There’s a casting department somewhere in the cosmic bureaucracy, and it never fails to people our dramas with just the right characters. The sterling-haired hunter, his handlebar moustache and trusty dog, his pickup truck and stories about battling grizzly bears — this man is our hero.
Our villain? Freakish and haggard, hair askew, ears like flimsy kites and cheeks like broken saucers, eyes crossed and resigned to life in the sockets of their desperate host.
The hunter, compelled by things right and just, tracks the alleged killer through the woods, finds him thin, broken and slumped at the base of a tree. He makes the arrest and sits with his catch while the Mounties race to officiate the bust and set the bereaved community of Merritt at ease.
How neat. How tidy. The three dead kids now just a footnote, catalysts for a more satisfying plot, small voices in the loud and simple choir of society’s storytelling system.
Amazing how people never get bored of this most basic of narrative formulas: good guys and bad, each stripped of complicating dimensions, offered to us with no assembly required. And with these archetypes come the satisfying release of judgment, the comfort of simple answers, the alleviation of guilt, and the promise of safer tomorrows.
That’s TV therapy, far cheaper than the real thing, and, as long as you continue to subscribe, just as effective. The fact that it’s artificial and destructive need not spoil the party.
The story of Kim Robinson and Allen Schoenborn is just the latest example. Kinda small in the grand scheme of things, too.
How about Rwanda? Remember that? Officially starting in April 1994, it took just 100 days for 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus to meet their massacre at the hands of deranged Hutu extremists. That’s a murder rate more extreme than the Holocaust. Most of the killing was done with machetes, and you have to hit people a bunch of times with those things before they die. Flies and stink and blood and rivers choked with bodies. Sweet optics — good stuff for a story. Foreign governments could’ve intervened, but the United Nations was hamstrung by its own mechanics and the will was absent in other leadership circles.
Movies like Hotel Rwanda tell us this story, and they do it well, all Don Cheadle and glassy eyes. But they simplify. The RPF are the good guys, plain and simple. They overcame horrid odds, swept up their dead, established peace and ushered in good governance. Here comes the sun.
But books like Shake Hands With the Devil , written by Romeo Dallaire, offer a more complete telling, albeit one layered with complication and therefore far less comforting when you’re alone in the dark. Did the French play a role in facilitating the genocide? Did RPF leaders prolong combat, shrugging off stabilizing strategies in favour of methods that promised a more holistic victory? In his book A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa , New York Times reporter Howard French details the exploits of Rwanda’s new government in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where armies deployed by Rwanda helped stoke that nation’s civil war, slaughtering Hutu refugees hiding in DRC jungles as they rushed the capital city. Talk about little black spots.
Kim Robinson didn’t find Allen Schoenborn with his dog and bush-wit alone. Another woodsman tipped him off. That information is still out there, but it’s fading into the background, mentioned, if at all, only after Robinson’s outdoor savvy is thumped off our foreheads. It’s not necessarily Robinson’s fault — although he seems pretty comfortable with all the attention — but, just the same, it’s simplifying a story and mythologizing a person, and so moving us a little farther from the truth.
Schoenborn, meanwhile, is not just the bloodthirsty killer of children his sinister and widely publicized mug shot implies. (And isn’t it interesting how that’s the only picture we ever see of him?) The guy is apparently a touch insane, which, while obvious, is something we should try not to forget. Evil may sometimes be crazy, but crazy isn’t necessarily evil, even if it kills.
The temptation to reduce the world’s stories to their most basic properties is widespread, as is the reduction itself. Blame whatever you want: action movies, fear or intellectual lethargy. Regardless, we do it with terrorism, Muslims, free trade, George Bush, Adolf Hitler, ex-lovers, noisy neighbours and anything else we get our sweaty hands on. It’s easy because it unburdens us. But it’s wrong. It teaches us nothing, even though there’s always so much to learn.
Here’s an introductory lesson: You can be as guilty as you are innocent, as cruel as you are kind; you are multidimensional, saint and sinner, brick of gold and lump of coal. You will hurt and you will heal. And so will everyone else on the planet.