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Friday, July 31, 2009

The Kid Behind the Wheel

I know some of you get turned off when I get serious, but tough shit.

So, I'm sure by now you've all heard about the police pursuit that involved a 7-year-old boy who stole his parent's white Dodge Intrepid because he didn't want to go to church. If you don't know what I'm talking about, here's the fucking You Tube clip.

As I type right now, the kid is having an "exclusive interview" on the Today Show and Ann Curry and Meredith Vieira having been yucking it up all morning about how adorable the kid is and playing up the story for its novelty and humor value, making stupid, annoying puns and generally being cloying and irritating. In the original clip that aired on the local news stations, you can hear the anchors chuckling about the incident.

Now, I hate taking a dump on everybody's fun-time happy-hour, but this child could have killed not only himself but a bunch of other people on the road-- pedestrians, other motorists, a mailman. However, if you look at the vast majority of the comments on You Tube, they are of the "hahaha so cool kid!" and "rofl from video screen!" and, the crown jewel of them all: "Run, Forest! Run!"

I'm positively in stitches.

We're a "Kids Say (and Do) the Darndest Things" world, and we always have been. Look at how the world was obsessed with a 5-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, playing concerti for the Archbishop of Salzburg. The only thing kids do that adults do that we don't like is have sex-- other than that, dress a kid up in a suit and have him say a four-syllable-word and we're howling with laughter. Put him behind the wheel of the family car, and we put him on television and give serve up his fifteen minutes with a side of tater-tots. And, of course, the kid's an angelic, blond-haired boy, which makes it all the more appealing. Perhaps if he wasn't quite camera-ready, with a snaggle-tooth and a dent in his forehead, the story might not be so readily exploited-- but, with that punim, how can we resist?

I guess if this story had a less benign ending, which it easily could have had, the media outlook and societal reaction would be a tad different. On September 1st, 2000, Cincinnati Police Officer Kevin Crayon was at a convenience store, making a purchase. Upon exiting the store, he noticed that the driver of a vehicle in the parking lot looked far too young to be operating a motor vehicle. In fact, it was a child of 12 years old. Officer Crayon approached the vehicle and ordered the child out. The kid threw the car in reverse and Crayon, thinking only of the child's safety, lunged into the car to try and grab the keys, but it was not to be. The child floored the accelerator and Officer Crayon was dragged, either caught on an object inside the car, or still holding on for dear life. He screamed for the child to stop, but the child would not obey. Crayon, a father of three, was dragged for over 800 feet. In a desperate attempt to save his own life and the lives of other people on the road, Officer Crayon unholstered his revolver and shot the boy in the chest. The car made a violent swerve, and Crayon fell to the street, his head slamming against the pavement where he died. The young boy, mortally wounded, managed to drive the car to his parents home, where he collapsed and died as well.

I don't doubt that few people outside of Kevin Crayon's friends and family members, and this boy's friends and family members remember this incident. It had a very short shelf-life, one dead cop, one dead kid-- both black, in a poor, urban area of Cincinnati. A violent, tragic, unhappy end to two probably uncameraworthy lives. The story, too, of a seven-year-old boy who stole his parents car because he didn't want to go to church will have a short shelf-life, too, but the jovial attention focused right now on the child at the center of the tale is unfortunate and irritating, and shameful in light of the destruction he could have caused.

When the media reports on a story, they dictate how we ought to react. If they think something's sad and serious, they report on it in a way that communicates to us that we are supposed to treat the material in the same regard. Not only does the way in which the media report tell us how to react, but what they choose to report is of paramount importance. A local arrest of a scholar, a local police chase of a seven-year-old boy, a local storm, a local murder-- theses things somehow get plucked to make it onto the national stage, and then we are presented with the dilemma of how to react-- do we accept the demeanor of the news anchors and roll with it, or do we stop and think further about the stories and develop our own opinions after careful deliberation and scrutiny?

Meredith and Ann might be giggling with this kid on national television, but I'm sorry-- it just isn't funny.


  1. I love it when you get serious.

    The fact that we as a society accept the mood, tenor and tone that the press sets when they report a story is one of our biggest problems.

    You see this in politics, too, where conservatives and liberals hear facts, hear a news story, but no one knows how they feel about it until the talking heads weigh in and tell them.

    Why are we letting the media tell us how we feel or what we think about *anything*?!

    There isn't anything funny about a kid putting himself and everyone around him in danger. When I read your post, my first thought was "how in the blue fuck did this kid get the car keys?!". Seriously. My parents would have broken my fingers for taking the keys in the first place.

    So not funny, no matter what the media thinks.

  2. "do we accept the demeanor of the news anchors and roll with it, or do we stop and think further about the stories and develop our own opinions after careful deliberation and scrutiny?"

    People avoid using their brains like the plague.

    Too bad there aren't more people out there like you.

    You're a credit to our species, Apron!

  3. It really isn't funny. And it's irresponsible to portray it as if it is.

  4. this is a great entry!! all very true that the media can operate and influence how we react to a story simply by giving their biased reactions.. then we proceed to smile and nod and react the same way. automatons we are. wow.. those stories are crazy. i hadn't heard of any of this.

  5. i adore you when yr serious. Meredith Viera is an asshole!

  6. I found this really interesting and I actually found the majority of the comments on the site I read about this on were in agreement with you.

    I think it would be hard to cover this if you had to interview the kid, because while he shouldn't be congratulated or rewarded, obviously you don't want to make him cry on television by lecturing him on the seriousness of his actions because then you're the evil reporter who made a seven-year-old cry.

    I think I would have approached the whole thing from more of a "teach your kids about motor vehicle safety/don't leave car keys on low tables" angle though.

  7. For serious. And after all the attention he's received, I wouldn't be surprised if he did it again, hoping for the same result. Hopefully his parents have at least let him know how dangerous his actions were.

  8. This post nicely unpacks why the agenda-setting function of the press is so problematic.

    Freedom of the press exists because we live in a nation too large to facilitate decision-making via town-hall-style discussions. Therefore, the role of the press in our democracy is to serve as a public sphere, in which important issues can be considered by the public before we vote.

    But that's not how it works, really. Rather than *inform* about *important* issues, the media gatekeepers decide that playing around with a (non-)story like this is more interesting than reporting serious news that would help make us informed citizens. They also frame incidents in ways that are counterproductive--like what you point out here.

    Rather than serving the public interest, the media attempt to set the agenda on what we think about, and how, in their quest for ratings.

    The Fourth Estate is broken.

  9. VERY good post. Talking t.v.head reaction to stories like this is a big part of the reason I don't have cable/satellite anymore and don't get my news from t.v.


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