One reason Americans are so extremely terrified about child abductions is that whenever we turn on the TV or computer, there’s another one. As if these horrific crimes are happening 24/7, when actually the media is only too happy to fly across the country — or world — to set up camp wherever a cute, white girl has disappeared. Tight news budgets get thrown out the window for a story like this. But because that story then shows up on our screen at home, it feels like it’s happening right around the corner. All the time.
What happens when there is NOT a new story like this for the media to feast upon? Instead of traveling to another state, or country, they’ll travel back in time. The show 20/20 just did an hour-long look at the Etan Patz kidnapping from 30 years ago. And here’s CNN’s Nancy Grace page , from a few days ago: “Third Grader Stepped Off School Bus, Disappeared.”
Start reading it: ” With the weekend arriving and a long day finally over, 8-year-old Cherrie Mahan stepped off her yellow school bus on a chilly Friday around 4 p.m….”
Oh, by the way, CNN finally adds at the end of paragraph three: This was in 1985.
I’m not saying that it doesn’t make sense to sometimes revisit a cold case in hopes of solving it. I do hope someone solves this one. But it begins to look suspiciously self-serving when networks desperate for viewers keep coming up with the exact same kind of story, served up any which way they can. How about the cold case of an African-American teenager gone missing? Or a schitzophrenic adult? Or someone who isn’t winsome, white and under five feet tall?
A newly Free-Range mom dropped me a little note this morning trying to help all of us (herself included) put our fears in perspective: The chance of a child being kidnapped and murdered? 1 in 1.5 million. The chance of a child ending up at some point with some form of depression? 1 in 4.
It is extremely depressing, disheartening, lose-your-faith-in-humanity-izing, to keep being presented with the most vile crimes on earth as if that’s what life is all about. As if that’s just what you can expect if you’re bringing up a kid these days.
So what’s the alternative?
One of the chapters in my book is called, “Turn Off the News.” At the end it has some suggestions for how to get started going Free-Range, including, “Get up and go out. Spend that hour you were going to watch ‘Law and Order’ on a walk with the kids instead. Look around at all the unspeakable crimes not being committed. This is called the Real World. (Not to be confused with MTV’s version, which is a crime all its own.)”
When we depend on the media to shape our world view, we’re going to get a world view that looks a whole lot like the view from a harried, ratings-obsessed assignment desk: If it bleeds, it leads. If it’s sad, we’re glad! If it’s an abduction, ramp up production!
Which they sure do.
But if a network thinks its job is to terrify us, maybe it’s time to turn the tables and terrify them: Let them watch their viewers mysteriously disappear, never to be seen again.
Someday, they may even do a cold case special on us. — Lenore