Media outlets have repeatedly compared her disappearance to Scandi crime drama. But Wall was a real, three-dimensional woman—and her death isn't entertainmentby Jane Merrick / August 24, 2017 / Leave a comment
Divers from the Danish Defence Command search the water around Copenhagen. Photo: PA Kim Wall was a talented, versatile and respected journalist, with bylines in the Guardian, the New York Times and Harpers as well as publications in her native Sweden. Yet since her disappearance earlier this month and the discovery of her remains in the Baltic Sea off Denmark this week, she has been treated by the media as a character in a grisly-yet-stylish Nordic noir. It is not unusual for a missing person case to be described as a “mystery”, but the circumstances of her disappearance—last seen on the submarine of the inventor Peter Madsen, whom she had gone to interview—have been taken as a a licence to some of her journalistic colleagues to discuss the case through a stylised Scandi filter, complete with grey cloudy skies and moody music, as though they were aching to be scriptwriters for The Bridge. Radio 4’s The World At One on Tuesday described it as a “real life case of Scandi noir,” and the tone of the discussion, led by presenter Ed Stourton, was almost quirky, not somber. The editor of the Danish newspaper Politiken, Christian Jensen, has described Ms Wall’s disappearance and killing as “the most spectacular murder case in Danish history,” adding that similarities with Swedish-Danish crime drama The Bridge “were too obvious to ignore.” The New York Times, somewhat lacking in sensitivity over the death of a freelance journalist whose work it had published just three years ago, actually contacted the scriptwriter of The Bridge seeking a comment. To his credit the scriptwriter, Hans Rosenfeldt, told the newspaper he was “not at all comfortable with commenting or reflecting over real crimes in this way.” Google “Peter Madsen” and descriptions like “famed inventor” and “celebrated inventor” pop up, as if to mitigate his character before any potential trial starts. A profile of Ms Wall on the BBC News website on Wednesday quoted her friend, a fellow journalist Anna Codrea-Rado, writing on Twitter: “Please don’t remember her as the murdered Swedish journalist who died in a grisly horror straight out of a crime drama. Remember her work. Look beyond the headlines and read about Kim the person, the talented journalist, the caring friend. That’s what she would have done.” Yet ironically, that same BBC News online piece was under a headline that described Ms Wall as a “pint-sized journalist who packed a punch”. What does her size have to do with her capability as a reporter? It is difficult to see how, if a male journalist had died in a similar case, he would be described as “pint-sized”. Perhaps the worst example of this Scandi-filtered coverage of Ms Wall’s killing was a film on BBC2’s Newsnight last week, when she was still missing, which was teed up as—you guessed it—“a story straight out of a Nordic drama.” The footage was stylised, the music darkly atmospheric. A neighbour described the case as a “sad story,” to which Newsnight’s reporter said “it is a very strange story as well.” In another scene, he asked: “What was she doing on his submarine, was she investigating him or did something just go terribly, terribly wrong?” Surely we know what she was doing there: she was interviewing Madsen, who has been charged with inadvertent manslaughter and insists she died in an accident, for a feature about submarines (friends report that she planned to pitch the story to US tech magazine Wired). But the film seemed desperate to stylise what is a horrific killing of a talented woman journalist. At the end of the package, it was not only the presenter who was given an on-air credit but, unusually, the segment’s film-maker—as if this were some beautifully shot noir rather than a factual news report about a missing woman. And so the killing of a woman in “mysterious” circumstances involving a sinking submarine and a zany, “famed inventor” is not treated as a sad, outrageous death but some sort of entertainment that could be, as we have been told repeatedly by the BBC and other outlets this past fortnight, “straight out of a Nordic drama.” The victim is portrayed as a two-dimensional character rather than a real woman whose family are grief-stricken. The tone of the coverage is reminiscent of when Oscar Pistorius murdered his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp by shooting her several times through a bathroom door in 2013. Then, the focus was all on the “brilliant” “talented” Paralympian who had jeopardised his career and the “mystery” of her killing, rather than on the life of the victim herself—just pictures, plenty of pictures, of her. In the UK, three women are killed by men every week. The majority of these crimes are not widely reported, and it is only thanks to the work of Karen Ingala Smith, who runs Counting Dead Women, that we know this figure. The only “mystery” here is to why their deaths, which have no possibility of being dressed up with “Scandi noir” glamour, are so often ignored.