Smarting Over

“Pam Smart?” replied my young friend. “I know the name, but I don’t know why.” It took only a few words to freshen his memory



Editor Rick Broussard

Photo by John Hession

“It’s not been that long,” I think to myself. “Has it?” Then I realize that the Millennial generation was just getting around to being born when one of New Hampshire’s most salacious murder trials became, arguably, the biggest “media circus” of the late 20th century. 

I’d lived in the state for a few years when the story became front-page news (and remained in the headlines for months). Crime stories don’t have quite the fascination for me that’s required to keep TV shows like “CSI” high on Nielsen ratings, but I paid enough attention to formulate my own verdict along the way — guilty — and to be shocked when I learned that many people disagreed with me.

Seems they still do. A current petition addressed to the NH Executive Council on Change.org is titled, “Free the Wrongly Convicted Pamela Smart.” As of the writing of this note in early October, 2,078 had signed up.

Since the 1990s, with the proliferation of the internet and the 24-hour cable news shows, public obsessions over spectacular crimes and convictions (or vindications, however technical) have become so common that they seem like mere punctuation marks in the story of our troubled world.

Along the way, we’ve also grown more accustomed to these “split-screen” views of issues, where two people of apparent good will and reasonable intelligence can seem to be seeing two entirely different worlds through their TVs and computer screens.

The 1995 “trial of the century” verdict in the O.J. Simpson murder case was a watershed moment for this realization, where the televised announcement of his innocence aroused both cheers and moans, sometimes from the same family of viewers.

We’ve grown accustomed to this kind of division, as it has permeated our political discourse about everything from foreign policy decisions to police shootings. It has certainly come to a head in the current presidential election, where both sides sum up the other in a single word: “unfit.”

Our decision to re-air details from this trial ["Pamela Smart: Innocent or (Still) Guilty?"] — one that transfixed so many of us in the previous century — was in part because it’s still a fascinating story and there are, indeed, still questions that linger. But also because we need to be reminded from time to time how complex and often contradictory the nuances of such crimes can seem, no matter how positive we are about our own conclusions.

This fact is highlighted in the most sensational events of our past and is the seed of every conspiracy theory around a famous assassination, or every world-changing moment in history from the sinking of the Lusitania to the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Maybe what we’re witnessing with such divisions isn’t the demise of Western Civilization but just a coming of age, a cultural maturity that requires us to admit that the more we know, the more mystery beguiles us.

Ambrose Bierce, who was a critic of modernity (and culture in general) back when cynicism was less trendy, summed it up like this in his “Devil’s Dictionary”: “Positive, adj.: Mistaken at the top of one’s voice.”

 

More edit notes from editor Rick Broussard

When Hope Must HIde

Building on Hope, a remarkable effort that began in a conference room here at our offices, has a new extreme makeover project — but for this one, the location has to remain a secret.

Health and Wildness

“In wildness is the preservation of the world,” wrote Henry David Thoreau. Now, physicians and scientists are suggesting that wildness may be the preservation of good health as well.

How Cool Are We?

It may not be one of the first adjectives that come to mind when describing the Granite State, but when people (or states) describe themselves as “cool,” it’s often a sign that they aren’t.

New Old Home Day

“I wish that in the ear of every son and daughter of New Hampshire, in the summer days, might be heard whispered the persuasive words: Come back, come back.” — Gov. Frank Rollins, 1897

Voluntary Association

Heroics are often associated with a singular response in a moment of crisis, but what about a whole world in the aftermath of war? What do you call the thousands who answer the call?
Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Popular Articles

  1. 10 Reasons Why YOU Should Visit the NH Motor Speedway
    Need a good reason to go to a NASCAR race in Loudon? Here are 10 of them. If you still refuse,...
  2. New Hampshire Craft Beer: Big Ideas in Small Batches
    In pre-Prohibition days, nearly every town had its very own brewery. Though we’re not quite...
  3. Forever Autumn in the Town of Warner
    A front porch gathering with family and friends for a fall harvest luncheon during Warner Fall...
  4. 11 Fabulous Fall Foliage Drives
    Try these byways for peak leaf-peeping.
  5. Kerri Nailor's Where House
    The owner of 56 Self Storage likes things that stay put.
  6. Ways to Cope with a Breast Cancer Diagnosis
    What happens when the treatment begins.
  7. A Field Guide to New Hampshire Mascots
    A closer peek behind the fur, feathers and scales of the state’s hardest working costumed...
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags