Monday, June 22, 2015

Emily Davison's Gruesome Death

When I first drafted this post, I began with "in today's internet age..."  I wanted to talk about the prevalence and availability of gruesome, hideous death footage.  Not just life-scarring videos available on youtube, but the worst kind of images only a Google-search away.  The Dnepropetrovsk maniacs video, the Station House Fire - the internet has made watching the moment of death easier than ever.

But then I realized this isn't a symptom of the darker corners of internet:  The Walter Scott video played on every major news station for days.  Sure, Mr. Scott wasn't tortured to death up close with a hammer, but his violent death was shown over and over and over and over again, every hour for countless hours as news anchors gave stern-faced warnings about "graphic content."  

This set me to thinking: when did this phenomenon begin?  When did this habit we have of turning snuff into news start?  The Vietnam Conflict saw it being leveraged for a good cause, revolutionizing how war-time reporting was conducted.  But it had to be earlier than that...

Then, one night as I was watching the updated documentary series Time to Remember on Netflix (a BBC production filled with earliest newreels), I witnessed the sudden, brutal injury of Emily Davison.  

In 1913, the British Suffragette movement was in full swing.  And, mind you, this wasn't just some Girl-Scout-cookie, chanting-with-signs affair.  Suffragettes were routinely beaten, imprisoned, and, when they went on hunger strikes, were force-fed gruel to ensure they didn't 'become martyrs'.  Physical brawls weren't uncommon between the police and the women, leading some to take up martial arts for self-defense.  And, not all suffragettes were angels: there was definite militant sect to the movement, responsible for things like arson and bombings.

Emily Davison, for example, was of the militant variety.  She was jailed 9 times, and force-fed an astounding 49 TIMES.  While I can't attest to how many fires she set in her time, she's better known for her last act of protest: stepping onto the track at the Epsom Derby on June 4th, 1913.  

As a clump of horses barreled past, Miss Davison stepped out, reaching for King George V's horse, Anmer.  As she grabbed at the reins, the horse struck her, then trampled her.  The horse tripped, sending its jockey flying as Miss Davison tumbled, crushed under the flying hooves of the massive animal.  She was immediately knocked unconscious and rushed to the hospital.  She never regained consciousness. 

She died four days later.

The race was being filmed that day for posterity, and captured the moment.  If you'd like, you can watch below.  

At the time there was some confusion as to why Miss Davison stepped out onto the track.  Some believed it was a suicide, others a martyrdom.  What we do know is that Miss Davison had purchased a return ticket from the race, as well as a ticket to a suffragette event later that evening.  It appears death was not on her mind.  Close inspection of the footage corroborates the narrative that Davison was merely attempting to attach a suffragette ribbon to the King's Horse: a risky and high-profile act of protest.

What can't be disputed is that as long as humanity has been filming itself, it's been capturing all aspects of life.  Even unto death.


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