Monday, March 26, 2012

Public hangings? THAT's entertainment!

Did you see the news story last week about the town of Medora, N.D.? Mayor Doug Ellison wants to stage mock hangings to attract tourists and has offered to be the guy who takes the faux fatal drop. He plans to purchase material for his gallows from a movie industry stunt supplier. Planning and Zoning Commission members will vote on this idea next month: "Say, Ed, I'm not sure Water Street is zoned for executions. Let's move this over to Elm." (The story:

I went to, where the town is billed as "North Dakota's #1 Destination." (Really? And it needs to stage hangings?) The spring calendar includes a Cowboy Poetry and Memorial Weekend, the 58th Annual Bird Walk, a musical revue honoring Theodore Roosevelt and multiple events featuring horses and guns, so the town doesn't seem to be dying. Although there's a precedent for public corpses: The "Murder and Mayhem in Medora" weekend June 9-10 celebrates "events that transpired in the 1880s, when Marquis deMores lived and ranched in the Medora area." (He named the town for his wife.)

But the mayor says his "vision is to stage a shooting, where I'd gun down someone in the street, have a trial and a hanging, all within 20 minutes." Maybe that's become the American fantasy of justice: A crime so blatant that there can be no doubt about guilt, followed by a speedy whisk through court -- no defense needed -- and a hanging that satisfies our need for vengeance. Vigilantes, who have temporarily been stilled by the recent unpleasantness in Florida, can cheer.

The problem is, this dimwit's idea is being marketed as entertainment: We're supposed to delight in the slaying of a criminal. After all the degradation of TV reality shows, the smarmy lip-smacking over public humiliations of celebrities and the mind-numbing brutalities of video games, have we really come to this? Are Americans so sick that they'd take pleasure in seeing anyone, even a ruthless outlaw, hung before their eyes?