in. I would like to have some understanding of the suicide rate. Because all the regular crime gets reported, I'm able to sit here and think it's relatively low, compared with other places. I get to formulate what understanding I bring to the issue, and feel rather safe in the metropolis. But I can't say the same for the depressed, the scared, the anguished, the people who need help but haven't gotten it, for those for whom society has failed.

I'm reminded of Charles Taylor's thoughts now. Taylor, a philosopher originally from McGill (and doing the scholar circuit the last few years - he was at U of T a year ago) argues that while the Modernist philosophical tradition begins with Descartes' introspection, our reality is really one comprised of dialogue. You might think that you are, but Decartes began the line of telling the rest of us. You cannot exist alone. Our lives are comprised of conversations, and even this writing is part of a conversation frozen into our alphabet's symbols. The comments section below are there for your side, your contribution.

It is because we are social creatures that the news exists - all these reporters on the street talking to some box on someone's shoulder would be absurd if they didn't see themselves are part of a larger stream involving the unanimous and anonymous audience. They talk and therefore they are.

And as social creatures, we want to understand our place in society, so we have a tendency to gossip. So the news thinks we might be interested in the painful stories of people who can't get along, and instead of being useful and warning us that there's some psycho out there, instead we only get the news after they've been arrested (and hence, this is why I don't really care about this type of news, it always comes after the crimes have been committed in the first place).

But suicides are a death built around the Cartesian model of introspection. I think I'm depressed and therefore I am. I think I can't go on and therefore I can't. They represent failures of our society to reach out the necessary hand, to bring someone into a relationship, to involve someone in a dialogue. Murders are crimes of passion, they involve at least two people, one of which is cruel. A suicide is an act of loneliness, involving only one person, whom people in general don't care enough about. We extend our hard heartedness to not even mentioning their deaths on the news.

Is it because it's shameful to kill oneself? Is it a left-over from Christianity, when suicides wouldn't even be given a funeral? Is the TTC's reluctance to talk about the people who kill themselves on its tracks because they think it's morbid? The same must be said for the Go Trains, who regularly have 'accidents' involving pedestrians. With such a rate of 'accidents' that they show, it's a wonder they haven't been shut down has a safety hazard.

Morbidity doesn't usually stop the news - how much more morbid is it to show us pictures of blown up buses in Israel? I clipped a few over the past couple of years, fascinated in that morbid way by the scenes of bodies frozen in death.

And even over the past week, with the catastrophe in New Orleans, the news is showing us anonymous rotting black bodies, which bring a grunt of awfulness from me, but also help me understand just how bad things are down there.

My point here is that the news has no problem feeding morbid curiosity. So why not go that step further and tell us about suicides?

Regarding the argument of selfishness and shame - when Kurt Cobain killed himself, all the fans were like, 'what an asshole' and bitched about his selfishness. That always seemed stupid to me. Are you saying then, that your selfishness is such that you'd prefer he stuck around suffering just so that you can go on buying Nirvana CDs? That was my argument at the time.

It's not shameful to kill oneself. It's an act of desperation, or if you're a terrorist, of idiocy. If you're so past caring about this world to want to live in it, what do you care about shame? And why should we as a society, continue to take their actions personally?

If you're of the school that it's a condemnation of our company, then I suppose I can see where you're coming from, but I'd like to think we're bigger than denying them identity out of a petty sense of insult. I mean, our world is pretty screwed up, and those that leave it voluntarily are probably saving themselves a lot of grief. But at the same time, I'd like to understand their motivations, their criticisms, in order to help improve the situation.

The news wants us to believe we live in a cruel world, full of crime and the winners of sports where one person or group defeats another in glorious competition. By denying us the reports of the losers, who validate its cruelty, they aren't allowing us the chance to think about what's wrong with the picture, and how it could change.

To the naked jumper: rest in peace wherever you are.


  1. September 2005: Published on
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