It follows like morning from night that when some mass murder or odious crime is committed moralists bring out their standard polemic condemning Hollywood for violence in movies, or they blame books like “Catcher in the Rye” because Mark Chapman carried it when he killed John Lennon.
I thought of this again when reading “The Beautiful Cigar Girl” about the murder in 1841 of Mary Rogers and how Edgar Allan Poe wrote his mystery “The Murder of Marie Roget” based on the facts of the case, which has never been solved.
Mary may have been one of the first to become famous for doing nothing. Take that Kardashians. She was young and so beautiful that men flocked to the cigar store where she worked, so many and so often, that newspapers took note and wrote about her popularity. She became so well known that when she disappeared for a few days there was near panic. She returned saying she was visiting someone. But a few years later she was found floating in the Hudson River, brutally murdered.
In the book, author Daniel Stashhower quotes James Gordon Bennett, a newspaper editor, who wrote about the murder in 1836 of Helen Jewett, a 23-year old prostitute. In her room was found Lord Byron’s book of poetry “Don Juan.” Bennett wrote “the book has no doubt produced more wretchedness in the world than all the other moral writers of the age can check.” And the “Journal of Public Morals stated, “Avoid the perusal of novels.”
Don’t read books or Lord Byron’s poetry for they will lead you into prostitution and death.
I’m sure we can research back further in time and find more moral outrage. But blaming movies, TV, music, videogames, even Dungeons and Dragons, or anything antithetical to Ivory Tower moralists is misdirection. Many will bring up the Bible as the good book, the book of comfort and morality. Do these moralists know how many people were murdered in the Old Testament, how many were slaughtered, how many sins of Bible heroes were committed. Could the Bible have led to murder and sins of it’s readers? No, you say. How about the Crusades, the Inquisition, burning witches at the stake to free their souls? Or anti-abortionists who kill doctors and nurses?
Maybe moralists have a point. Reading is dangerous.
On the other hand, is it not truer to say that people who were inspired to murder, mayhem, and other crimes, had something wrong with them to begin with. More people have not committed murder from reading the Bible than have committed murder. More people have read “Catcher in the Rye” and not killed than those who have.
In short there is no correlation between art and crimes. People commit crimes; people point fingers. Those fingers are pointed the wrong way.