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13 May 2007

I think I have OCD or something. I'm definitely crazy. [More:]
Because I can't stop thinking about Madeline McCann and her family. It's the first thing I go to in the morning. I'm checking to see if she's been found.

I keep thinking of the parents and the child. What must be going through their heads right now.

The reward is now at 2.6 million. My husband says "It's only a matter of time before she is found, it's all about the money." I hope he is right.

I keep hearing of pedophile rings and baby selling rings. WTF?

It's not my family, but I feel helpless and sad. And guilty. I have thoughts such as, How can I have fun or go on vacation when a mother is looking for her abducted child?

This isn't the first time I've gotten worked up over something like this. Last summer a little boy was killed in a boating accident down the street. I was a wreck. Almost mental.

I've read this question and it's helped a little.

I'm crazy.
I hope they find that little girl. My heart goes out to that family.
posted by LunaticFringe 13 May | 08:36
"... The reward is now at 2.6 million. ..."

That's 2.6 million pounds sterling, or something just north of $5.1 million, at current exchange rates. The article from The Guardian that you linked discusses the potential pros and cons of such a reward, and while I hope that it does prompt the little girl's safe return, there is much, to me, about this case that doesn't add up to kidnap for ransom, as it is practiced elsewhere in the world.

But I'm obviously not privy to all the information about this case, and so I'm honor bound to keep an open mind and wait for developments, with everyone else who believes in due process. The public outpouring of sympathy and international awareness the case has engendered is impressive, and I hope it brings a better conclusion than other high visibility disappearances have had. 10 days gone is a long, long time.

But beyond the common empathy any parent feels for other parents in this worst imaginable situation, what about this case forces it into your thoughts, LoriFLA? I'm genuinely interested in how such stories, out of all the things that happen to children everyday, captivate the world's attention, when so many don't. Clearly the world can't pay equal attention to every tragedy, but how do some stories draw people in, across the world, across cultures, to be carried by major media on a global basis? And more important, if this were to happen to you and yours, or more importantly to my mind, to me and mine, how would we get such interest in our cases? And if we did, would it really help, or hinder?
posted by paulsc 13 May | 08:44
I have conflicting feelings about this case. I'm sure the parents are totally grief-stricken, but, knowing the British media, if they'd been working-class people from Dagenham or Rochdale instead of middle-class doctors, they'd have been utterly vilified by the taboids as unfit parents.

The holiday club they were staying at offered a free 'dining out' creche, where parents dropped off their children and collected them later. It also offered an individual babysitting service. Yet these parents decided to leave their three very young children alone and unattended, in an apartment close to the main gate of the resort, while they dined at a restaurant which was out of sight of the apartment and a couple of hundred metres away.

Sure, they checked on the children (some reports said every half-hour, others every hour), but what better way to draw attention to the fact that the children were unattended than to keep popping back for two minutes from time to time.

I'd be surprised if the child is still alive. I hope she is, but the odds are against it with every day that passes.
posted by essexjan 13 May | 08:53
I omitted a link by mistake. It was this question on AskMe that gave helpful answers.

That's a very good question paul, and I've thought about it myself. Why do I and others become deeply affected by some tragedies, and only mildly affected by others? I guess I can see myself in these people. They're on vacation with their small children, the child is very close in age to my youngest son, etc. I've been on vacation with my kids numerous times. I've never left them alone, but what a helpless feeling. To be in a foreign country that you're unfamiliar with, your child missing. It's a nightmare. I probably would have never heard of this case if I weren't driving to work very early in the morning while listening to BBC radio. I think what grabbed me is the mother's recorded plea. Then my mind starts going to the child. Where is she? She must be extremely frightened and traumatized, and on and on. It's a helpless feeling. I feel naive and foolish, and crazy.

I agree with you essexjan. I couldn't fathom leaving my children unattended in a hotel room or apartment. As essexjan mentioned, the apartment was out of view, and around a corner, behind hedges, etc.
posted by LoriFLA 13 May | 09:14
I can sort of empathize, Lori. I was just a young kid when Polly Klaas was abducted - she was my brother's age! In that case, she was abducted from her own home, with the parents sleeping down the hallway. Talk about feeling unsafe in your own home!

I think it's important to remember that for every beautiful, rich, white girl or boy that's abducted, with a huge publicity campaign, there are probably hundreds of other children each year who do not benefit from public media attention. This is really noticeable in the US - it's very rare that a missing minority child gets media hullabaloo.
posted by muddgirl 13 May | 09:36
I can't read the tabloids for crying attacks these days when things like this seem to happen all the time. :( (ie; sad things involving wee ones and my empathy-meter for wee ones is currently cranked up to onethousandandeleven). At the same time I had the reaction essexjan did, why we're the children unattended? Are there no babysitters at hotels these days? I wonder how we'll sort out travelling with Perle this fall (I'm going to Boston, I'm Caff's maid of honor on her big day) but it'll likely be one night dad's in with Perle and the next night I am, considering how paranoid I've become. I don't think I could even trust a hotel-babysitter now. :(
posted by dabitch 13 May | 10:10
I think it was Stalin who said "When one person dies it's a tragedy... when a million people die, it's a statistic."
And Spock who said "I've noticed that about your people, doctor; you find it easier to understand the death of one than the death of a million. You speak about the objective hardness of the Vulcan heart... yet how little room there seems to be in yours."

We're hard wired to be affected by individual tragedies like this one. If we hear about it too late, or it's more than a handful of people or we can't put ourselves in the shoes of the parents then it doesn't hit so hard. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing but it's definitely a human response.

The cynical side of me says that we're not responding to the death of a child we don't know but to the imagined death of one of our own children. That'd certainly explain part of it. We empathise more with a "nice family" and so we can imagine with greater ease how the family feels. Then there's the instinctive desire for humans to conform. Sometimes situations like this become collective tragedies. It's almost as if there's a tipping point where, if something is publicised enough, society slips into mass hysteria.

So, yeah - that's my answer. Hard wired empathy and flocking circuits in the brain.
posted by seanyboy 13 May | 10:36
Whatever the outcome as far as Madeleine is concerned, it wouldn't surprise me if the parents' marriage didn't survive this trauma. Amongst all the 'what ifs' will be blame, accusations and recriminations.
posted by essexjan 13 May | 10:39
That's even sadder. They have two other children, no?
posted by dabitch 13 May | 10:44
They have two-year-old twins. All three children were born via IVF, I believe.
posted by essexjan 13 May | 10:47
I've been personally interested in some of the questions I asked above, since 1973, when I was working in Nashville as a broadcast engineer. I was one of the non-union people hired as "management" to counterbalance a heavily union shop, and for a lot of reasons, that meant I did a little bit of every technical job at the station. And because I lived out on the West side of town, I was often sent home with a 16mm news camera, and a couple of film magazines, in case anything broke overnight, on my side of town.

The technology of shooting film in the days before portable video cameras became commonplace imposed certain choices on the news department. Film requires wet processing and drying before it can go to air, and there is a big difference in time and cost between processing color film and black and white film. Most stories that made local news then were shot in black and white, and were "in the can" by 4:00 p.m., if they were to make the 6:00 p.m. prime time newscast. "Film at 11:00" really meant that the station had either elected to shoot an important story after the 4:00 p.m. wet processing deadline for the 6:00 p.m. news, or that color film, with its longer processing cycle was chosen. So, often to sync with pictures, a lead story stayed in the news rotation for as much as 48 hours. The inherent processing delay introduced by film was often enough for editorial control to go up and down the whole ladder of station management.

Not so once portable video became the standard in the mid-70's. There is a lot to be said for the immediacy of video, and immediacy had such a clear value to viewers that it quickly came to dominate the news cycle, to the point of changing editorial values greatly. "If it bleeds, it leads." was much more an artifact of video technology, than of any other force in broadcast news, at the local level, in my experience. Our station was the last in the #30 market to get VTRs and microwave trucks, replacing film chain. I left for other opportunities in 1976, but just in that short time, the revolution was complete.

More than once, in the last of those pre-video days, I got a call to go shoot something at 3:00 in the morning, and while I was never explicitly told by news management what to shoot, or how to shoot it, when I was shooting film, the stories that made it to air, and justified the additional expense and time of color film had a lot of characteristics that were pretty obvious. Standards and practices generally didn't want footage of mangled bodies or excessive blood, but horrifically twisted steel had market value, as did cracked windshield glass. At crime scenes, the talent (reporter) I generally met would want some detail shots of "evidence," and I was asked on a few occasions to shoot discarded toys and kid's bicycles. But we generally needed sunlight to shoot in color, and to make the 6:00 p.m. broadcast, color stock had to be back at the studio by 2:00 p.m. A kid's red wagon tipped on its side doesn't have the emotive presence in black and white that it does in color, but neither do tear stained faces. So the requests for emotive, high interest shots came to filter through layers of choices by field cameramen and reporters. TV news was generally a lot "cooler" in the Marshall McLuhan sense, then.

I much preferred shooting, in black and white, political story standups on the state Capitol steps, and keeping Oprah, who worked then for a competing station, out of our shots. But I just did not like thinking like a good cameraman at the scene of a crime. I wasn't good at it. When something really interesting started happening in front of the lens, my instinct was to pull back from the view finder, and see what was really going on. That's an unforgivable sin in news. A cameraman sees the world through his lens, period.

Once video could be beamed back to the control room, a whole new editorial presence showed up on news scenes. Stories began to be shot, for how they'd look on air, in real time. News directing became less a planning and editing function, and a whole lot more like studio floor directing. A lot of good film cameramen left the business, or started stringing independently, because of the pressure on them to shoot in a certain way. News, generally, became a lot more emotive, because that's where the audience went.

I find it really interesting that LoriFLA, and a number of other people in that March 22 AskMe thread she linked are now seeming to say that they find some news too emotive. At least some stories grab people's attention now, in ways that are so universal, they must reveal something about how our very brains are wired.

But life doesn't really happen in tight focus, and most questions can't be answered by a pan shot. And yet, something about the oldest camera techniques do frame every human story that manages to carry a new name into millions of individual brains in a matter of days. We all want to understand something in personal terms, to see faces, to hear individual voices saying simple things with deep emotion. And I suppose many of us do imagine telling our stories to worldwide uplinks, so that more and more of us are seemingly not unprepared when our 15 minutes of fame finds us. But the flat lighting of a news camera bar, and a fast lens on a head shot, with a good cardioid
mike shouldn't make a story. Yet, often, still, such things matter unduly.

Which is too bad, if you're involved in a tragedy beyond where the pictures coming back from the video cameras aren't immediately both compelling and simple to understand. And so I still wonder, as I have for 30 years, to what ends have we employed technology to improve our communication? Are we, on average, any better informed, than ever were our predecessors? Is the right way to understand a war across an ocean, to hear Murrow report it, without live pictures? Is there any choice, really, now, between being willfully ignorant, and overwhelmed?
posted by paulsc 13 May | 10:57
One other big change that I meant to mention, that was nearly coincidental to the change from film to video in news, was the widespread adoption of remote controls by viewers. In the early 70's few TV sets sold had remote controls, and those that did were often wired to the set. By the mid 70's, many, if not most new sets came with wireless remotes.

So, not only could news come from the field nearly instantly, but the audience, on average, became a heck of a lot more fickle. Personally, I think the trends converged in nearly a perfect storm heavily favoring immediacy and impact over editorial judgement. I doubt we'll ever be able to fully understand what the isolated effects of one innovation would have been, without the effect of the other, but I suspect if they'd been separated by a decade, TV today would be a different medium for news.
posted by paulsc 13 May | 11:38
"We all want to understand something in personal terms, to see faces, to hear individual voices saying simple things with deep emotion."

No, we all don't. The move away from reporting hard news to personalizing every little tragedy is the reason I stopped watching local news twenty years ago. Then when cable news channels started using the same content for filler, I migrated to web based news.

Today, one must dig hard to find the real news, the news that impacts all of society, that which occurs in government chambers and public meetings. Instead, we get real-life soap operas, amber alerts and other trivia that no one remembers three months later.
posted by mischief 13 May | 15:42
whatever you got LoriFLA, it's contagious. I've been reading posts on the case all night now (with stops to get more tissue and blow my nose).
posted by dabitch 13 May | 15:43
LoriFLA, I completely understand what you're feeling. There have been cases over the years that somehow stick with me and cause me to cry whenever I think of them. One case involved those two 10 year old boys in England who took a three year old from a shopping center and killed him. I don't know how many years ago this was, but it rears it's ugly head from time to time and I weep for the victim again. Some cases are local, that never make the big headlines, but some horrific detail sears them in my brain. They always involve children as the victims. What I can't understand is why some stories only cause a momentary pang, a feeling of sadness, while others linger forever in my mind and heart.
posted by redvixen 13 May | 15:58
Is there any choice, really, now, between being willfully ignorant, and overwhelmed?

Good point. I think it's very easy to become overwhelmed with news. I don't want to stick my head in the sand, but I can only take so much. Like mischief has said, I don't watch the local news and haven't for a long time. I turn in on for weather emergencies only. I choose my news sources carefully. I mostly listen to NPR and read a couple online newspapers. It's strange, I can hear "Five American soldiers killed in ambush", and it hardly phases me. It's very sad, but I'm almost numb.

After the tsunami tragedy I questioned my emotions and prejudices. When I saw blonde, blue eyed Swedish kids that were orphaned or killed I was a wreck. I seemed to fixate on these children and families more than the others. I suppose I could relate because my children look like them. But why did I feel so affected by these particular people, when thousands of Thais, Sri Lankans, etc. died? Is it because the media honed in on the European tourists? I suppose the reason I felt so wrecked is because of the personal story. The story of a Swedish man looking for his dead wife. I had the same gut-wrenching feeling when I heard personal stories of PTSD of orphans in Sumatra.

The boy that was killed last year in my town was Muslim and Pakistani. He doesn't look like my children. We don't share the same culture, but I was affected by the personal story. The story of the father giving the child CPR, the mother holding the blanket. The human story that we can all relate to.

dabitch, I've never used hotel babysitting services. I'm not that trusting. We take our kids along for every vacation. We miss out on a lot of "nightlife", but that's the way it goes with kids. Last year I went out on my own a few times in the early evening to participate in guided tours, etc. while my husband and kids stayed in the hotel. Husband didn't mind at all, World Cup soccer was on TV.
posted by LoriFLA 13 May | 16:08
(Lori, you do not have OCD. And you are not crazy.)

Is there any choice, really, now, between being willfully ignorant, and overwhelmed?

Yes, there is.

It's filtering. It's making conscious choices about what you have in your head, about where you choose to focus your attention and your emotional energy.

The phrase "willfully ignorant" implies that you are under a moral obligation to commit your time, energy and resources to whatever spectacle the news media has cooked up to boost ratings. I do not feel so obligated. I have plenty of problems in my own life that demand my attention. I also have a lot of interests that are poorly addressed in the non-web media. So I choose to filter. Some mainstream news items are important and deserving of my attention. The overwhelming majority are not.

And that's how I make it through the day.
posted by jason's_planet 13 May | 17:39
One case involved those two 10 year old boys in England who took a three year old from a shopping center and killed him.

That was the Jamie Bulger case.
posted by matthewr 13 May | 20:42
I had to turn off the Hurricane Katrina coverage -- finally, after days. I started having nightmares.

Also, I know I'm very wimpy about certain types of gorey crimes, so I make sure I avoid the details of those stories.
posted by Claudia_SF 13 May | 22:25
Poor Jamie. When it happened I was a stressed out student who was rather cold to the whole story, but the other day my man cracked a bad joke as Perle was lead away by two older neighbour-girls in the yard (on a ladybird hunt) "look, it's little Jamie Bugler" and I swear I nearly clocked him.
posted by dabitch 14 May | 02:20
Holy hoppin' heck, bunnies in the hypemachine || Bunny! OMG!