Thursday, February 28, 2013

Citizen Media Leads to Citizen Activism; A Link

Earlier this evening I watched the Movie "Bernie" directed by Richard Linklater (of Dazed and Confused fame) starring Jack Black as Bernie Tiede, Shirley MacLane as Marjorie Nugent and Matthew McConaughey as Danny Buck.

Here is the Netflix summary of the movie "Bernie": In this black comedy inspired by a true story, affable Texas mortician Bernie befriends the small town's wealthiest widow and then kills her.

Just for fun, here's the movie description: In small-town Texas, the local mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow, though when he kills her, he goes to great lengths to create the illusion that she's alive.

These two descriptions get the very basic points across of the movie but they both wholly miss what the movie is actually about. Linklater, on the Bernie Tiede blog (located at, writes a post about the film, why he is proud to sign the Free Bernie Petition, and what fascinated him about the relationship between Bernie and Mrs. Nugent. Here is a quote from that post, which can be read in full here...

 "“Bernie” is not an activist film, in the traditional sense. That was not intended. However, I think that the movie’s ending has started to get a lot of people thinking about the nature of our criminal justice system, and how arbitrary and disproportionate punishments can end up being."

While I do agree with Linklater in his assessment of the potential for disproportionate penalties handed out by the U.S justice system I really want this post to focus on the fact that the movie "Bernie" led the real, incarcerated Bernie to be approached by Jodi Callaway Cole's law firm in Austin, Tex. This led to a renewed look at his case and circumstances under which his trial was moved to another county and of course the freebernie blog. I admit, that this case is by no means the first to garner renewed attention after a movie was made with well known actors and actresses, nor was this the first (or last) cause to be taken to the internet in the form of a blog but I feel it illustrates the point quite well.

The freebernie blog is not in and of itself citizen journalism as defined by wikipedia or the many other people who call the media their home. But it definitely falls under social activism and it definitely falls under citizen media (just as this blog does). Social activism and citizen media (I think) can be bundled under a branch or branches of citizen journalism as a whole because I think they play an important part in the whole process of citizen's becoming involved. The Free Bernie Petition probably best illustrates my point here. Without the movie "Bernie," I and many others would not have ever known this case or this cause existed somewhere else in the world. But thanks to the internet, social activism can be participated in right in your living room.

After the movie was over I searched on the internet for Bernie Tiede's name. As you would expect a lot of different results came up. I watched a three and a half-minute interview from jail and then stumbled across the freebernie blog. I clicked on the link and perused the content. I looked at updated pictures of him, saw the petition, read the post by Richard Linklater, got a jist for what the purpose of the blog was, which can be read here, and even read a NY Times article written in mid-2012 by Joe Rhodes, the nephew of Majorie Nugent, the murdered women. Which I highly suggest reading.

After a few hours of some discussion with my girlfriend and reading and watching old and new articles and videos about the whole thing, I signed the petition. I came to the conclusion that Bernie Tiede should be free.

Yes, he committed murder, but he was convicted in 1998 and is soon approaching his 15th year behind bars. Whether a person agrees that he has served his time and should be set free or whether murder, is murder and he should serve the entire sentence is not the debate here. That is up to the individual person to decide for themselves, but one can't argue that without citizen journalism leading the way and social activism being made easier for people to participate in through the easy creation of facebook's, blogs, wiki's, etc. a far smaller part of the population would have even been informed enough to decide whether or not to sign the petition. Without the access and the means for citizen's to take it upon themselves we all suffer and that's bad for the whole citizen media process.

P.S- here are some links to information about the case if anyone is interested.
-Freebernie blog
-Bernie Tiede's wikipedia page
-A jailhouse interview with Bernie
-An article in the Dallas News about the renewed interest
-More in-depth article from
-NY Times article written by Joe Rhodes, Marjorie Nugent's nephew

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