Archived editions of the Brandon Sun, particularly in the early 20th century, are riddled with startlingly detailed descriptions of gruesome deaths, tragic passings, and grotesque injuries. You can take my word for it, or research the disturbing instances for yourself, but I must forewarn, it is not for the weak of heart.
Upon reviewing the carefully handwritten notes, which I had made while researching this column, I vacillated between an overwhelming spectrum of emotions. Reading about the choice of underclothes, which an unidentified deceased person was discovered to be wearing, or the state of decomposition in which an abandoned infant was found, I experienced a sobering shock to my insulated sense of reality.
In a March 1912 edition of the Brandon Daily Sun, we are told how a Saskatchewan transient had just been discovered, dead and frozen, by seven young boys (just) west of Brandon. "Mice had eaten a hole through the latter (hat), and these little pests had also devoured portions of the dead man’s fingers."
You see, at this current point of time, publications, for the most part, shelter us from learning just how our loved ones and community members are killed, under supposed newsworthy circumstances.
Carefully worded reporting, of present-day fatalities and similar such tragedies, are not just respectful to the memory of any surviving loved ones, but it also tends to shield the general public from reading about potentially traumatizing details, which are irrelevant to the greater message. It is improbable, that the gnawed condition of our poor transient’s fingers would ever be as sensationally publicized today, as it had been barely a century ago.
But really, where does our honour of sensitivity begin and end, if we close the pages of our newspapers, only to turn on our televisions and watch programs which promote brutal blood sports, gruesomely vivid images of war-ravaged victims, or simulated crime scenes?
Our expectations of media seem to contradict itself. On one hand, we often witness a sense of public outrage when a newspaper opts to disclose to their readers, the conditions in which homicide victims were discovered. Yet, many of these same individuals will intently scour social media sites and television programs for the explicit accounts of other people’s, and other community’s, devastating tragedies.
What is it that we really want? Do we want more words in print, or do we want reduced coverage on broadcast news and reality-style programming? It would appear that our insatiable curiosity, for the down-and-dirty details on another party’s misfortunes, seem to lose it’s justification, when it involves someone who we personally know or love.
I personally believe that a happy-medium exists somewhere in between ‘here and there.’ If we were able to close the proverbial barn gate, regarding the amount of information that was being shared over a hundred years ago, then surely we can attempt to figure out some way to temper our present-day expectations from the media.
In the illustrious words of my uncle, "Go ahead, back up."
» Trish Cullen-Watt is a Carberry resident, who performs freelance research in genealogy, local historical events and First Nations issues.