Our only regret is we didn’t get to murder Carl Williams
Carl Williams was a human being. But he was a human being in the physiological sense of the word. He breathed oxygen, had two arms and two legs, he had all the defining physical characteristics which qualified him for inclusion in the homo sapiens species.
But he was shorn of the emotional characteristics which define humanity – empathy, compassion and kindness, remorse, guilt and shame. He murdered three people - one of them a father in front of his children at a school football game – and sold drugs on such a massive scale that one can only speculate as to how many people were poisoned or even killed by using his products.
It’s been said this week by Victorian Police Commissioner Simon Overland and others that any death is a tragedy. But some deaths are more tragic than others, and like most people I struggle to feel any sense of sorrow at Williams’ death.
My first reaction was a callous and instinctive journalist’s reaction – what a story. And aside from feeling a kind of detached sadness for his children - even though he had conspired to deprive three other children of their own father - the fact that Williams met his end the way he did seemed both inevitable and unsurprising.
If one word can summarise the feeling at his passing, it is ambivalence. But while it’s perfectly understandable that we are not inclined to commiserate over William’s death, it’s sickening that so many of us have chosen to celebrate it. Rather than remaining ambivalent, people have opted instead for glee.
This overwhelmingly jubilant reaction to his death has been like a medieval ritual where a witch or a thief is killed and then trussed up and pelted in the town square. Talking at the start about Williams’ own lack of humanity, many of those who have inserted themselves in the public debate have damaged their own humanity by succumbing to this alarming form of bloodlust.
Those people should stop and reflect on the manner of Williams’ death and ask whether anyone ever deserves to go out the way he did. Two of the best Australian films, Ghosts of the Civil Dead, based on the Jika Jika lockdown where a prison guard was stabbed to death, and the Mark Read biopic Chopper, brutally document prison violence. One of the most bracing scenes in any film is surely the moment where Chopper turns on a fellow inmate in the exercise yard and slides a Phillips head screwdriver into the side of his neck. As the prisoner collapses Chopper stands back and hides the screwdriver, and says to one of the guards while laughing: “Look sir, I think Keithy’s done himself a mischief.” It is almost unwatchable, and from what we know, not a world away from the lethal jumping Williams’ faced in his final moments on Monday.
How anyone can get off on this is beyond me. But a lot of people are. You get the sense reading much of the online commentary, almost all of it anonymous, that the one regret some people have is that they didn’t get to kill Carl Williams themselves.
Some readers of websites such as the heraldsun.com.au have joked that Williams’ bashing with the metal stem from an exercise bike would help end the cycle of violence in Melbourne, boom boom.
Others just went straight into Old Testament mode.
“Bye bye Carl, now you’re Satan’s bitch” wrote Ginni of Melbourne. “Throw the fat bastard in an unmarked hole and bury him forever,” said Adam of Ringwood. Rohan of Dogville wrote: “Ashes to ashes, scum to scum”. Sleeping Easier wrote: “The killer deserves nothing less than a reduction in sentence and the keys to the city for saving tax payers the burden of feeding this filth for 35 years. Well done.” Showing a rare interest in the policy ramifications of Williams’ death, Matthew of Melbourne said: “Why waste taxpayers money for a royal commission. What do you expect, you’re in a room full of murderers, killers and what not.”
Many were overjoyed at the apparent cash bonanza to taxpayers brought by Williams’ death, with the windfall savings of a couple of hundred bucks a day from no longer having to house him at Barwon prison.
“What great news,” wrote Jesse of Bendigo, “…we can only hope they’re all down in hell shooting each other up again, at least there’s no kids down there, lowlife scum all of them are they got what they deserve, why waste taxpayers money keeping scum alive.”
Some readers even regarded Williams’ death as more a problem of TV scheduling, complaining that Nine had cancelled Top Gear to show a documentary about the gangster.
It’s demeaning that people will even take the trouble to write down this sort of rubbish.
As a social trend, it feels like the inverse of the modern-day phenomena of public displays of mourning over the death of a celebrity or star. It’s been described as stadium grief, where people try to outdo each other in their hysterical reaction to the death of someone they have never met.
The journalist and British Labour politician Roy Hattersley was one of the first writers to chronicle this trend in an excellent series of newspaper columns after Princess Diana’s death. Writing in the Guardian in 1998, Hattersley examined the role of Diana’s brother Earl Spencer in turning her burial place at the Althorp mausoleum into a “funereal theme park”. Hattersely described the site as less a testament to Spencer’s dead sister than “a commemoration of the defining vulgarities of the 20th century’s closing years.” More broadly he questioned the motives of those who would choose to mourn there.
“It has always seemed to me that ostentatious grief and conspicuous mourning is less a tribute to the dear departed than a cry for recognition from the bereaved,” he wrote.
Just as Diana’s demise invited an impromptu global contest to see who could cry the longest, Williams’ death has spawned the most repellent displays of one upmanship to see who can be the hardest, the most macho, the most unwavering in their support for violence and vigilantism.
There might be a special place in hell for Carl Williams but there is a long wait in purgatory for those who this week have found themselves cheering a murder.
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