I finally got around to reading the June 4 edition of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in the middle of June, after having been in Italy for two weeks. I had purchased it on June 4, of course, in keeping with my never-realized dream of being one of those people who purchases and reads a physical newspaper every day.
Coverage of the stabbing death of Giulia Tramontano, 29, outside of Milan in May by her boyfriend Alessandro Impagnatiello was prominently displayed. Seven months pregnant, she was.
The WhatsApp contact between Tramontano and Impagnatiello was included on page 12 of La Repubblica. It was helpfully color-coded and categorized into sections like “the argument over the lipstick,” “the separation announcement,” “the future of the baby,” and “the messages after he killed Giulia.”
Undoubtedly, murder has always held a special attraction for people. However, the internet age has produced brand-new chances for morbid voyeurism, while simultaneously posing clear privacy concerns.
Since returning to Puglia, the southern Italian region where, before to the epidemic, I used to spend a portion of each summer with the mother of an Italian friend in her modest coastal home, I was already aware of the Tramontano case.
I was promptly informed about the facts of the murder in Milan by my Puglian acquaintances, who were virtually mainly people over the age of 70. These frequently deviated sharply from the facts as stated, but they were delivered with such fervor as to imply intimate familiarity with every detail of the incident as well as the psyches of both the victim and the offender.
It was the same scene I had seen over the course of many summers of watching nightly Italian homicide TV shows, which had also led to much shouting and exaggerated Italo-gesticulation directed at the television set and had frequently led me to wonder which came first: the Italian homicide TV shows or the Italian homicide fetish.
This year, a television malfunction at my friend’s mother’s house reduced the homicide shows to brief flashes of sound and light, but thanks to improvements in locals’ mobile phone proficiency, everyone was still able to stay informed about Italy’s noteworthy murders.
Naturally, the migrants who frequently perish off the Italian coast as a result of the state’s anti-migrant militancy were not included in these fatalities. After all, whether or not refugees send any pre-death WhatsApp messages that may be made available for public scrutiny, the thorough dehumanization of refugees generally limits the potential for sensationalizing their mortality.
The 26-year-old who was killed by a bear in April in the northern province of Trentino was one of the deaths of interest, and my companions in Puglia waved their cellphones in my face so I could see pre-death pictures of the victim and his girlfriend with a bear maw superimposed in the background.
Another prominent Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, has preserved the panicked audio message the 33-year-old man recorded to his wife just before he was fatally injured by a bear in the Abruzzo National Park in December.
Of course, this kind of online voyeurism is not only Italian. Despite the fact that I would not want my personal WhatsApp conversations to be made public after my death, I am guilty of reading the Tramontano-Impagnatiello recordings. If only to avoid being remembered as trivial and neurotic. (At least, my handwritten ramblings in notebooks are frequently unintelligible to me, which gives me some solace.)
In fact, gone are the days when people just had to worry about what would happen to their physical belongings when they passed away; now, there is also their digital footprint to consider. To make matters even more complicated, a field called “digital inheritance” has emerged to control the transmission of everything from passwords to cryptocurrency holdings.
A quick scan of recent worldwide news reveals that the morbid invasion of privacy is still widely marketable. Observe this illustration from the UK media: In a hidden recording, the woman said, “Next time you’ll kill me,” just before her partner fatally stabbed her. Another example is this one from India: “Tunisha Sharma committed suicide within 15 minutes of their WhatsApp chat; here are shocking details of their messages.”
The trivialization of death that has undoubtedly happened as a result of social media becoming the dominant platform for death announcements and condolences is perhaps more deeply unsettling. I can think of a variation on that old saying, which goes, “If you can’t say anything without emojis, don’t say anything at all.”
When people had more time to be human and condolences weren’t something to send before moving on to the next Facebook post, one remembers the days when sympathy wasn’t reduced to a string of yellow sobbing faces.
I’ll never forget the time, years ago, when a filmmaker I typically hold in the highest regard posted on Facebook, in response to a friend’s post about a death in the family, “sorry for ur loss.” The commentator apparently didn’t realize the obvious disrespect of simply typing half of an already very short term in such circumstances because modern communications have so distorted our sense of decorum.