In a disturbing — but fascinating — walk through history, Frances Larson examines humanity’s strange relationship with public executions … and specifically beheadings. As she shows us, they have always drawn a crowd, first in the public square and now on YouTube. What makes them horrific and compelling in equal measure? (Taken from official web site)

Who is she?:            

Oxford anthropologist Frances Larson wrote Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found. The book, which she describes as a survey of our “traditions of decapitation,” was published in 2014, just before beheadings sadly started populating the front pages of the news once more. She previously wrote an acclaimed biography of Sir Henry Wellcome. (Op. Cite.)

Why you should listen?:

Frances Larson explores the dark and varied obsessions that our culture has had with decapitated heads and skulls throughout history. From executions to the latest headlines she brings insight to our dark fascination. (Op. Cite.)

Discussion Questions:

  1. “… beheadings by the Islamic Statewere barbaric,but if we think they were archaic,from a remote, obscure age,then we’re wrong.” Why does she say this?
  2. “And whether we like it or not, everyone who watches is a part of the show.” Explain what she means by this?
  3. Even before Facebook and Netflix, one Dutch website owner said that his daily viewing figures rose from 300,000 to 750,000every time a beheading in Iraq was shown.He told reporters 18 months later that it had been downloaded many millions of times,and that’s just one website. How would you explain this?
  4. “Evidence suggests that throughout our history of public beheadings and public executions, the vast majority of the people who come to see are either enthusiastic or, at best, unmoved. Disgust has been comparatively rare, and even when people are disgusted and are horrified, it doesn’t always stop them from coming out all the same to watch.” Does this enthusiastic attendance fall within the parameters of “normal” behavior?
  5. Do you believe that screens, i.e. Movie, television, and computer are chiefly responsible for what seem to be a desensitization to violence, such as beheadings. Expand on your answer to explain why or why not.
  6. “When the victim of a decapitation is bound and defenseless, he or she essentially becomes a pawn in their killer’s show. Unlike a trophy head that’s taken in battle, that represents the luck and skill it takes to win a fight, when a beheading is staged, when it’s essentially a piece of theater, the power comes from the reception the killer receives as he performs. In other words, watching is very much part of the event.” Are we all part of the event by watching?

Making Connections:

Public beheading under ISIS

Perhaps they are not only done by rogue states

Why Public Beheadings Get Millions of Views with Frances Larson


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