It is Morally Wrong to Eat Road Accident Victims – Apparently

Attn: Traffic Incident Investigations Department Police Headquarters Nordhessen

Dear Sirs

With reference to the incident on the Kassel to Würzburg autobahn (A7) that occurred on Saturday May 19th of this year: the form sent to me, which I have completed and enclosed, proved inadequate to fully explain the events that lead up to incident. I apologise in advance for this account being verbose: it may also seem disjointed having reached you via my lawyer Hüber & Schmidt of Frankfurt who will no doubt delete any passages where I have inadvertently incriminated myself.

In the week leading up to the Saturday in question I had been working in Berlin. Normally I would have returned to Nürnberg on the Friday afternoon using autobahn A9. However a friend of mine, who lives in Hamburg, asked me to help with a small domestic matter. Her father had recently died and as a result her mother, who suffers from dementia, was being moved to a nursing home. Her parent’s possessions, some of which they themselves inherited from their parents, were being sold or otherwise disposed of. Her grandfather had been an engineer and as I have a technical background she asked me if I could assess whether any of his processions were of value.

On the Friday night I stayed in a small hotel in Hamburg itself and on the Saturday morning drove to the house. When I arrived my friend was already sorting and cataloguing her parent’s furniture and memorabilia. Perhaps ‘memorabilia’ is the wrong word here, given her mother’s condition. However from to time the old woman, who was sat in the kitchen, became quite lucid when various items were presented to her.

Fifteen years earlier I had met the grandfather during the opening of an arts centre in Berlin. His company had designed the metal framework of the building. I was reminded of this on seeing a painting, a watercolour, of the art centre in the study where most of the family archive was awaiting my attention. Amongst his other belongings were drawing instruments, books and catalogues: some of them still in good condition and destined for eBay. There were also a large number of cardboard tubes containing engineering drawings ranging from simple pipefittings to complete buildings. These also brought the old lady to life and it transpired her father had brought them home specifically to show her and her brother. It was gratifying to see her awaken from her dreamlike state each time a drawing was held up in front of her. Perhaps we continued showing them to her for a lot longer than if she had remained passive and detached.

Unrolling and flattening out one of the large pieces of paper on the desk in the study, I was confronted with a drawing of a row of ovens. In itself the drawing was fairly innocuous but not when placed in context by the accompanying schematic showing the ovens installed in a crematorium. My friend still had a spring in her step when she entered the room: from behind her the sound of childlike giggling was coming from the kitchen. “Mein Gott.” She whispered as a sudden chill descended on the room and we both seemed to struggle to catch our breath. I’m not sure if it crossed her mind that we were probably looking at the most collectable item in the house. She was a friend, but we were not that close. Her ex-husband and myself studied together at Göttingen. We had spoken of things like this, but only in broad terms and not at the micro level: not down to nuts, bolts and cast iron doors. Thankfully her mother had stopped laughing having slid back into the confused world where no doubt she will live for the remainder of her life. She was not expecting ‘papa’ to come home with another drawing.

The smell of the smoke from the bonfire still hung on my clothes as I drove past Hannover en route to Nürnberg. A car is a good place to clear your head. No music though, just the expansion strips between the concrete sections of the autobahn providing the steady heartbeat in my steel and glass womb. A private place: a personalised false reality with a narrative manufactured by the journey itself. Time to think: perhaps too much time to think.

It was the exit sign for Göttingen that took me back to the study: caused me to freeze again. Had he shown that particular drawing to his daughter? ‘Here’s what papa has being doing at work today?’ Had there been a water cooler moment at work when the talk turned from football and plans for the weekend back to work on the ovens? Perhaps there were implied threats of what might happen if he refused to work on the project. More likely there was merely ambivalence on his part.

Then I was back in my own false reality. Back in the car because this is mainly about me, and how I felt when the initial shock wore off. How I felt when I picked up the drawing. Even though all of the drawings had been copied on the same type of paper that particular drawing, the one of the crematorium, felt different. I had noticed this when crumbling it into a ball so it would burn quickly and produce the minimum of smoke. A tingling feeling in the fingers when dropping it into the wire basket in the garden, a feeling that was still present as I watched the paper crumble to ash. Had I been repelled by close contact with something so notoriously evil or, as I feared, excited by it: perhaps in a way I did not fully understand, or wanted to understand? But, having spent many years working in the media, first in pay-per-view satellite broadcasting and more recently in social media, I understood.

Mass media consists of three building blocks; the ‘reflective’, the ‘predictive’ and the ‘now’. The ‘reflective’ media is made up of documentaries, costume dramas and other historical content. It majors on war, deprivation and atrocity – a lot of atrocity porn. The ‘predictive’ media provides an envelope for science fiction and other utopian concepts. These two components of the machine work in lockstep to provide a false narrative: a narrative showing us constantly moving forward, evolving, progressing from the bestial towards something better. The past is where the drawing of the ovens resided and the future is home to the grand design of the art centre. The old man, thanks to a narrative created by the media moved effortlessly from a dark past to an enlightened future.

We need these false realities to distract us from the only true and natural narrative: the development and the eventual decay of our own bodies. The media industry has no monopoly over false realities and, to be honest, has come into the game rather late in the day. Traditionally the big players have been organisations whose narratives offer the promise an alternative to mortality: who persuade us that somehow, from a putrefying mass of flesh skin and bones, we will escape to live on for ever in some mythical kingdom. The false realities created by mass media and motorcars are just new variations on an age-old religious theme. No doubt the social media timeline will prove yet another distraction: another artificial narrative guiding us through yet another false reality. However there is something even darker than our own mortality: another reason why these artificial narratives and false realities are so comforting. Before it was reduced to ash and returned to its rightful place in the narrative the old man’s drawing had provided the briefest glimpse of this darkness.

Three kilometres from Kassel the word ‘Stau’ was being displayed on overhead indicator boards. Another kilometre and the blue flashing lights of emergency vehicles came in view. Lifting my foot from the accelerator I experienced the same feeling you get when the TV announcer says, “Viewers may find scenes in the following program disturbing.” That announcement guarantees viewers are locked into your channel for the next thirty minutes – longer if the scenes come up to expectation. Anticipation, their pulse rate quickens and their palms sweat. My palms started sweating and my pulse raced as the indicator boards read ‘unfall’ – there had been an accident. The commentators voice is deeper now. “No one could ever have anticipated what they would find when they entered the camp...” and then, just in case the viewer hasn’t noticed. “This film shows the full horror.” Then I realised that this is how I had felt a few hours earlier when holding that drawing: while frozen to the spot in the study, clammy palms, quickening pulse.

I was telling myself to look away now, to concentrate on the narrative of the journey along the autobahn - regardless of how false it was. Hoping at this point that everyone else would keep looking straight ahead. Keep going forward. All the businessmen would keep ‘going forward.’ But, of course, they did not. Brake lights came on: one pair after another in quick succession. Too quick for the driver four cars ahead. There was a dull thump and the crunch of metal. Not a major impact and I managed to hit the brakes in time to prevent hitting the car in front. Then I was stationary: on the northbound carriageway opposite a folded wad of metal, once a car, was wedged under the rear of a truck.

Then I looked. This was the ‘now’: that third component in the media machine. You of all people should know it well: perhaps not the reality TV - the Big Brother House - but certainly the motorway cops programs and the twentyfour-hour real-time news channels. After all you star in these. “We now take you over to that dreadful accident in Nordhessen. Hello, now you were one of the first people on the scene. It must have been dreadful. Can you describe what you saw?” And your job is to confirm it was dreadful and provide a commentary for the stream of images that shows the viewer just how dreadful it was.

One of the emergency workers stepped back and the broken, blood splattered head of the driver was revealed.

‘Now’ media by its very nature appears to have no narrative: but this is deceptive. Its narrative runs at ninety to degrees to the one connecting that drawing of the ovens to the painting of the arts centre. As the viewer is stationary, suspended between the past and the future, the narrative, perpendicular to the surface of the screen, appears as a fixed point. If fact the viewer is moving: not along a line from the bestial to the better but constantly oscillating between the two. The advertisements says to the viewer ‘you’re worth it,’ while the real time content in between convinces them they are not. And within the media of ‘now’ that atrocity-porn lie “We are showing this to you to ensure it will never happen again.” is exposed for what it is: a lie. Because it is happening – it is happening on the twenty-four hour news feed: there is no ‘again’ because this atrocity is happening ‘now.’ So the viewer is left asking why are they watching this? Why does their false reality intermittently feel disturbingly genuine?

As far as television is concerned our confinement within the narrative of ‘now’ remains a collective experience created for us by the broadcaster. Individuals are protected from themselves: in part because that other narrative, the one created by ‘reflective’ and ‘predictive’ media still exists. Within social media networks, however, we perceive everything as the media of ‘now’ and experience it as individuals as opposed to collectively. This creates an ever-shifting false reality where both the best and the bestial within us is on demand and unconstrained.

At this time I was still looking to my left at the car wreck on the other carriageway; still unable to rid myself of that feeling I experienced first when holding that drawing and, again, on seeing the blue flashing lights. In a moment I was out of the car and over the crash barriers. There must have been something I could do to help. This was the same lie all the other drivers told to themselves as they slowed down to stare at the wrecked car: “I can help,” they said, hitting their brakes so hard the cars behind slammed into them.

Here I would like to clear up a few points raised in your letter. I did not ‘man handle the fireman’ or ‘snatch the cutting gear from him.’ The metal cutter was lying on the ground and the fire officer was stood back from the car. I am actually qualified to use a range of power tools having, in my younger days, spent some time working on a construction site. However I do admit to ‘using the metal cutter for an inappropriate purpose.’ and that cutting the left arm from the body of an accident victim could be construed as an ‘inappropriate purpose.’ I have actually apologised to the family of Herr Schneider (who says Germans don’t do irony) for the mutilation of his body. Although, quite frankly, after ploughing into the rear of a truck at eighty kilometres per hour Mr Schneider was no oil painting, even before I started hacking bits off him.

The claim that I gnawed at Mr Schneider’s severed arm like some crazed animal is equally false. Within seconds of cutting of Mr Schneider’s arm car doors swung open behind me and, as one journalist put it, ‘drivers vaulted the crash barriers like a pack of rabid hyenas.’ After one decent bite at the shoulder end of the arm - the skin on the more muscular mid-section proved too tough – the limb was taken from me by a young man who obviously had sharper teeth. From then on it was passed around amongst the crowd gathered around the crashed car.

Rather than give a verbatim account of the devouring of the arm and other parts of Mr Schneider I will refer you to the video a bystander made using his mobile phone. The video that journalists at Axel Springer described as ‘so grotesque it is unwatchable,’ but nevertheless received over four million hits on You-Tube: helped in no small part by the link provided on the front page of Bild. I should, however, like to explain that while myself and the other drivers appeared to be in a hysterical state it has since transpired that Mr Schneider was a type two diabetic and was receiving medication. After swallowing two or three mouthfuls of Mr Schneider most of us began to experience reactions ranging from light-headedness to elation.

In your letter you suggested that several items were stolen during the incident. I am not sure of the current legislation relating to the ‘Organspend‘ program. Did the state own Mr Schneider’s internal organs? Was he carrying a donor card? If not, then what exactly was stolen and from whom was it stolen – assuming life was extinct from the body? Perhaps these are points for Schmidt and Hüber. What I would like to make clear, while on the subject of donor cards and everything else in Mr Schneider’s wallet, is that these items were all present when I, and the other drivers, departed. We are, none of us, common thieves and, to my knowledge, the only two items removed were part the skull, which a lorry driver felt would make a good ashtray and a jaw bone from which a lady en route to Austria intended to extract the teeth – apparently she made jewellery.

So am I blaming the media for the way myself and the other drivers behaved? Perhaps. Maybe the thin membrane of morality we use as a cushion has wormholes into an abyss and somehow we entered one these while straying from the artificial narrative defining our false realities. Was the incident at Kassel, like the couple that met over the Internet and made a cannibalistic pact, just an aberration? In both cases it is not the incident itself but how accounts of it were disseminated and consumed – pardon the pun – that is illuminating. And even more revealing is the observation that we all behaved like a pack of hyenas.

We come back to that false reality that fosters the belief we have ascended from the bestial to something better. Evolution has served us well but unfortunately is rather like a thirteen-year-old kid who has just discovered Java Script. To extend the programming metaphor, we are an object-orientated disaster area. Man’s base need to consume food is so fundamental that every other desire has inherited some of its properties - sexual attraction being a prime example. Surely you must have wondered why all those bite marks on the bodies of sex attack victims. And why the media’s obsession with sexualising the female breast if not to remove the male’s ambiguous perception of them?

So in my defence I assert this was not a criminal act but a warning. An illustration of what could happen if the media of ‘now’ is no longer a collective false reality created by the mass media but, instead, a collection of false realities within social networks. While these networks have timelines to divert our attention from the narrative of our mortality the all-pervasive media of ‘now’ creates a community that is little more than a fluid mob that only crystallises in response to stimulation of some base instinct. We have to ask if the power of the crowd that drives these social networks can ever provide flawed animals with a false reality powerful enough to maintain social cohesion? And even if they do what kind of legacy will they leave when the oil wells run dry and the data centres go dark?