Thursday, March 19, 2009

I feel like I've been punk'd.

If you've been following the news, you know that Austrian freakmeister Josef Fritzl is currently on trial for imprisoning his daughter in a secret room in his basement for 24 years. Aaaaand if you've been following this story, you know that he did more than just imprison her.

No lessons to be learned from this story, of course—it would be like trying to extract key principles of motherhood from the actions of Grendel's mother. Mainly, I wanted to direct your attention to a piece I recently stumbled upon at The piece, a personal essay called "I knew Josef Fritzl," was penned by one Bernice Dainty (photo at left).

The story begins like this:
The first time I met Josef was when my friends Teresa and Esme and I had to collect chalet keys from his home. Looking back I suppose he was a bit odd, but I just put it down to the language barrier. I only know how to say a few things in Austrian, which I learnt during my first visit there.

He looked well-kempt. His hair wasn't all like a grey cloud like it is now. However, his trousers had no belt, but instead a length of cord. I can't help wondering about what he used the rope for now.
Despite her acquaintance with Fritzl, Ms. Dainty is apparently as confused as the rest of us by Fritzl's actions and feels great empathy for Fritzl's family who, she suspects,
will not find the answers to the question of why he did it. Maybe Josef will be the only person to know that now, but I think maybe he doesn't know himself. I would almost like to talk to Josef one more time, but I think it would be too hard. I can't help but feel sick and scared when I think of all this now.

Now, just to give you a sense of my experience of this story, the above section of "I knew Josef Fritzl," is part way down the first of two pages—but already I'm looking at the site address. I'm looking for indications of a fake email address or "no photo available." Some clue, anyway, to whatever joke is being played. And I haven't even gotten to page two, where she asserts that
Josef obviously has serious problems with his emotions, and I think he could not show his affection in the normal way. I would like to see him realise what he has done is wrong, and for him to use his experience to help others who have similar desires to control them. I do not want to see any more men raping their family in dungeons in the news!

Now I'm thinking: This is so subtle as to qualify as brilliant, à la Jean Teasdale of "A Room of Jean's Own" fame. Except with good ol' Jean, you always kinda know the joke's on her. Bernice Dainty, then, is Jean Teasdale dry, with a twist of strawberry.

But no.

Wikipedia tells me that "is an international news Web site that showcases first person accounts from the protagonists and witnesses of events." Not only that, but
It was recognized as one of the top 12 news websites in the world by the 2008 Webby Awards, called the Oscars of the Internet by The New York Times, receiving approximately 10,000 visits per day, up to 55,000, from a mostly American demographic.

Anybody can post a story at Orato as long as it is a demonstrably true story that follows Orato’s guidelines.

You guys, I'm pretty sure this site is for real.

Perfect. Now I have to deal with the fact that at least one human out there thinks it's perfectly legitimate to say something like: "I would like to see him realise what he has done is wrong, and for him to use his experience to help others who have similar desires to control them. I do not want to see any more men raping their family in dungeons in the news!"

I, too, hope he works for change, by starting up a rehabilitation group for all two other men in the history of the world who have fathered seven children over a period of decades via their imprisoned daughters.

Ahem. Please excuse me. Bernice Dainty makes me hyperbolic.

Please note that I'm not making light of the situation of Fritzl case itself—it goes without saying that his daughter has suffered a monstrosity the depths of which go far beyond human comprehension. I'm only saying: Bernice Dainty, plz to stick to your day job. The rest of us will hope that your day job involves neither writing nor a particular capacity for insight.

In the comments section attached to Ms. Dainty's piece, a handful of readers alternately attack and support Bernice Dainty, mainly focusing on a paragraph in which she explains that her friend Teresa claimed that Fritzl had sexually harrassed her, but
[w]e did not believe her because she is a bit of an attention seeker and also overweight. We could not see why he would single her out for sexual attention. Usually the men give more attention to me and the other gal pals, so we thought she was trying to make us jealous. We should have listened to her though.

I can see why readers might target this section of her essay, but as far as I'm concerned, the weirdness of this paragraph is the most minor of her sins. The most grievous error she commits is the slow, inexorable murder of both subtlety and complexity. And neither subtlety nor complexity uttered a single peep while it was happening. That is simply not their way.

I can only hope that while Orato may be authentic enough in its purposes, Bernice Dainty is not. I can only hope I've been tricked. (Please god let her be a sockpuppet.) If you possess knowledge about Orato, Josef Fritzl, or Bernice Dainty, please send it my way.

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