Who needs public hangings, now that we can watch a wide variety of corpses in various states of disrepair walking down the street through our television sets?
Every week producers of shows like The Walking Dead find newer and more disgusting ways to maim and splatter supposedly reanimated corpses.
And we, the fans, love it.
Every week millions tune in to be engrossed by the spectacle. Millions can’t get enough from the new episodes, captivated by the reruns, watching them over and over again to catch another piece of flying flesh that they may have missed in a previous viewing.
And a veritable pall settles over the land as each season finishes, and an anxious deathwatch ensues in anticipation of another even gorier season that hangs months away.
It’s why anti-capital-punishment protesters who clamour for public hangings have got it backwards. They believe that public executions would show how disgusting they are and would force lawmakers to abolish capital punishment where it is still practised in such backward countries as the United States.
They should watch TV. They should tune in to any of the myriad “zombie apocalypse” series and movies – even talk shows.
They should open their history books. Or they could flip the channel from their favourite zombie show to one of many documentaries on torture and disfigurement and inhumane executions – all performed in the public square to cheering masses.
And however inhumane the means of execution, it’s never quite inhumane enough.
Like Walking Dead minions, the fans of public executions have always demanded more.
Public suffocation by garrote became stone weights added one by one to the chest.
Public hangings became hanging, drawing, and quartering.
Public drowning became a form of ultimate water-boarding.
Burning at the stake in the town square became slow roasting, with clever rigs designed to suspend the victim above the fire.
After a few YouTube beheadings in the Middle East, you rarely hear of them anymore.
They’re just not as shocking as they used to be.
They’re just not exciting enough to hold our interest.
They’ve become mundane.
We’ve become inured.
They’re no longer gruesome enough to compete with the zombie apocalypse.
They’ve lost their impact… except as recruitment tools. Young men – and young women – are somehow seduced into service, rather than repelled by graphic scenes of gushing blood and severed heads.
It’s like the movies, but even better.
And the more inhumane the act, the greater the attraction.
Indeed, “inhumane” is the wrong word to describe torturous death. History has shown time and again that revelling in others’ painful and miserable destruction is very, very human.
Perhaps it is the very thing that sets us apart from the other animals.