[Optional musical accompaniment to this column.]
Up here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts this summer, the circus truly has come to town. At their luxurious new courthouse on the Boston Waterfront, the feds have brought to trial one James “Whitey” Bulger, an octogenarian sociopath allegedly responsible for 19 murders and countless other acts of mayhem, many of which he performed under the protection of a Boston FBI office that was as twisted as a pig’s dick, and who was finally run to earth in California a couple of years ago after existing for years as either a legend or the basis for a Martin Scorsese film. (Robert Duvall has been in rapt attendance at the trial.) The parade of former hit men, gunsels, and other middle-management officials from Whitey’s criminal enterprises that the government has brought forth as witnesses against their old supervisor truly has been an awesome spectacle, and we’re only just getting started. Whitey was a celebrity. He was armed. He’s in the middle of a televised freak show. He’s the damn American dream, walking.
Meanwhile, at a luxurious new mansion down in North Attleborough, the local and state police have spent the weekend investigating Aaron Hernandez, a 23-year-old tight end responsible for 175 receptions and 18 touchdowns, all of which he accomplished in the employ of the New England Patriots, in full view of the nation, and occasionally on national television, who now is more than suspected of being involved in the death of a man named Odin Lloyd, whose body was found in an industrial park not far from Hernandez’s home. Hernandez has yet to be charged with anything, but the parade of local cops, state patrolmen, law-enforcement technicians, forensic dweebs, police technicians, and highly paid television haircuts in and around the Hernandez driveway truly has been an awesome spectacle, and, god knows, we’re only getting started.
It’s going to be a big summer for Going to our own Todd Tonsorial live at the scene, and Todd, tell us what the mood is there right now. Television news directors have the ol’ Orgasmatron set at 11 and it isn’t coming down anytime soon.
Celebrity murder is always showbiz and it always has been. The first completely human interaction in the Bible is Cain braining his brother in a field. (Another early one is Jacob trading his brother a bowl of pottage for his inheritance. So, it can be said that, according to Scripture, the dealings of human beings with each other began with a murder and a swindle. Whitey Bulger has nothing on Jehovah, at least in his literary persona.) We have had a couple dozen Crimes of the Century every century. The only difference has been technology. The kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby was the Crime of the 20th Century, then it was the O.J. Simpson case, and the only difference was that Bruno Hauptmann got covered by the Daily News and Simpson’s white Bronco got tailed by television helicopters. They were both Crimes of the Century.
The dynamic of celebrity murder is as odious as it is inevitable. It requires the media — and the complicit public, namely us — to invest ourselves in the notion that some murders are more heinous than others, more worthy of our attention than others, and, therefore, that some victims are more lamentable than others, with all the moral ambivalence that calculation obviously entails. A celebrity murder also requires of the media that creates it an insatiable appetite for anything and everything that can be attached to The Case; a multimedia black hole is created, sucking in all information that comes within its zone of darkness. Cousins are interviewed. Hell, the diaper-service guy for the house down the block gets interviewed. Theories are propounded. Long-distance psychoanalysis is practiced. Big Thoughts are thought and, worse, expressed, about What It All Means, when, really, all it means is that human beings will kill each other, which we learned back in the early chapters of the Bible, remember? Nancy Grace rises from the box of fresh earth in which she sleeps every night to stalk the cable landscape, feeding vicariously on the blood of the victim.
That’s Aaron Hernandez’s life now, as he peeps out the window of his McMansion in North Attleborough and sees the satellite dishes springing up around him. Whitey Bulger missed all that because a corrupt FBI agent tipped him to his imminent arrest, allowing him to go on the lam. Now, there’s only his trial over which the media can slaver, and that’s something of a more tightly controlled environment. But it’s open season on Hernandez, whose behavior since he first became of interest to police in this matter hasn’t done him any favors. He smashed his home surveillance system. He had his lawyer deliver a cell phone to the police in pieces. (The fact that he had his house cleaned last Monday means less to me, since maybe that’s the day the maid comes anyway, but the fact that it was “linked” to the other two more mysterious events shows you the way this was headed.) First, we heard that an arrest warrant already had been issued for him. Then, on Friday, a clerk in the local court said, no, there hadn’t been one issued. Everybody knows everything, and nobody knows nothin’. But Aaron Hernandez, who stands convicted of nothing except obvious stupidity, has gotten himself involved in a death in which the people who get interested in such things have gotten interested so, therefore, it must be an Important Event and, therefore, everything that touches it must be Important, too. Let’s go live to the scene.
Jackie Brown at twenty-six, with no expression on his face, said that he could get some guns. —George V. Higgins, The Friends of Eddie Coyle
The truth of it is all there, right in the greatest opening sentence of any American novel not written by Herman Melville. From the moment that Hernandez’s involvement in the investigation became public, we have been treated to endless mock-sociological speculations about his “upbringing” and his “background” and how it may have been contrary to the Patriot Way, the always mythical concept that Robert Kraft was the first football owner in history to run his franchise according to the Rule of St. Benedict. This was always hooey, but the Patriots eagerly promulgated it in the days in which they were winning Super Bowls and their $40 million tight ends were not getting caught up in homicide cases. So, perhaps, the team did set itself up for a degree of petard-hoisting anytime one of its players got caught doing anything remotely outside the bounds of propriety. And what Hernandez is suspected of doing is pretty damned far outside those bounds. So, yes, we are all justified in our snarkery at the fact that the Patriot Way seems to have taken a turn in the general direction of Castle Dracula.
(Also, and this is the least important part of it all, I suspect that things haven’t been too cool around the Brady manse these days, either. The quarterback gives back some dough when he signs and, subsequently, the club defenestrates Wes Welker, then one of his tight ends — the crazy party dude — seems to have developed unsolvable medical issues, while the other one of his tight ends — the heavily tattooed dude — gets roped into a homicide case and may be spending at least most of the summer trying to avoid the hoosegow. Danny Amendola’s in for a rough training camp.)
The vetting process for college kids who want careers in the NFL is already intrusive. The draft process is already vile and (probably) utterly against antitrust law. Face facts. You are trying to determine if someone has enough “character” to make a living playing a brutal sport based on the fundamental immorality of destroying the human body for entertainment purposes. You are trying to assess the “character” of someone you’re going to turn into a tool and a commodity anyway. The basic moral conundrum in the middle of all of this is not capable of being solved. All you can do is guess. So you guess. And you hope for the best. The remarkable thing is that more players don’t end up like Aaron Hernandez.
Of course, we will have endless bloviating about what in Hernandez’s “background” may have warned off the poor, misguided Patriots, had they only known, which I guarantee you they did. But, seriously, how are you supposed to “vet” a player so as to know whether he might get involved in killing a guy? Because he smoked some weed in college? Please, do not be stupid. Because of the “influences” around him while he was growing up? Please, do not go there at all. You might question why a player seems to be involved in so many unfortunate occurrences involving firearms, but then Wayne LaPierre will show up on your lawn, hurling anathemas and spittle at you. When Roger Goodell speaks out that it’s too easy for everyone — not just NFL players, but their friends and “influences” who never get out of the places where poverty and crime go unremarked upon by the television hairdos — to get their hands on deadly weapons, then I’ll buy the hype his sycophants ladle out.
When it is pointed out by enough people, in sports and out, that the culture they so deplore in music is the result of an armaments industry that will allow nothing to be done about the ceaseless flow of deadly iron into the neighborhoods where that culture brings that iron to bear, when they start worrying as much about Colt and Smith & Wesson as they do about rap music, then I’ll take the condescending media talk about how Aaron Hernandez was raised without laughing too loudly. The NFL has the same problem the country has — too damn many people have too damn many guns.
Early Saturday morning, on Intervale Street in the Roxbury section of Boston, there was a “dispute” at a party. Three people, two men and a woman, were shot. All three of them are as dead as Odin Lloyd is. On Intervale Street, cops are working through the first real heat of the summer trying to find a guy in a maroon — or was it red? — car who might have been the shooter. These cops are working just as hard as the cops in North Attleborough. They will do their work unencumbered by minicams and television haircuts and armchair sociology. That’s because whoever did the shooting doesn’t count enough for that and, because of that, the victims do not count, either. I suspect the cops are just as happy about it, anyway. They’re the ones who have to deal every sweltering day after sweltering day, hot night after hot night, with the consequences of the actions of the rich white men who arm the “gangsta culture” that the rich white men of sports talk radio will chew on endlessly as the saga of Aaron Hernandez stretches out through the summer. The Patriots should have known something was going on with this guy. Look at his friends. Look at his “track record” — or, if you’re being really tough on the radio, his “rap sheet.” He smoked some weed. He allegedly shot another dude in Florida.
With a gun, I might add.
That’s the meal that will be made of Aaron Hernandez, all summer long, even if this case gets resolved and his involvement in the whole thing is revealed as having been minimal. There will always be a Bigger Story or a Larger Issue to yap about. Rap music. Tattoos. Low-riding jeans. “Entitlement,” whatever in god’s name that really means. And the carnage will go on, and the distant white men will continue to profit from the flow of more illegal iron into the places where the next Aaron Hernandez — and, indeed, the next Whitey Bulger — is just now coming up. I mean, hell, why “vet” Aaron Hernandez at all? He’s a celebrity. He’s armed. Now he’s in the middle of a televised freak show. He’s the damn American dream, walking.