Sep 11, 2011

Reality Television, Fox News, and Other Oxymorons


Why am I posting a picture of Snooki wrapped in the American flag on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedies?

Am I just another baiting blogger who uses inflammatory images to rile her readers? Or has my Jersey Shore addiction finally sent me off the deep end to where I can’t see how some might find this choice offensive?

No, and no.

I came across this picture yesterday, after watching a few hours of the endless 9/11 programming broadcast on every cable news network for the past several days. I came across it after watching, through tears that were not at all cathartic, those towers fall, over and over and over again, every time I flipped the channel. 

I came across this picture after watching hours of hype about possibly imminent terror threats, hype that all but eclipsed any discussion or analysis of President Obama’s congressional address Thursday.  Once again, a reminder that when it comes to American life in the media, nebulous fear and hysteria almost always trump reality and productivity.

I came across this picture after watching Mike Huckabee’s Fox News program yesterday, where he launched his special 9/11 episode with a discussion of intolerance, a discussion in which he boldly compared the 9/11 hijackers with those Americans who disagree with his party’s views on life (that it begins at conception) and marriage (that it should be between a man and a woman). He paralleled the Democrats’ intolerance to that of Al Qaeda, and used the recently released video game, “Tea Party Zombies Must Die” (in which right-wing figures including Huckabee himself are targeted and shot) to characterize the motives of all those opposed to “family values”, as evidence that those on the left are as dangerously violent in their intolerance as those who committed the heinous attacks on America ten years ago today.

I found this picture after watching ads that urged me to pick up the phone and order my YOU CAN RUN BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE commemorative 9/11 "Justice Coin". I found this picture after learning that, had I acted faster, I could have gotten the protective plastic case included in my order, all for the low, low cost of $19.99.

I came across this picture after watching--in between discussions of The Situation’s GTLing and Snooki’s desire to lick her boyfriend's butt--gushy, MTV-produced PSAs that included Jersey Shore star Pauly D.’s sentimental musings on his memories from the day our nation fell under attack.

I came across this picture while wondering, when do remembrance, tribute, and ceremony cross the line into sensationalism, opportunism, and greed? When does “news coverage” become nothing more than cheap reality television all wrapped up in an American flag?


Sep 6, 2011

Two Shots, a Bitter Twist, and a Splash: The Legacy of Charles Stuart


Before there was Scott Peterson, there was Charles Stuart.

Charles and Carol DiMaiti Stuart. Photo via The Boston Herald.
If you lived in Boston in 1989, you recall how Carol DiMaiti Stuart's murder preoccupied the community and fanned flames of racial disharmony throughout the city.

I remember mornings at my house, listening to the scratchy AM-frequency reports on our clock radio, WEEI’s newscast interspersed with the spritzing of my mother’s Niagra spray starch as she ironed her blue chambray shirt. The case played out like the 80s soap operas my parents would never let me watch, with what seemed to be a new plot twist unfolding with each morning’s bowl of Rice Krispies.

It all began on October 23, 1989, when Charles Stuart and his very pregnant wife, Carol DiMaiti Stuart, were on their way home from a birthing class. That’s when emergency dispatchers received a call from Charles Stuart stating that he and his wife had been shot by a Black man wearing sweats, who had also robbed them of their valuables.

Despite the fact that one-third of women murdered in the US are killed by their husbands, and despite the fact that Stuart had very recently taken out a hefty life insurance policy on his wife, police never investigated him as a potential suspect in the homicide.  From Time:

Instead of suspicion, Stuart was showered was showered with sympathy. The media apotheosized the couple as starry-eyed lovers out of Camelot cut down by an urban savage. Some politicians attended Carol's funeral; others called for the death penalty. Mayor Raymond Flynn ordered all available detectives to work on the case. Hundreds of men in Mission Hill whose only connection to the case was that they were young and black were stopped and frisked.

The massive manhunt in all the wrong places tied up police for weeks. No one had time to look for cracks in the smooth fa├žade of the husband who tended his rhododendrons, jogged with his wife and shoveled snow off an elderly neighbor's steps. Few of the leads were followed that might have revealed a psychopath who had taken out large amounts of life insurance on his wife, possibly to finance the opening of a restaurant, a pathetic aspiration that shattered two families and a city's racial peace.

Eventually, police arrested William Bennett, a 39 year-old Black man with a past criminal record that included shooting a police officer. Police claimed that Bennett’s nephew said Bennett had boasted to him about committing the robbery and murder (although the nephew later recanted that statement, saying police pressured him into making it). Also from Time:

According to the police, Bennett bragged to his 15-year-old nephew that he had robbed the Stuarts and taken their jewelry. In the warrant the police obtained to search Bennett's home, they underlined the recollection that Bennett said he told Stuart, "Don't look in the rearview mirror." Those words were almost identical to the ones that Stuart, in a brief interview with the police right after the shooting, claimed the killer used. Already in custody on a charge of robbing a Brookline video store, Bennett was placed in a lineup as soon as Stuart was well enough to come to the station. Stuart picked out Bennett as a man who resembled the killer. With that, hope vanished that the police might look for flaws in Stuart's story.

And with another bowl of Rice Krispies, the story was coming together in a package neater than Mayor Ray Flynn's glass of Maker's Mark "down the bar" at JJ Foley's.

What nobody counted on disrupting that packaging—least of all Charles Stuart and the BPD—was the conscience of a man named Matthew Stuart, brother of Charles Stuart.

In the days surrounding the December holidays, a near-suicidal Matthew Stuart, overwrought with guilt and anxiety, confided in his family that he had aided his brother in the murder of Carol DiMaiti. On January 4, 1990, Matthew Stuart went to the police, where he confessed.  He told authorities that Charles had planned to kill his wife so that he could cash out on the life insurance policy he had taken out on her, as well as to escape his impending fatherhood, with which he had grown greatly apprehensive. According to Matthew Stewart, his brother not only shot his wife, but also inflicted a gunshot wound to his own abdomen to make the scenario of a robbery more believable. On the evening of the murder, as Charles phoned for help, Matthew took the gun and the couple’s valuables and drove them to Revere, where he dumped them off the Pines River Bridge.

Matthew Stuart, at his brother Charles'
funeral in 1990. Image via AP.
Charles Stuart, aware that his brother was about to make this confession, drove to the nearby Tobin Bridge that same day. Within hours of Matthew’s appearance at the police station, Charles Stuart had jumped to his death, into the icy waters of the Mystic River.

And with that, the mystery was solved, leaving in its wake outrage from Boston’s Black community (as local journalists like the ethically challenged Mike Barnicle scrambled to defend the actions of the police), heightened racial tensions, distrust of law enforcement and, of course, Matthew Stuart. Oh, and in true Masshole-ian form, some predictably offensive but admittedly funny Charles Stuart jokes (thanks for reminding me of them, Franklin Davis):

Q: What's the difference between Charles Stuart and Larry Bird?
A: Larry jumps before he shoots.

Q: How do you make the new "Charles Stuart" drink?
A: Two shots, a bitter twist and a splash.

Q: What's the first thing Charles Stuart said when they pulled him out of
the Mystic River?
A: A big black guy in a running suit pushed me!

Matthew Stewart plead guilty to conspiracy, insurance fraud, and possession of a firearm. He was released from prison in 1995, but soon after was arrested on drug charges, which were later dropped.

This past Saturday, he was found in his room at a Cambridge homeless shelter, dead from an apparent intravenous drug overdose.

According to those who knew Matthew Stuart well, he found solace in the fact that few around him did.  Indeed, the conscience he sought to clear with his confession two decades prior haunted him, disabled him even, for the rest of his life.  From the Boston Globe:

Yesterday in an e-mail, a friend described Matthew as a man tormented over the killing, which aggravated racial tensions in the city and led police to initially focus on William Bennett, a black man who had a criminal record at the time of the investigation.

“In my opinion the ‘demons’ of that October night in ’89 never stopped torturing him,’’ said the friend, Steven Gerard.

Today, Michael Stuart, brother to Charles and Matthew, told the Boston Herald that "he fought for 22 years to save his tormented kid brother from the demons of his role in the murder of their pregnant sister-in-law".  He says that after Carol's murder and Charles' suicide, "his troubled brother 'never could shake' his battle with the bottle. 'He went through his trials with alcohol. We spent years trying to create opportunities for him. It always seemed like one step forward, two steps back.'”

I wonder, 22 years ago, could Charles Stuart have predicted the legacy his actions would leave on both the city and the families involved? Had he successfully carried out his diabolical plan, would the city’s race relations ignited in the way in which they did, and on as many different levels? Would the suspiciously shoddy investigation by the Boston Police Department ever have been scrutinized by the community, or caused such overwhelming distrust of law enforcement? And what would have become of the tortured Matthew, had he kept the secret and not sought redemption? 

Had the terrible secret been kept, would it have changed anything? Or would the only difference be that Charles Stuart "walked" instead of jumped?

What are the broader implications of one man’s evil? Or, perhaps more importantly, of another man’s conscience?

Carol DiMaiti Stuart
Charles Stuart
Matthew Stuart

Sep 3, 2011

Knock-Knock-Knocking on Heathen's Door


This post is dedicated to the Jehovah Witnesses who came to my door today and, honoring my request that they please not leave their literature, instead deposited a ketchup-and-mustard-smeared  napkin and a half-eaten bag of Fritos on my front porch.

Or perhaps it was The Almighty himself who left those items. Was this was an effort on His part to remind me that a more godly woman would have accepted that copy of The Watchtower and simply said thank you, rather than refusing it and asking that the salesmen missionaries kindly take me off their People-to-Disturb-in-the-Privacy-of-Their-Own-Home list? And maybe if I hadn’t been so sucky as a human, God would have left me a full bag of lightly salted Stacy’s Pita Chips and a half-pint of babaganoush, rather than someone else’s wiener refuse and a picked-over bag of the only variety of chips (Fritos smell like moist dog paws) I don't want to employ as the central player in a late-night bulimic episode.

Anyway, when I first moved into the house where I currently reside, it seemed the Jehovah Witnesses and the Mormons were at my door every week, despite my repeated requests that they stop ringing my bell to talk to me about religion. Eventually, I broke down and posted a NO SOLICITORS sign on my door. Alas, the only thing that prompted was this exchange:

MORMON #1: Good morning, ma’am. We’d like to take a moment to talk with you about a subject that concerns us all.

TSADA: Um, didn’t you see my sign?

MORMON #1: Yes. It says, "No Solicitors".

TSADA: Correct.  So then why did you ring my bell?

MORMON #2: Because we’re not soliciting.

TSADA: Uh, yes you are.

MORMON #2: No, we’re not.

TSADA: Yes, you are.

MORMON #1: No, we’re not. We’re sharing a message.

TSADA:  Wow. Nicely played. Anyway, even if that is all you’re doing, you’re still soliciting.

MORMON #1: No. Solicitors sell things. We’re not selling anything.

TSADA: You can solicit without selling.

MORMON #1: No, you cannot.

TSADA: Yes, you can.

MORMON #1: No.

TSADA: Yes, you absolutely can.  Right now, you’re soliciting my attention.  Soliciting my attention by ringing my doorbell while I was trying to sleep. 

MORMON #1: That’s a matter of semantics, ma’am. We’re not here to dissect semantics.

TSADA: Right. I forgot. You’re here to “share a message”.

MORMON #2: We’re missionaries. That’s what we do.

TSADA:  I suppose when I want to dissect semantics, I should probably come to your house and wake you up. Or should I say, "solicit your attention"?  *wink*

MORMON #2: Uh…

TSADA: Because I’m an asshole. That’s what we do.

*pregnant pause*

MORMON #1: Anyway, as I was saying, we’d like to talk to you about a subject that concerns us all--

TSADA: Perhaps I’ve not been clear. I’m not interested in your message. I’ve already hung a sign that requests that solicitors do not ring my bell.

MORMON #2: We’re not solic—

TSADA: YeahyeahyeahyeahIknow. Okay, so listen, if I don’t want you to ring my bell again, what do I need to put on that sign so that you know it pertains to you?

MORMON #1: In that case, I would probably write, “No Solicitors or Religious Peoples”.

TSADA: But I don’t have a problem with religious peoples. Some of my best friends are religious peoples! Besides, a sign like that would make me look like an intolerant asshole.

MORMON #1 and MORMON #2: *loud silence*

Alas, two weeks later the Mormons were back at my door—with different faces, of course, but wearing the same semi-opaque, short-sleeved, permanent-press Haggars. I suppose it’s my own fault for not adding the “or Religious Peoples” to my sign.

They continued to visit me for a few more weeks, until one morning after my beloved hubby G had worked an exhausting night shift. G, who grew up Ethiopian Christian Orthodox, is no stranger to religious peoples himself.  However, having lived in Oakland for the past twenty or so years, he’s also no stranger to the term “muthafuckah”, a word, amongst other choice expletives, which he employed generously that morning. And it seems that Mormons--at least those proselytizing in the greater Oakland area--grasp far better the implications of the word "muthafuckah" than that of the word “solicitor”, because they’ve not darkened my doorstep since.

The Jehovah Witnesses, on the other hand, still pay me a visit every now and again.  Perhaps they need a healthy dose of G's muthfuckah-ing as well.  Either that, or G and I need to try what my newest hero, Australian filmmaker John Safran, does here: 

*slams door*
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