With Madsen and Evil at Maxi

[This text is also available in Swedish here]

The other day, while walking up and down the isles in our local grocery store, a huge supermarket called Ica Maxi, trying to figure out something interesting to make for dinner, I was struck by a ghastly thought. A thought that wouldn’t subside for another week.

That morning, I’d read a few local and foreign newspaper articles about the first trial day of Peter Madsen, the suspected murderer of Swedish journalist Kim Wall. As I plowed through the various accounts, I felt uncomfortable  by how most of the journalists referenced Madsen, almost respectfully, with the nicknames that the Danish media has given him over the years. Sometimes he was called rocket Madsen, sometimes inventor Madsen or submarine builder Madsen. If he is convicted of all the crimes the prosecutor has accused him of, then shouldn’t he reasonably be referred with more relevant epithets, like, kidnapper Madsen, rapist Madsen, butcher Madsen or murder Madsen?

As a father to a daughter in her late teens with journalistic ambitions, it’s been tough to read about this case. The descriptions of what Peter Madsen is alleged to have done to Kim Wall makes me feel physically ill. And it didn’t get any easier when I realized how arrogant and disrespectful he was in court, especially when responding to special prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepsen’s questions.

I also became aware of how tranquil he was – seemingly undisturbed by the horrific death of Kim Wall, the case itself and the fathomless sorrow among family and friends it continues to generate. Is it the apparent unbridled malevolence that helps him shield against having a guilty conscience, take inventory of his actions, and in essence enable Madsen to be so emotionally detached from what happened during the night between August 10 and 11 last year?

As I walked around Maxi with the plastic red basket rolling somewhat reluctantly behind me, I met several other customers and neighbors who looked as disinterested at the task at hand as I likely did.

Even though the sun had shown up for a peek during a few precious moments, spring still seemed mostly like a bleak idea. The afternoon darkness conspired with gusty, northeastern winds to keep an ice-cold winter’s grip on Västra Hamnen where we live, just a few miles from Peter Madsens’ workshop and where he had descended into the Öresund Sound, the body of water separating Denmark and Sweden, with his homemade submarine and its unsuspecting passenger Kim Wall, some seven months earlier.

Like many others in both Sweden and Denmark, we’ve followed the case from the very first day and often discussed it  during dinner. Not as an only topic, but it’s undeniably been one of our family’s more common dinner table subjects. Many of our friends have mentioned similarities to the Danish TV drama series, “The Bridge”. But since I haven’t seen it, I don’t get that reference. And even if I had, I know from first hand experience that reality almost always exceeds fiction.

I sometimes worry that we are slowly but surely becoming tainted by all the evil that surrounds us. That all the ongoing armed conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, Myanmar and terror attacks as well as mass shootings in the United States will ultimately be too much for us to absorb. That we’ll stop caring and hide our eyes, ears and hearts from it all.

And it was just this, the thought of malicious, unrestrained evil which could inevitably lead us into a boundless, terrible darkness that mesmerized me as I walked under the supermarket’s bright lights. Can it be argued that the result of such abysmal perversity, which Peter Madsen seems to be so intensely consumed by, is within the realm of what we no longer get surprised by and can idly brush away – as if such horrific thoughts or events could never enter our lives?

Of all that has been divulged from the investigation against Madsen, I was particularly taken aback by how he and several friends from his Copenhagen workshop had cultivated an idealized fandom for the characters in the 1980s film, “Das Boot”, in essence a portrayal of the claustrophobic life seen from the crews perspective onboard a German submarine during World War II.

Together with the so-called snuff movies, videos where people are filmed while suposedly being murdered, which were found on one of the hard drives in the aforementioned workshop, the amount of violence Madsen consumed seems to have awoken a dormant psychosis which led to an addiction to the very concept of murder and, ultimately, an obsession to enact it.

Now I don’t think video games or even the most vicious movies evoking realistic depictions of violence affect the vast majority of “normal” people. At least not to the degree that they yearn to be physically aggressive.

That a few individuals with latent mental issues are influenced by immersing themselves into violence as their main source of entertainment over a long period of time, is at least for me, beyond any reasonable doubt.

Though perhaps a high price to pay, it’s something I suppose we just have to accept, at least in a free, democratic society. That a few people will take their liberties to an excessive, and unfortunatly sometimes tragically violent level, is, for lack of a more humble way to say this, inevitable.

While standing in line at the checkout counter, patiently waiting for my turn at the cashier, I more or less consciously scrutinized a few of those in front of me. On the surface, everyone looked perfectly normal. Neither happy nor sad, angry or visually displeased. We all had that bland, neutral look from what had been an unusually cold and windy spell.

No one seemed to be capable of any violence, except maybe when the person in front forgot to use the square rubber divider stick on the conveyer belt to separates their stuff they’d just taken out of their red plastic roller carts from the guy behind.