By Rosie DiManno, Toronto Star, November 5, 2010
(This story concerns the death of Elaine Campione's two daughters, by drowning, at her mother's hands.)
The prosecution, while conceding Campione was emotionally distraught and indeed mentally sick, says she nevertheless fully understood what she was doing, planned it, deliberated on it — all requirements that must be met for a first-degree murder conviction — and vengefully committed the crimes to spite her estranged husband, choosing to kill the girls rather than lose them in a looming custody battle.
“She would rather kill the girls than let him have them. She said as much before she killed them and she said as much after she killed them.’’
It is to Shakepeare's Othello that we can and must look for theatrical documentation of the emotion of revenge, the "green-eyed monster" as Iago's wife Emilia dubbs it. In that play, Iago, having been passed over for promotion to Othello's lieutenant, in favour of Casio, plants taunting evidence in front of Othello, that Casio and Othello's wife, Desdemona, are romantically involved. His devious and heinous plot is so successful, (honourable and proud men are especially vulnerable to jealousy), that Othello can stand it no longer and he smothers Desdemona in a fit of jealous rage, only to learn later of the extreme error of his judgement and his actions.
Humans are, indeed, capable of the most horrific acts when stirred to wreak vengeance on another, in whatever form that might take. And while the court wrestles with the verdict, and the sentence (Elaine Campione is charged with first degree murder), we must all step back and recognize our own capacity for a similar act of vengeance. Spite stalks the darkest crevices of our psyche, stimulating our imagination in ways we could never have contemplated when not so driven. Men shoot their spouse's lovers (and in the U.S. have been found not guilty); women take the lives of their children in order to preclude their estranged husband from gaining custody.
And the question at the core of the argument is always, "Was the person charged mentally insane or mentally competent to both stand trial and to face the legal consequences."
While the rest of us, poor helpless observers, know and have to reckon with the fact that two little girls are dead, that a mother was apparently unsuccessful in her attempt to take her own life with a drug overdose, and that a father of those two children, albeit estranged, has lost his family forever, as has his wife.
And no matter what the court decides about Elaine's sanity at the time of the events in the family's bathtub, we all have the stain of the deaths of those children on our hands.
We are, and are becoming even more intensely, a violent society, virtually addicted to film and video violence, losing our capacity to talk, to speak to one another, to negotiate, to use language and intellect and compassion to work through our worst nightmares. We know that boys in elementary and secondary school resist simple skills in reading, as "not masculine" and perfer their computer games. We know that boys and girls are given very limited "education" in the formation of healthy relationships. We know that intimacy and closeness and romance and the life of the emotions are virtually denied as important by the male role models we have generated through sport, politics, the military, medicine, law, engineering, architecture...and the arts, along with the academic disciplines of psychology, social work, theology, are increasingly attracting the females as their students and disciples. We also know that the cliche that feminists have ( albeit unwittingly) left us with is women trying to "out-man" their male colleagues, in their pursuit and acquisition of power. One of the phrases used by women candidates in the U.S. election this past week, while debating their male opponents was, "Come on , man up!" Daring their male competitor to "own up" to some indiscretion or other.
And here we have two little girls drowned, in spite, in vengeance, in revenge, so their father would not become their parent!
Now only is this a tragedy of 'greek' or epic proportions. It is a tragedy we must all share a part in recounting, revisiting, reflecting upon and attempt, conscientiously, to connect the dots, so that this never happens again.
We must all think, "What could I have done differently in my life to help to prevent the deaths of these two innocent children?" And we must do it urgently because we have gong a long way down the path, perhaps innocently and unconsciously, toward more and more of this type of crime.
We can examine our own vocabulary and remove the violent words from that lexicon; and we can talk, and read, and talk some more, and read some more, and write about our feelings, so that even their most black colourations can be owned, deliberated, shared and let out of their "boxes" of self and society-imposed repression, in our vain attempt to appear "strong," "manly," "invulnerable," and "powerful."
It is in our very weakness and ownership of that weakness that we are at our best, not when we are in denial of the supports and the offers of help that surround all of us everyday, men and women. When we make unilateral decisions, in a fit of rage and vengeance, we are all capable of such horrific acts, as that committed by Elaine Campione. And we all need the help that she either refused, or never sought.