So! You've lost yourself a child!
Congratulations! By some unfortunate eventuality or another -- the sinister hand of a rapist, a freak tornado, maybe even your kin's own glaring negligence -- you are now the parent of a dead or missing youngster.
Unlike more barbaric eras, in which tragic happenstances were handled behind closed doors by families too proud to accept any rubbernecking or even well-wishing from casual acquaintances, you don't have to go it alone, and the experience doesn't need to be a wholly stoic or unpleasant one.
You should know that your status as the mother or father of a child whose life was cut short by any means whatsoever entitles you to at least five minutes of face-time per hour on each of the three major cable news networks for the 72 hours immediately following the shuffling off of your progeny's mortal coil.
In the coming hours and days, you can rightly expect an outpouring of sympathy from several million rapt gawkers, as well as a few thousand expressions of accusatory enmity from sadists who watch the news for just this sort of occasion.
But that's not all: Not only your poor child's abduction and possible death, but also your family history, your personal lives, habits, quirks and diets will become conversational fodder for pairs of strangers to pore over and pick apart long after the fact of your offspring's tragic fate has lost steam as a news item. If there's any criminal activity on your record, or even the appearance of impropriety in anything you've ever done, rest assured that it will instantly be the subject of a vigorous national debate over your character.
If a body is found and a funeral is held, the media will graciously send a gaggle of cameras and microphones to record the procession, at no cost to you. If by some miracle your child is recovered alive and in one piece, gigantic heads in empty suits will speculate in front of prime-time audiences that he or she was a willing prisoner, and whether your child preferred the relatively permissive governance of his or her captors -- except, of course, for the periodic anal rape -- to the iron-fisted rule of mean ol' mom and dad.
Ah, but the life of a victim isn't all glamour and fancy cocktail parties; there will arrive the day when your story no longer captures the attention of the public or its media shepherds, regardless of the toll the experience has wrought on you personally. At that point, you may want to consider hiring professional representation, perhaps branching out into non-tragic media. It's at this point where having Anderson Cooper's or Greta Van Susteren's cell number becomes more than merely a status symbol -- it's your key to what's fast becoming the dominant currency in America: Perpetual celebrity.
This is the state of individual tragedy in America, and it's intolerable. I ordinarily don't even pay attention to the personal stories that gunk up the news, but today I was visiting the folks, who have cable, and I indulged myself.
As if to lighten, or personalize, a national mood dampened by a technical and -- to some watchers, I guess -- boring story about the White House giving the ax to U.S. attorneys who were about to unearth some damaging information about some of its political allies, I was treated to not one but three
fluff personal pieces.
One about a boy scout lost in the woods. Silly me, I thought that's what boy scouts did as a matter of course. He was found. Hallelujah. Another about a kid who had a couple tons of concrete fall on him, but due partly to his athletic build, it was explained, and partly to dumb luck, he came out okay. Great, I don't see why we needed to know. Third and finally, a Purdue student somehow managed to get into a high-voltage power closet and was electrocuted and killed.
In each case, the three cable networks -- CNN, MSNBC and FOX -- covered each story within minutes of each other, and the parents of each child managed to grant each channel an interview. We were regaled with a story about the boy scout and his church group holding a prayer session upon his recovery. The Purdue student's folks repeatedly asked how the university allowed his gruesome demise to take place, but neglected to voice the question on my mind: What the hell was their son was doing in an electrical closet?
I watched about three consecutive hours of cable news today and these stories were featured just as prominently and regularly as the U.S. Attorneys scandal until 5:45 PM EST when the President did a little dance and sang a little song.
Aside from the obvious truth that none of these stories should have been national news, I began to feel deep sadness for the parents, unaware as they were of their fleeting roles as grist for the 24-hour media mill, that the news anchors, wearing their practiced pained faces, understood the irrelevance of these events, and after thanking the panicked couples for their time would instantly recover a toothy smile and segue into something far more pertinent ... like the weather.
I don't intend to minimize what is certainly an intense personal burden for these families. I mean only to state a belief that they do themselves, their cause (if any), and all of us a disservice by giving their time to the national networks. This is perfectly reasonable material for the local news in their respective areas to cover, but its inclusion on cable is a simple and cynical exploitation of their ordeals for entertainment purposes, which serves the dual purpose of exploiting We the Viewers by momentarily distracting us from the pitiful and dangerous state of the world at large.
It's pointless, cruel and deceptive, if not outright evil, and it's got to stop. Holler back if you feel me.
Labels: cnn, fox news, media, missing children, msnbc, news, purdue student, sensationalism, the news, tragedy