23 February 2009

Nancy Grace and the LWG Fetish

My grandmother is among the Court TV/Tru TV junkie crowd, and recently she's roped my mom into watching a lot of their coverage.  I generally avoid such subjects, as I have little interest in following the investigations and prosecutions of people I don't know.  In many respects, a fictionalized account as you might see on Law & Order is more thought provocative because even though the actors portray scripted characters in a specific light, there are no other filters betwixt the story and audience.  On Tru TV's coverage, though, even when they put a camera in the courtroom, they frequently interrupt to have a moderator ask questions of the talking heads.  And here is where I get angry.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 797,500 children were abducted in a single studied year per the U.S. Department of Justice.  They spared me the math and determined that translates into 2,185 daily.  That's just in the U.S., mind you.  Why is it, then, that every time I catch my mom and grandmother glued to the TV, rapt with anticipation of new evidence as they formulate their own theories and pass their own judgments, that the coverage nearly always concerns a little white girl (LWG)?  They behave urgently over a solitary LWG, as though she is the only child in all of America that has been abducted, and I've reached a point where I find it absolutely infuriating.

Mind you, I do not mean to dismiss the significance of these girls's abductions, exploitations and, sadly, their frequent murders.  These are heinous acts that ought to be investigated and prosecuted; I am not disputing that.  What I am angry about is wondering who in the Tru TV editorial department determines which of the daily 2,185 missing children is worthy of national outrage.  It's never a 14 year old African-American male named Jamaal that seems to make the cut.  No one seems to care about him except whoever reported him missing.

Ultimately, however much Tru TV would like to pass themselves off as an informative channel, the truth is that they are nothing more than an entertainment channel.  They have to pick stories that will capture the attention of their audience, which if my family is any indication, is primarily comprised of older, white women (OWW).  I'll go ahead and stereotype, since that's exactly what Tru TV's editorial department uses in their selection process.  OWW have the following values:
infant <> adolescent
female > male
white > minority
That young children outrank adolescents seems common knowledge, but why do young children outrank infants?  Simply put, infants don't play as well on TV.  It's harder for an audience to connect with a televised infant because what makes an infant so special in person is absent.  You can't smell them on TV, or hear their cute little gargles.  Consequently, it's much easier to tug at the heartstrings with a young child, who will very likely resemble someone known to the audience; their own daughter, or a neighbor's, maybe.  The rest of the OWW value scale is probably evident to anyone who thinks about it, so I won't go into it.

Based on the logic of my last piece on Alex Rodriguez, one would suspect my anger in this issue to be directed at my mom and grandmother (and the rest of the Tru TV audience).  While they do infuriate me, like the Citizens as Consumers in my Federal Bailout piece, I recognize that despite their role in the debacle, they lack the ability to authorize the acts that anger me.  My mom isn't on the editorial staff for Nancy Grace, cherry-picking a LWG out of the day's 2,185 missing kids.  Tru TV has the power to not only assist in finding a missing child by featuring his or her photograph to a national audience, but perhaps more importantly, they have the power to help shape and influence their audience's sensitivities.  "If you build it, they will come."  I understand why Jamaal doesn't play on TV as well as Little Susie, but is that a good enough reason to overlook him every time?  Chosing ratings over Jamaal is certainly a hypocritical act for a channel supposedly dedicated to justice.

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