Monday, February 10, 2014

Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?

I've told this story three years ago.  (Actually, I've told it since then, most recently Friday night over a couple of beers, but I digress.)
Friday night, June 11, 1965. I was at Shea Stadium. Mets-Dodgers game. Warren Spahn was pitching for the Mets, Don Drysdale for the Dodgers. Dodgers won 2-1. Both Dodgers runs were on homers by Drysdale. The Mets run was on a homer by Spahn. Incredible. Etched in my memory. I'll never forget it. Except, of course, it didn't happen that way.
Oh, I was at the game, and it was one hell of a game. A real pitching duel between Spahn and Drysdale. And Drysdale did win it with a home run in the 8th. But the Dodgers other run was on a homer by John Roseboro in the 5th. The Mets run, also in the 5th, came when Joe Christopher singled in Johnny Lewis. Spahn went 0 for 3. Helluva game, like I said. As Casey used to say, you could look it up. (I did. I'll save you the trouble. Here's the link.) Close enough to my memory so you can see how the story got better over time. Until . . . . Like I said, I'm mistaken. I know I'm wrong about just how the game unfolded. But I remember it as three homers - two by Drysdale and one by Spahn. It's not a lie to say I remember it that way. And if I hadn't looked it up, I wouldn't know I was wrong.  And even though I know, know for sure, my memory hasn't changed.
You don't care about the game unless you were there or you're some sort of baseball geek.

On the other hand, you probably care (at least lots of people do) about wether Woody molested Dylan. Just as at one time everyone seemed to care about whether Fatty Arbuckle raped and killed Virginia Rappe. (A total aside to note surprise that my younger son knew who Fatty Arbuckle was - that was a scandal célèbre 80 years ago, one generally forgotten except among scandalistas, silent-film buffs, and those well past a certain age.)  
Dahlia Lithwick says that you're actually kind of obligated care about Woody and Dylan - at least if you want to avoid water-cooler ostracism.   But, she adds, we have no evidence.  No standards, no burden of proof, no nothing to resolve "the case."  Which is true enough.  But then, we don't have a case, either.

What we have is a salacious (that's the point, isn't it) allegation involving a celebrity (the other part of the point).  It's gloriously tawdry (another part of the point, I guess).  And a whole lot of belief one way or the other.  

Those who are sure - Dylan wouldn't, Dylan couldn't have made it up; it's too detailed, too ugly. Anyways, kids don't lie and nobody would lie about this sort of thing and of course Woody denies it. Those who are sure - Woody didn't, Woody couldn't; the allegations are too bizarre.  Anyway, he's been cleared and Mia hate him and of course there are false memories so Dylan's absolute certainty is irrelevant to whether it happened.  

I take a perhaps jaundiced view of all this.  I am, after all, a criminal defense lawyer.   I don't like trial by newspaper and twitter feed.  We're not well-served by declarations of faith on the part of the general public.  

More, I don't care.  Woody's an artist.  Maybe you like his films, maybe not.  But they're the same films, as good or as bad - but ultimately they're the same - whatever did or did not happen to Dylan.  In that way, at least, this is differs from what you do or don't believe about A-Rod's steroid use.  (Though I guess almost everyone believes the same thing in that case.)  The steroids, at least this was the idea, made him a different player, changed his performance.  

As I say, I don't care.  I don't get the culture of celebrity that finds these things fascinating.  Or, and really more to the point, feels a personal involvement.  On the other hand, I'm not inclined to slow down to eyeball an accident on the other side of the highway.  Amanda Knox?  Raw deal.  But the deal was raw from a legal perspective (applying U.S. standards, anyhow) whether or not she killed Meredith. Kercher.  Did she?  Don't know.  Don't care.   Casey Anthony?  Ditto.

The hordes - Robert Blecker, Thane Rosenbaum, Nancy Grace - they apparently care deeply about these things.  It's important for them to hate the bad guys, which means they have to know who the bad guys are.  Even when there's no way to know and no actual need to know.

Maybe the problem is that I don't watch enough television.  

Maybe the problem is that everyone else watches too much.

If you're wondering about the title here, "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?" was a New Yorker piece by Edmund Wilson from 1945 explaining why all detective fiction since Sherlock Holmes was appalling drivel and those who found pleasure in it were literarily, intellectually (and by implication at least), morally bankrupt.   You can read it here.  The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is, if you don't know, a mystery novel by Agatha Christie.

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