Friday, 7 January 2011

Are stereotypes unjustified?

By Honestbroker.

This article is a response to a letter by Dr Martin Roberts to the editor on, but addressed, personally, to Gerry, that we feel too venomous and vituperative to warrant a direct link to on this blog. But if anyone has the stomach (and the curiosity) to go looking, the original is to be found on this link:

In the main, yes. Stereotypes are unjustified. But not all of them. For example, a stereotype, I think, true of most women is that they don’t make false allegations of rape against men; though of course, stereotypes, like rules, have exceptions.

A stereotype about another sort of person, extensively prevalent in almost every country throughout the globe, is that those in one group simply cannot bring themselves to believe that the worst might have happened to another category of person, particularly when the fate of a person in this other category is unknown. The group I am, of course, referring to is parents and, specifically their own, children.

The parents of the murdered young woman Joanne Yeates did not travel from their home in Southampton to Bristol to partake in the searches for her (even though, at the point she was reported missing, there was hope she might still be alive) and with good reason. It doesn’t need a great leap of imagination to understand that the one thing no parent wants to find is the body of his or her own child. And the reason is obvious. Parents, in the main, (with exceptions) love their own children. And love is the cause of that blind spot (if blind spot is what you want to call it),
The normal, human and humane reaction of outsiders who observe the torment gone through by parents separated from their child in circumstances where the fate of the child is unknown is to sympathize with their anguish and above all, respect their perspective, even if that perspective is slightly skewed by that powerful emotion of love felt by all decent parents towards their children. We might, ourselves, have a slightly different perspective from that of parents in such a position, but we would simply not dream of sharing it with them; still less of seeking to impose it upon them, perhaps fairly certain that, in their stead, we would feel and react exactly the same way.

Hence it is that Kate and Gerry refuse to countenance the worst that might be true for Madeleine, preferring instead to stick, with steadfast resolution and hope, shared still by Kerry Needham about her own son, Ben, who went missing on a Greek island nearly two decades before, that Madeleine might be still out there somewhere, alive and well and waiting to be found.

Such a perspective is conspicuously missing in this latest offering from Dr Martin Roberts. Dr Roberts appears to suggest in his own, clumsy and circumlocutory way (replete with non-sequitur about the materialistic expectations of children at Christmas and the inability of their parents to meet them) that Kate and Gerry, in their letter, are too self-absorbed and heedless of the plight of their daughter. But this, from the McCanns’ letter, lays that to rest, I think:

We would like to thank all our supporters for 'staying at our side' in spite of the injustices that we continue to be subjected to. Madeleine is the person who suffers most from all of this injustice. It is this fact alone which causes us the most distress. It is absolutely heart-breaking.

Dr. Roberts makes another astonishing claim, too – that a senior detective who coordinates an investigation into a person, particularly as young as Madeleine when she was (most probably) abducted, is actually not responsible for finding her. Even if (hypothetically) parents of a missing child around Madeleine’s age were guilty of murder most foul, the prime responsibility of the person leading the enquiry would be to find the corpse. One of the leaks from Portugal published by Express newspaper (and which no doubt contributed to the McCanns’ successful libel action against it) was Find Maddie or the McCanns will escape. That says it all, really. Yet Dr Roberts seems to think Kate and Gerry’s reference in their letter to Dr Amaral’s responsibility of finding their daughter “libellous”. Why?

But there’s something else. Where does Dr Roberts get the idea from that the letter (and the forthcoming book) was written for the couple by a third party? I’m not aware of anything in the public domain indicating such. Is he privy to information denied the rest of us? I somehow doubt that. Yet the assumption is explicitly made as if irrefutable fact that a ghost-writer has penned what appears in the couple’s own name. In the letter, we have this condescending reference, suggesting a certain superiority of his own when it comes to matters such as punctuation, grammar and grammatical construction

A good editor, in my experience, will do more than simply correct aberrant punctuation. They will also question apparent statements of fact, for the very obvious and sensible reason that they might not be facts after all. Entombed within the following paragraph (concerned again with the author's own experience of 'suffering' and 'injustice') is one such.

We might agree with Dr Roberts about checking for facts. But perhaps he considers the McCanns not up to writing of the standard exhibited in their letter? In his piece Pearl Harbour he was complimentary of Vee’s literary abilities. But what of Dr Roberts’ own abilities? They are not exempt from criticism, as this example from his letter indicates:

What, under other circumstances (to coin another of your wife's turns of phrase),...

Simply, you can’t coin someone else’s turn of phrase (in this instance, apparently, Kate’s). You can only borrow it. To coin a turn of phrase is to invent one for yourself. Such a lapse isn’t the first.. In his piece Pearl Harbour Dr Roberts used initials without ever stating what they stood for.

Another couple of points worthy of note. Dr Roberts gets confused (but doesn’t allow confusion to deter him from levelling accusation with forthright vigour) about the re-opening of the case. In fact the good Doctor’s point about the McCann's legal representative not wanting the case reopened is not just inaccurate but deliberately misleading. He says there are conditions. There are, but none imposed by the McCanns or their lawyers. It is a requirement of the Portuguese judicial system that there must be new leads for the police to follow before the case can be re-opened. In context, the lawyer was saying that the case should be reopened if new evidence comes to light, but that there is NO POINT in pushing for such an action based on a vague, inexact and uncorroborated statement on the Wikileaks website, as there was no new evidence forthcoming.

That is why the McCanns’ petition asks for a review of the case in a bid to establish new leads, as formally required.

Similar blithe ignorance and pachydermatous absence of concern for finer feelings are demonstrated by Dr Roberts about the sight of open shutters and window and pulled-back bedclothes that greeted Kate’s horrified eyes on the occasion of that fateful check when she discovered Madeleine missing. Simply, Kate saw the bedclothes stripped back, the window open and Madeleine missing. What thoughts ran through her mind in those seconds of blind panic no one, including and perhaps especially, Kate, can truly imagine, remember or describe. Still, according to Dr Roberts, it’s all Jane Tanner’s fault for not stopping the abductor when she saw him. After all, we can all recognise an abduction taking place when we see one.

Is it a stereotype too far to suggest that self-professed academics with pretensions to grandeur tend to be fakes?

By Honestbroker.