3 min

Humiliation a valid excuse for murder

Jenny Jones jury orders fags to hide away

This column is all about the importance of appearances, images and other paraphernalia of media culture. So it is with a looming sense of impending contradiction, that I announce to the jurors in the Jenny Jones civil trial: Get real, folks. TV is not the real world.

An appearance on a talk show isn’t going to turn you into a killer, anymore than a new pair of underwear is going to turn me into the next Calvin Klein model.

Yet a Michigan jury recently decided that the Jenny Jones program was partly responsible for the death of one its guests because it allowed a gay man, Scott Amedure, to confess his lust for a supposedly straight man, Jonathan Schmitz, during a March 1995 show on secret crushes. The program never aired, but three days later, Schmitz shot and killed Amedure.

His excuse? Humiliation. The news that he was loved and admired had provoked murderous rage.

If that was really the case, if he was actually “humiliated” by another man’s expression of affection, let’s get him to a therapist quick. (And set up a public cookie jar for all the compliments he doesn’t want. I get first dibs.)

Clearly he had insecurities and conflicts too deep to mention. But let’s not dignify his public “humiliation” as anything but the pathetic excuse of an emaciated masculinity.

Schmitz shot Amedure in cold blood. His criminal conviction for second-degree murder was overthrown on a technicality and he now awaits a second criminal trial, expected to begin in August. But no one doubts his guilt – he confessed to the crime. And nobody should doubt his responsibility.

It was Schmitz who purchased a shotgun and shells, Schmitz who broke into Amedure’s trailer, and Schmitz who shot Amedure twice in the chest at close range.

Yet jurors in the Jones trial ordered the producers and distributors of the show to pay US$25 million in damages to Amedure’s family, arguing that the show had in some way been negligent.

Confusing image and reality isn’t exactly a new problem in American society, where critics seem determined to ascribe every social ill to porn or other media images. But this particular verdict has a dismaying effect. It deflects responsibility from the real problem of violence against gay men to the spurious problem of trash TV.

Indeed, one suspects this murder wouldn’t even have made the news if it hadn’t had been tied to a TV celebrity.

The fact that it was seemed to confuse the jurors. They got the verdict ass backward. If anything, Jenny Jones should have been applauded for legitimizing the confession of a same-sex crush, not vilified.

You can say a lot of mean things about US talk shows. They can be slimy, tasteless and boring. They promote confrontation in lieu of conversation, and their view of human relations owes more to professional wrestling than any useful therapeutic strategy.

But they’re definitely an equal opportunity employer. Day after day, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transvestites are paraded across the sound stages of the nation’s talk shows, where their various fucked up relationships are treated with exactly the same hooting irreverence as those of their equally wacky straight counterparts. If that’s sensationalism, let’s have more of it.

By decrying that sensationalism, the Jones jurors told gay men to, in effect, shut up. The verdict implies that if the Jones people had protected Schmitz from the malodorous effects of gay lust, or Amedure has just kept his dirty, filthy thoughts to himself, he would be alive today. In other words, shut up you stupid fags, because otherwise you’ll end up dead, and it’ll be your own darn fault because nobody would kill you if you didn’t provoke them.

If gay relationships don’t always work out, it’s in part because of attitudes like that. Not for nothing was “shy” a longtime code word for gay. You’d be shy, too, if you grew up in a culture where a friendly overture to the “wrong guy” could result in humiliation, abuse or worse. The culture stifles social-sexual development in gay men and the problem will only get worse if the Jones verdict takes.

Scott Amedure was brave enough to state his desires publicly on national TV. After this verdict, will anyone else have the courage to do the same?