August 18th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

America's Most Popular Kiddie-Porn Snuff Film: The Sequel

Having read Mitchell Stephens' must-read A History of News, I grudgingly concede that human societies believe, unconsciously, that they contain large numbers of people who would rape and murder children if the news media didn't periodically find a "perfect victim" and showcase the crime against her, so that everybody has an opportunity to declaim at length about the heinousness of the crime, and that's why "notorious crime" news has been a product of journalism since the very first newspaper, over 2000 years ago. Fine. I begrudge sharing the planet with people who have to be told that raping and murdering children is wrong, but if that's the species we have, I'll grudgingly tolerate it. But an awful lot of people's obsession with JonBenet Ramsey goes way, way beyond the bounds of crime news. And I don't mean the guy who just confessed to the crime's long-standing obsession with her. I mean certain journalists, and the millions of their breathless fans who've kept this story on the air.

My most vivid memory of the JonBenet Ramsey murder case was of fighting with a co-worker about it. Because we worked 3rd shift, management expected us to be sleepy, and decreed that we could watch news while working to help us stay awake. I had one particular co-worker, the one sitting closest to the channel-changer, who was so obsessed with Jon-Benet Ramsey that she would switch from cable news channel to cable news channel, for the entire shift, so that she could hang breathlessly on every second of the coverage ... even well into April or May, four or five months after the killing, when it became obvious that there wasn't going to be any news. I still have a deep and abiding urge to punch Greta van Sustern, in particular, in the mouth for her role in keeping America fixated on this creepy story. And the fascination with this story is, truly, creepy. Even knowing the history of crime news, I can come up with no explanation for why so many people are still hanging in limbo, breathlessly waiting for the least excuse to obsess over the details of this 10-year old crime, feeling vaguely like their lives are incomplete any time they don't do so. Well, actually, I do have a theory as to why. The JonBenet Ramsey murder case has been turned into a kiddie-porn snuff-film soap opera, "tastefully" edited to a PG-13 rating by not actually showing us the crime itself (thank Prime for small favors).

While I concede that the Ramsey family is entitled to their bereavement over the loss of their daughter (assuming that they're not guilty of it themselves, a possibility that's still in contention), I don't feel that they're entitled to any sense of outrage over the fact that tens of millions of creepy people have fetishized their dead daughter into a snuff-film porn-star. I was one of the people who was outraged when I saw the pageant photographs and home movies from JonBenet's competitions. St. Louis isn't southern enough to have these kiddie beauty pageants, but it is southern enough that I'd heard of them. The Ramsey family's defenders argue that it's anti-southern prejudice that makes us see those pictures as sexualized and degrading. I call BS. I've seen plenty of photographs of child beauty pageant competitors. From the very beginning of that institution until fairly recently, those children were taught to imitate adult confidence and adult glamor -- not Vegas showgirls. The Ramseys were on the cutting edge of the degradation of the child pageant scene, among the first to tart their daughter up in all the trappings of adult sexuality in hopes that Humbert Humbert might be one of the judges. Having gone to such lengths to make their 6 year old child look as much as possible like a high-end stripper or out-call prostitute, their outrage that anybody suspects them of sexual abuse sits like ashes in my mouth. Even if they're innocent, how can they not have seen how what they were doing looked?

So we shouldn't be surprised that John Mark Karr, a guy with a past conviction for possession of child pornography, who was according to early reports found to be in Thailand for the purpose of bribing pre-pubescent desperately poor 3rd world children into having sex with him, was obsessed with JonBenet Ramsey, and professes to be deeply in love with her. On the other hand, he has more motivation to falsely confess to her murder than that. (And unless they can shake the alibi, the now-ex wife who divorced him over the kiddy porn but nontheless insists that was with him on the other side of the continent when JonBenet Ramsey was murdered, he absolutely obviously is innocent.) Most people who confess to nationally notorious crimes are trying to bring some glamour and fame to their miserable lives, but this guy's got a stronger motive than that. Because of recent crackdowns on foreign pedophiles coming to Thailand for sex tourism, this guy may actually be in less trouble coming to America and being tried for raping and murdering a child, even in the unlikely event he's convicted, than he would be getting busted with child prostitutes in Thailand. Even if he ends up sentenced to life without parole in America, he's more likely to survive that than even a short prison term in Thailand. Sure, even if he's acquitted, he'll still stand trial in America for pedophiliac sex tourism. But odds' on he won't be extradited back to Thailand to serve his prison sentence for it there. For him, "confessing" to JonBenet Ramsey's rape and murder was an act of tactical brilliance.

And I hate him for it. Not just for being a pedophile. Not just for being a pedophile sex tourist in the 3rd world. I also hate him for giving the Greta van Susterns of the world an excuse to share their unhealthy fascination with this case with us, for 40 to 45 minutes out of every 60 minute newscast as if there was little or nothing else going on. I hate him for giving America's first soft-core kiddie-porn snuff-film soap opera a sequel.