And I would turn on the TV
But it's so embarrassing
To see all the other peopleI don't even know what they meanAnd it was magic at firstBut let everyone downAnd now this world is gonna hurtYou better turn it aroundTurn it around- Jack Johnson, Cookie Jar
While researching stupid criminals on which to base the crime spree of Betty Corona and Eric Clueless, I came across a great deal of crime which is the opposite of funny. In the glut of horror which news channels drool over in the pursuit of ratings, three stand out.
First, there’s one I’ve heard many people talking about, the 17-year-old whose parents wouldn’t let him have a house party. He decided the thing to do was beat them to death with a hammer and throw a party anyway, with their murdered corpses locked in their bedroom. He told a friend about it during the party, and the friend called 911.
Maybe the murderous teen used the same tone another teen at a different party might use to confide a venial sin; dude, I raided my parent’s liquor cabinet for this; they’re so gonna kill me. Maybe he was bragging. We don’t know yet. He’s not cute like that girl who killed her baby and got away with it, so the spotlight only flickers over him. You can read about his crime and watch videos on websites which make snide comments like it’s more “news of the weird,” the same websites which invite you to vote on celebrity hotness and rate fad diets.
The next is also getting a lot of play, the California woman who cut off her estranged husband’s penis and threw it down a garbage disposal. I was in college when Lorena Bobbit created a national punch line by cutting off John Wayne Bobbit’s penis. He was abusive, beating and raping her over the course of their six-year marriage. On the night in question, he came home drunk, raped her, passed out, and she reacted violently.
By contrast, the California woman drugged her ex, tied him up, waited for him to regain consciousness, then cut his penis off. People seem to be taking this one much more seriously. In 1993, there were a few pundits who did not see the funny. They asked readers to imagine if the roles were reversed; would anyone be laughing if some husband waited for his wife to pass out, then cut her breasts off / sewed her vagina shut / cut her nose off? These few were a minority. Even they conceded that while the reverse was horrific, there was nothing on a woman’s body that had achieved the symbolic status of masculinity (and even abuse) as the penis.
There was no way to prove abuse beyond Lorena’s word, but Bobbit has abused the two wives he’s had since so I think we can agree that Lorena didn’t make it up to avoid conviction. Since we couldn’t be clear on the couple’s dark history, at the time the general reaction was, Hey, the penis got sewn back on - no harm, no foul. Folks want the California woman locked up for life for various offenses, including torture. We don’t know what the history is with the California couple beyond the woman’s curt declaration to the cop who picked her up; “He deserved it.”
Then there was a squib I haven’t heard anyone talking about. A couple of California meth addicts attempted to sell their 6-month-old baby outside of a Walmart for $25. It’s the type of awful crime, the loveless, soulless, everyday atrocity so senseless and terrible you know it will never make a Leno monologue.
Except it does. Snarky bloggers use the $25 dollar Walmart baby as a punchline about rock-bottom pricing. You can envision a world, years from now, so lacking in empathy, so inured to cruelty, that crimes like these become fodder not for anonymous bloggers but are exploited on network TV by beloved comedians. It’s no world you want to be a part of, but you are. You are living in this world, this country, day by day, and every day we lose a little empathy toward our fellow man, every day the collective “norm” takes another step toward a national pychopathy.
Is the world getting worse? In the early 20th century, a woman used a cutting board and a kitchen knife to behead her baby because “I always thought there was something wrong with him.” Now we have Casey Anthony. As far as I can see, atrocity has always been with us. It’s the way we act about it that’s getting me down.
“The way we act, or rather don’t act.” That’s what I wanted to like to write. But we’re beyond not acting. Our attention feeds the machine. By enjoying the 24-hour news coverage - even if your enjoyment is rooting against the criminal, or hoping to see justice done, or marveling at where we stand as a society, you are enjoying the broadcast - we are complicit.