Executions as a Television Spectacular Peak-time Executions As a Television Spectacular by Ellen Goodman. Written for The Washington Post in America in 1954 and later published in the British newspaper The Guardian Weekly on April 1, 1984. The article is about how the murderer James David Autry wants his execution to be on the television and Goodman asks questions to whether or not it is okay to show the spectators that kind of violent spectacular and how it will affect them.
Obviously this article was meant to create a debate when it was published those many years after in Britain. If we take a look at the different executions that occur in the article, then we get a pretty good view of how the articles main interest and opinion is negative and wants to show that it has done nothing but bring out the bad in people. Watt Espy who is an historian of capital punishment at the University of Alabama Law Center believes and has heard that violence only brings more violence – “[…] has collected tales of the violence begat by violence” (p. ll. 1-2). He gives an example of how the execution of two men in Attling, Georgia. leads to a fight between the spectators and ends with a man being killed. He states – “This was not unique” (p. 2 l. 3). By that he tells us that it was not uncommon at that time to have consequences like that happen during an execution. The people at that time didn’t handle the rush of the spectacle and of the “show” very well. It got to them and the influence of the bad situation would spread and affect the spectators.
Another example of an execution giving by Goodman is when she talks about one of the last time that the public could watch an execution in America. It was August 26, 1936 that Raine Bethea was hung in front of a crowd of 10,000 people in Owensboro, Kentucky. Goodman describe the execution before and after, like it was some kind of concert or entertainment show that the spectators were about to watch. “Through the early hours of that day, “Hawkers squeezed their way through the crowd selling popcorn and hot dogs. Telephone poles and trees were festooned with spectators”. (p. 1 ll. 12-13) It reminds me of a circus, where you can buy hot dogs or an outdoor movie theater with popcorn, also Goodman writes that a vivid account by Time Magazine showed that the night before the execution of Bethea, the spectators had gone to hanging parties and drinking like the execution was something to look forward to. “By 5 o’clock, “the crowd grew impatient, began to yip, “Let’s go, bring him out”. ” (p. 1 l. 14) Again the crowd shows the influence of what was going on. The bad situation had a violent effect on them.
It made them seem and act almost crazy by the things Goodman describes – “At 5. 28 there was a swish, a snap. ” Soon the spectators crowded in and “eager hands clawed at the black death cloth… The lucky ones stuffed the bits of black cloth in their pockets”. ” (p. 1 ll. 16-17) The quote says that “the lucky ones” got to go home with a piece of clothing from Bethea after he was dead, as proof that they had witnessed the execution. The way that the reaction to Bethea’s execution gets described is very harsh and cynical, like the spectators had forgotten their humanity and compassion.
It is an example like this that makes Goodman bring it up. It shows how wrong it is and what impact seeing an execution can have on people. She sees no reason for bringing such a spectacle up again. For example this quote says that if we go back to the way it was back then it would most likely result in videos of the state-approved murders – “As we resume the march of state-approved murder, it seems likely that television reporters will soon be allowed to bring tools of their trade – cameras – into the death chamber, the way print reporters bring pencils” (p. ll. 21-13) “Indeed, if others have their way, we may yet tune in on death. Live at Five. We may enter the death chamber through the living room. Once again we may become spectators at executions” (p. 1 ll. 5-7) – Again when she writes “once again” she refers to it as going around 50 years back in time to when it was executions on the streets. She also uses irony with the “live at five” because it makes it sound like it was any other television show and that we could watch death “through the living room”, that doesn’t sound very appealing.
By saying things like that she uses the irony to make people think about what this actually means, which is watching another human die as “entertainment” on the television in your own living room. In the article Goodman also write about arguments for and against showing executions on televisions, but not her own arguments though. “Some who favour capital punishment as a deterrent to crime are convinced that watching an execution would scare criminals straight. Some who oppose capital punishment believe that the sight would enrage the public” (p. 1 ll. 3-25) as the quote says an argument for, could be to scare the criminals so they could see what could happen to them. And an argument against could be that it would only have a bad effect on the public. “There’s no scientific way to prove in advance the effect of televised executions on crime [… ] but we do know something about the effect on the “audience”. We do know something about spectators from the old days” (p. 2 l. 12, ll. 13-14) – Goodman knows that there is no way to prove what effect it would bring but she see no reason to try and test it. The descriptions of his death were graphic enough” (p. 1 l. 1) – When writing about Autry, Goodman clearly states her opinion towards the subject which if the executions should be on television or not. Like the descriptions of how Autry’s execution went in details weren’t enough? She is saying that it should be enough. That showing it on television would be over doing it. Hearing about how someone takes a man’s life on purpose would be hard enough but to actually see it happening with your own eyes would be horrifying.