Once again, the American media is going gaga over an Italian homicide involving a female US citizen. Except this time, instead of being the prime suspect, like Amanda Knox some time ago, the American is the purported victim. Ashley Olsen was found dead, apparently strangled by a Senegalese immigrant after having sex with him in her apartment in Florence, despite having a long-term Italian boyfriend. This has led to an eruption of sycophantic praise about her life, as if she were some non-besmirchable sage of philosophy for having moved to Italy like Julia Roberts in the film Eat, Pray, Love.
To be clear, Olsen was a 35-year-old habitual drug and alcohol abuser who seems to have found no steady way to support herself, which makes her descent into drugs even more reckless. Time reports that she worked as a “babysitter, dog-sitter, and organizer of art events.” There is no doubt that Olsen’s consumption of narcotics led to woefully poor judgment. On a moral basis, we can always fall back on “She didn’t deserve it,” a sentiment I totally agree with, but how about preventing further deaths like this?
Presenting Olsen as a grossly undeserving victim of homicide is not mutually exclusive with a proper assessment, based on facts and testimonies, of her character and actions. On that theme, forensic evidence so far indicates consensual sex took place between Olsen and a Senegalese illegal migrant. This is already being toned down or swept under the carpet by the media, which has quoted someone saying “She would never have cheated on her boyfriend.” Incidentally, the Senegalese man is the one who has been arrested, at least so far, for her murder.
Olsen’s love of drugs and degrading lifestyles exposed her to the circumstances in which she died
If I travel to Sinaloa in Mexico and get murdered, I do not deserve to be killed. But I have exposed myself to a spectacular risk. The same goes for me venturing to Afghanistan for a desert jaunt, going camping in Siberia in January, or starting a makeshift expedition into the Amazon Rainforest. They don’t need to be human-related dangers for me to need to take significant precautions (or just not go!).
When was the last time you:
- Went for a late night walk in the projects of Detroit, Harlem or South Central Chicago?
- Wordlessly stared at members of a motorcycle gang at a remote highway bar?
- Ran through cars moving in traffic, even when the vehicles are going over 25 miles an hour?
How is taking any of these steps different from consuming ample drugs and then sauntering around a large city at night? The point here is an appreciation of risks and consequences, rather than declaring that a victim is moral culpable.
This is my exact point about Ashley Olsen. Her lifestyle brought her into contact with forces and circumstances that cause immeasurable injury or plain snuff out lives across the world every day. And even though Italy, particularly Northern Italy, isn’t exactly a failed state, there are plenty of behaviors that can make anyone edge dangerously close to personal oblivion in any country.
This is another reason why the media portrayal of Ashley Olsen is so inexcusable and dangerous. American tourists, disproportionately in harm’s way in these situations, are being exposed to heightened risk because almost every outlet is interested in glamorizing stupid women like Olsen, not spelling out the facts of how their lifestyles put them in the wrong place at the wrong time.
When you take drugs and gallivant around a city, even one you have lived in for a few years, you are playing Russian roulette.
Olsen’s Instagram account is completely misleading
Where are the real drug-related pictures on Olsen’s Instagram? She didn’t put them there, of course. People put on Instagram what they want others to see, not scenes of vomiting after reacting to some obscure chemicals in their narcotics. They want to been as fun, wise (in a cool way), and show a life capable of stoking envy in others.
Countless media reports have linked to Olsen’s Instagram, contaminating the actual story and with the full knowledge of reporters that the account presents a very satiated image of what her lifestyle really entailed. Regardless, this narrative of hers is being taken as Gospel truth, as if she were some spiritual teacher we could all learn from.
Was Ashley Olsen a good person? Probably. But she is far from the person being lionized in the media and as a society we are failing to teach others about how the world, oftentimes a very troubling place, needs to navigated wisely.
There will be fewer dead people when we put media substance ahead of style
Media outlets gain more money the more they sensationalize. If the facts don’t match the desired level of sensationalism, just ditch them, or promote pseudo-stories by selectively discarding some realities while embellishing or making up others. It is hard to imagine, therefore, that these outlets will abruptly have a pang of conscience and start to reflect on the deeper implications of their reporting.
To repeat, Ashley Olsen’s victimhood should not prevent us from trying to spare others from her grisly fate. Countless American young men and women need to either come back safely to their families after an overseas holiday or live peaceful, long lives as expatriates. Maybe Olsen would have died anyway, but her drug use and other behaviors made her extremely vulnerable to whatever nefarious individual(s) killed her.
What’s a bigger crime: being labeled politically incorrect for exploring hard truths about tourist dangers, or failing to warn people of the danger of certain lifestyle choices in order to stop further tragedies like this? You be the judge.