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The McCanns or second life?

The McCanns or second life?

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Published by Rik Maes
Opinion article: life is a story you only partially write yourself.
Opinion article: life is a story you only partially write yourself.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Rik Maes on Feb 19, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The McCanns or second life?
Life is a story you only partially write yourself. Guest editor rik maes reflects on the McCann case.

where the truth lies and yet I am supposed, if not urged, to have an explicit opinion on the potential involvement of the parents in the disappearance of their child. Almost nothing has been said officially about the case: all opinions are based on speculation fed by unnamed sources. But information in all shapes and sizes is dividing people and irreparably damaging reputations. “Innocent or guilty?” – that’s the question and there is no


he “McCann case” has invaded all our lives. Whether I like it or not, I have become a party in this horrible event: no-one has the slightest idea

in-between. Information is more likely cruel than innocent. Neutral information doesn’t exist, as it is all subject to interpretation, framed through our basic beliefs and our deepest emotions. Life is a story you only partially write yourself, as the McCanns are experiencing in its most deplorable sense. Of course, the public outcry has been in the first place provoked by the seemingly arbitrary abduction and potential murder of an innocent child. This terrifying discovery is deeply rooted in our cultural heritage: from the fables of Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and

convergence vol 8 no 4

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Gretel on, the child kidnapper is the mythical personification of our deepest-seeded fears. But does this explain why our collective conversation is no longer about global warming or the war in Iraq, but about the latest rumours regarding “Maddy”? Of course, the information appetite was whetted by the Portuguese police uttering unverifiable allegations to convince the media that they were not sitting down on the job when the heat was on them to make an arrest. The parents as well, in their desperate hunt for their child, kept the information flow alive by a campaign orchestrated by a genuine public relations adviser, by their showy visits to the Pope and by their appearances on TV shows. But does this explain why, even weeks after the abduction, “No new news about Maddy” is still a familiar headline in the press? The gutter press has generously launched new theories about potential suspects, thereby contributing to the credence that European society is plagued by monstrous child abductors. The McCann case has become part of show business, and the boundaries between real and fictional more and more blurred. The parents’ emotions have become public property and even the fact that the mother looks good (but “very edgy” and “detached, even cold”) has become a subject of chatter at receptions and bus stops, and is reflected in many commentaries in tabloids. Grief must be expressed according to well-accepted standards, or it becomes suspicious. Did this contribute to the fact that the McCanns became suspects, however ludicrous this might seem at first sight? The naming of the parents as formal suspects by the Portuguese police suddenly changed the whole picture. Public opinion was struck with cognitive dissonance as a new narrative beyond imagination assembled itself. For some, the story of Little Red Riding Hood abruptly changed into that of a public execution from which it is impossible to avert our eyes. Information hunger became information voracity, tearing apart the last bit of the McCanns’ privacy. There must be a scapegoat – and

what’s the value of a scapegoat’s claim to privacy? For others, the McCann story took on the dimension of a Greek drama where the dramatis personae were lashed with yet another wrath of the merciless gods, in this instance the uncompromising Portuguese police. Refusal to take sides was no longer an option: the McCann case became an overwhelming tragedy

ultimately ending badly for all of us. Why are we so dramatically grabbed by this modern, but remote fairy-tale full of speculation and fantasy? Is there a deeper understanding of our fascination with the McCanns’ dire fate? I believe there is. Our world is desperately looking for great stories, however sentimental, commercial or frightening they may be. Our enthralment by the McCann case has more to do with ourselves than with the McCanns. The more virtual the world has become due to the impact of technology, the more we crave a whodunit with real characters and real blood. These mysteries are preferably no longer written by novelists, but by the actors involved: the Portuguese police and the McCanns themselves. They, and the deliberate rumours both sides continuously spread, feed and challenge the detectives in us. No wonder Portuguese law forbids the circulation of rumour by the defendants, as the millions of Agatha Christies might in fact determine the outcome of the real case. But maybe there is more. Stories like this allow us to think the unthinkable: suppose the allegations that the child was killed by accident are right? Suppose I were in the position of the McCanns – what would I do? What if, on one of those occasions when I left my children unattended, they disappeared? Would there be

circumstances where I would try to cover up – for instance, if I had accidentally killed my own child? Questions not allowed in real life, but which appeal to our most intimate, dreadful – and, in a way, inviting – fears… For many of us, the McCanns became our Second Life, but more thrilling and blood-curdling than any Avatar could ever be. They deserve our thanks, don’t they?

convergence vol 8 no 4

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