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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Guest Opinion: Fugitives and celebrity bedfellows

Having followed the Christopher Dorner manhunt with the sort of scrupulous and morbid curiosity that today’s sensationalist mass media seems to arouse at every possible opportunity, I began to notice remarkable parallels with an incident not too dissimilar that took place across the pond back in 2010. I refer to the case of Raoul Moat who — two days after being released from prison — sparked the biggest manhunt the UK has ever seen after shooting his former girlfriend and her new partner before targeting a police officer the following day.

While the grievances motivating the two fugitives derive from opposite sides of the law (Dorner being an ex-officer, Moat an ex-convict), there are still some striking similarities to be drawn. The two shared a common enemy in declaring war against the police, and both published lengthy, aggrieved and hate-fuelled manifestos via social media in which they named targets, before going on the run and provoking widespread manhunts.

Both expressed feelings of isolation and having seemingly relinquished any semblance of a desire to live, declared they were prepared to fight to the death: a fate they would both eventually endure.

There is a more bizarre similarity, however, which edges each story into the realms of absurdity. Both cases compelled two unusual public figureheads to emerge from the fringes of celebrity back into the limelight, offering to liaise with their respective fugitives and bring each case to a swift and peaceful resolution. In the case of Dorner, cue Charlie Sheen, who, not too long after our perpetrator went on the run, posted a video on entertainment site TMZ.com urging his admirer to “Call me. Let’s figure out how to end this thing.” And as Sheen’s slightly less successful, slightly more eccentric transatlantic counterpart: Paul Gascoigne.

Amongst the YouTube generation, Sheen’s perpetual tiger-blood-fuelled quest to waltz through life hoovering up any narcotics and/or prostitutes in the reach of his immediate vicinity has become such a staple of US popular culture that he needs no further introduction here.

Gascoigne’s rise to cult status perhaps warrants more of an explanation. Gateshead-born “Gazza” was best known for an illustrious soccer career spanning 19 years with nine different clubs before engaging in an interminable and well-publicized battle with alcoholism. He captured the hearts of the nation by emanating small watery particles of ultra-patriotism from his eyes during the 1990 World Cup semi-final, inexplicably reaching No. 2 in the UK Top 40 and attracting a cult following on the back of a baffling popular wave of “Gazza-mania” before veering in and out of anonymity for the better part of the 21st century.

Fast–forward to 2010 and, with the Moat situation culminating in a hopeless standoff with armed police, Gascoigne capitalized on a tenuous social link to the former bouncer to offer himself up as a mediator. During the standoff, Gazza rocked up in a taxi armed with a six-pack of lager, a fishing rod, a bucket of chicken and a dressing gown to coax Moat into submission.

“Moaty, Moaty! It’s me, Gazza!” rang out the would-be peace cry from the scantily clad Geordie. Somewhat surprisingly, he was denied access to the gun-wielding fugitive.

So what is it exactly that compels this bizarre calibre of celebrity to have such a vociferous presence in disputes between the public and police? Opportunistic publicity? Unconditional altruism?

To take each argument in turn, the former certainly has cynics sharpening their pencils. Are both thinly veiled attempts at attention-seeking, last-ditch stabs at retribution in the discerning eyes of the public? Are they a mere fame-induced clutching at straws, aimed at prolonging cataclysmic falls from grace? Whilst neither intervention could reasonably be considered tantamount to UN peacekeeping missions, there is a case to be made that successfully negotiating a resolution would have surely secured the public salvation sought by both.

On the other side of the coin, maybe it is a genuine concern for the individuals involved that provides the underlying motivation. Perhaps Sheen and Gascoigne truly believe their elevated public profiles may have been persuasive bargaining tools when it came to convincing the perpetrators to concede and turn themselves in, thus reaching a swift and peaceful conclusion. Indeed, Dorner explicitly described Sheen as “awesome” in his manifesto, and perhaps such admiration ought not be swept away so lightly.

Similarly, Moat hailed from more or less the same area as Gazza, and while their acquaintance was fleeting at best, what could be more flattering to know that a local-born celebrity had your safety at the forefront of their concerns? A few words of comfort might have yielded the solace both fugitives sought, safe in the knowledge that a celebrity genuinely wants to see them survive their ordeal. Then again, both involvements could just be the products of excessively delusional narcissism, or vocalizations of egos ravaged by years and years of substance and alcohol abuse.

No one can be quite sure what could have transpired had Gascoigne or Sheen been allowed to get involved. Perhaps their influence would have proved to resolve, rather than exacerbate, what were precarious and ultimately fatal impasses.

The fact still remains that both situations culminated in bloody circumstances that nobody stood to benefit from. Two fugitives were stripped of the chance to stand trial for their crimes whilst the families of their victims were left bereft of justice and the sense of closure that accompanies it.

Why not then, with any other more constructive options not forthcoming, simply allow the two celebrities to act as peacemakers in earnest? And should this yield somewhat more desirable consequences, why stop there? Why not have the pair strapped into a plane and parachuted into the West Bank? Probably best to leave the lager and fishing rod at home though, eh Gazza?

JOE STEPTOE is an Aggie city news writer, and third-year political science and sociology double major. He can be reached at jsteptoe@ucdavis.edu.

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