I wonder what all you guys think about The Madeleine McCann Show. Because that is what it has turned into, a show, or better, a soap, a reality-soap, whose storyline the writers of Eastenders must envy and the rest of us follow with a combination of compassionate concern and perverse fascination as we anxiously await the next episode.
There are several factors to the obsession. One, of course, its sine qua non, is the media attention. As the doyen of American TV-journalists Walter Cronkite once said, “The news is what I say it is.” Not only the British, indeed the global media said, “Let the McCann story be the news - and, behold, the McCann story was news.”
Another factor is the archetypal, mythological nature of the story: beautiful blond child in alien environment seized by the dark force - it perfectly fits the genre of the fairy tale and taps into the subterranean fears of the collective unconscious. That the family is educated, wealthy - and Christian - adds to the frisson.
In Britain there is also the Diana factor of mass emotional inflation and the icon of the teddy bear.
And fundamentally, of course, there is the mystery: what actually happened? The overwhelming initial presumption was that Madeleine was abducted either by a predatory paedophile, the paragon of contemporary demonic figures, or by a more calculating, capitalist kidnapper for whom the child was a commodity to be sold to a speculator in the marketplace of children. Then, in the late summer, the unthinkable: suspicions turned on Madeleine’s parents, and specifically, on her mother Kate - the heinous violation of love and trust - suspicions fuelled by leaks and half-truths about the police investigations, compounded by anticipations of a CSI solution to the case, scientifically done-and-dusted.
In the UK there are also subtexts. One is racial (and deplorable): What do a bunch of spic detectives know about complex criminal procedures and forensic examinations? Another is classist (and there is some truth to it): If Madeleine’s mother were a single chav parent, do you think for a moment that she wouldn’t be on the receving end of calumny rather than sympathy for leaving her children on their own for half an hour?
So much for the cod analysis. But two more very serious, if obvious, points. First, this is not a show, there is a little girl out there who is missing. Keep Madeleine in your prayers. And let her be a synecdoche for all missing children: keep all missing children in your prayers. And keep Madeleine’s family, and the investigators too, in your prayers.
Second - and I’ll put this in my usual unprovocative way - if you have an opinion about what has actually happened to Madeleine you are an idiot. If you are aghast and outraged that Gerry and Kate McCann could even come under suspicion, or, conversely, if you have turned on them with accusatory malice, then you are a mere weathervane in the arbitrary and shifting winds of slipshod jounalism. We simply do not have the information we need to evaluate in order reach a rational and judicious conclusion on the matter. So along with prayer, a little more of what Keats called “negative capability”, please: the capacity “of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”