Saturday, July 16, 2005

KARLA HOMOLKA: UNDERSTANDING A CULTURE…

ANGELS AND DEMONS

By Sergio Granillo

A breaking news issue, a social phenomenon, a debate story about re-adaptation after time in jail, an example of weakness in a judicial system; all of this comes out whenever Canadians hear two words: Karla Homolka.

In many Latin American countries, mass media imposes always their criteria on society, bringing along all kind of collateral effects. Particularly, television is the most important source of information for a large amount of people, those who hardly read a book or even skim a newspaper.

News programs in Latin America give a vast on-air space to government related information, some others exploit entertainment personalities’ gossips, other favorite topic is cops issues; in this case, the most usual stories are related to the capturing of drug lords or drug gangs street fights.

When it comes to “minor offenders”, like a slayer woman, information goes to the middle pages or the last minutes on-air, if it gets any attention at all. It is really hard to get any media attention on a prisoner’s release. And this happens because in Latin American countries justice systems are so twisted that few times actual criminals are imprisoned or they never remain a long time detained; jails are in deed universities of crime.

Talking again about Homolka case, her story resembles the one of the famous Mexican pop singer, Gloria Trevi, who spent 5 years in prison (first in Brazil, later in Mexico), waiting for the outcome of her trial, which at last found her “innocent”. Trevi was captured in Brazil and taken to jail with a other singer girls and their manager, Sergio Andrade. He was accused by some of their apprentices of sexual abuse and of the murder of Gloria’s baby girl.

Gloria Trevi’s career had been quite controversial, the songs she wrote and interpreted, where outrageous, claiming for Latin girl’s independence, release from male’s dominance and (kind of) sexual freedom.

For many people, her successful career was over when she was detained, but when found innocent, in spite of the long time that she spent in prison, thousands of fans crowded the surrounding areas of the prison to receive her as a hero. Just a few weeks later, she crashed on stage and almost selling out tickets.

Nobody, I mean nobody, ever wondered about the level of danger she could ever represent to their fans, young people or neighbors; by the way, she moved soon to Texas, but keeps traveling between Mexico to the U.S., planning to launch her career in the States.

When trying to compare both stories, Homolka’s and Trevi’s, I can see some cultural differences…

The news content of Canadian television is crowded by stories related to every day life, people and society; speaking about anything that alters the normal running of citizen’s life, what’s going on in the town, the neighborhoods and public services.

Here in Canada, news speak about ordinary people and whatever can threaten order and peace, because the country’s stability and future are not in jeopardy (not even by terrorism); economic crisis –as we know them in Latin America- are not an actual menace, neither are extended corruption or crimes.

Nevertheless, Homolka case disturb Canadians, awakes in some of them the hidden scares and their darkest fantasies… Ordinary people don’t want a “criminal” walking around on the streets, not even that she spent 12 years in prison and for the Justice she is ready to come back. Many Canadians don’t agree with that decision, because we are talking about a woman who was able of killing three persons, including her sister.

A question prompts, should the police never had found the slayer, rather than having to face her, after been in jail, now that she is free, but feeling anger and resentment?

This case has taken Canadians to the point of questioning the Justice and the penitentiary system; some people think that it works better in the United States, where high risk murderers are killed by law, period.

In spite of the differences between Canada and Latin American countries, mass media have a quite similar role… Erecting themselves as juries, Canadian mass media have simply decided –on behalf the whole society- that Karla Homolka is an actual threat, even taking in account that the very first interview offered by Karla to a reporter, she showed off as a victim in an attempt of public expiation. In a more subtle way than Latin media, at the end of the day, the effect is the same, press leads public opinion.

Angel or Demon? Karla Homlka is now a myth, who eventually will become a ghost wondering the streets of Montreal. She symbolizes too the everlasting struggle between Ontarians and Québécoises, the first ones infuriated for the release of a slayer and assuming that she is a menace to the society, while the French speaking ones want to show the world that they forgive and can offer a second chance to a regretful woman.

(Spanish version, as published in El Correo Canadiense)

KARLA HOMOLKA: ENTIENDIENDO UNA CULTURA…

Un escándalo noticioso, un fenómeno social, un caso sobre el debate de la readaptación social, ejemplo de la debilidad de un sistema judicial; todo eso evoca el nombre de Karla Homolka para los canadienses.

En la mayoría de los países latinos, los medios masivos de comunicación imponen sus criterios en la sociedad, con todos los efectos colaterales que ello implique; particularmente, la televisión es la fuente de información por excelencia para las grandes mayorías, aquellas que rara vez leen un libro u hojean al menos un periódico.

Los noticieros de países hispanos tienen como temática preferida el quehacer del gobierno, los escándalos de la farándula y algunos casos policíacos, pero enfocados en la captura (normalmente espectacular) de un criminal, una banda de narcotraficantes, en la mayoría de los casos.

No así el caso de “criminales menores”, de gente que comete un homicidio, menos aún la liberación de una persona que ha “purgado su delito”. A poca gente le interesa saber qué pasa con un criminal después de salir de la cárcel; dos cosas se dan por sentadas, una, que difícilmente alguien purgará una condena completa y, segundo, que los sistemas penitenciarios son verdaderas escuelas del crimen.

El caso que más similitud podría tenerse, al menos en México, es el de la cantante Gloria Trevi, acusada de ayudar a su representante –Sergio Andrade- a reclutar jovencitas con el pretexto de hacerlas tan famosas como ella para abusar sexualmente de todas ellas. Tras un largo juicio que duró alrededor de cinco años, la cantante –de gran arraigo popular- que estuvo detenida todo ese tiempo en prisiones de Brasil y México, fue declarada inocente; vuelco repentino y espectacular, que la hizo pasar de criminal liberada a la gran estrella que regresa a los escenarios.

Miles de fanáticos la recibieron a las afueras de la prisión y nadie se cuestionó la peligrosidad que pudiera representar una mujer que pasó cinco años en prisión acusada de perversión de menores, incluso relacionada con el homicidio de su pequeña hija.

Al comparar los casos Homolka y Trevi, saltan a la vista características culturales muy profundas.

La televisión canadiense suele dedicar la mayoría de sus contenidos noticiosos a temas de la sociedad, a cuestiones que alteran de algún modo el devenir cotidiano de la gente, en sus casas, sus vecindarios, su ciudad.


Acá, las noticias tienen que ver con la gente, con los acontecimientos que pueden llegar a alterar una cotidianeidad donde el futuro de toda la nación, su estabilidad y viabilidad, no están en juego, ni en peligro; donde las crisis económicas, el crimen y la corrupción no son el “pan de cada día”.

Sin embargo, el caso Homolka inquieta a los canadienses, despierta su temor; hasta sus fantasías más turbias… Los canadienses no quieren que un criminal vuelva a la calle, aún cuando ha pasado 12 años en prisión; a nadie le gustaría ser vecino de la mujer que mató a tres personas, incluyendo su propia hermana.

Surge la pregunta ¿habría sido mejor que no detuvieran al criminal que volver a enfrentarlo, y ahora saberlo libre, con el resentimiento del paso por la cárcel?

Algunos canadienses cuestionan la efectividad del sistema penitenciario y judicial; dicen que en los Estados Unidos eso no ocurre, los asesinos calificados son asesinados por el sistema, punto.

Y a pesar de las diferencias en las culturas y los sistemas entre Canadá y los países latinos, el rol de los medios en todo esto es muy similar… Se erigen en jueces, ellos determinaron que Karla Homolka es un peligro para la sociedad, aún cuando su primera entrevista con la prensa pareciera un acto de expiación. De un modo más sutil que los medios hispanos, pero a fin de cuentas con el mismo efecto, la prensa impone una tendencia en la opinión pública.

¿Ángel o demonio? Karla Homolka parece que se convertirá en un mito, en el fantasma que deambule las calles de Montreal, símbolo –incluso- de la ya larga lucha entre quebecoas y ontarianos; los primeros simpatizando con la mujer arrepentida que merece una segunda oportunidad, los segundos, indignados por la liberación de una asesina y psicópata, que siempre representará un peligro para la sociedad.

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