Monday, November 29, 2004

Evidence of a Morbid Fascination

America and its media are morbidly obsessed with the possibly grisly fate of pretty white girls. This is probably not news to some of you, but to those who find it surprising, consider.

Madison, WI, is known as a bastion of liberalism. It's safe to say that Madison is a racially tolerant city, if not particularly racially diverse. As evidence of its racial tolerance, I have only once in my nine-year interracial relationship experienced any sort of noticeable, overt discrimination.

Last year, Madison got national press attention with the disappearance of pretty white college student Audrey Seiler. Consider also Jon Benet, Laci Peterson.

In 2002, a seven year old black girl named Alexis Patterson disappeared in Milwaukee. Didn't get much national coverage that I recall. Alexis still hasn't been found.

Today at the bus stop, I saw a poster for a local Madison kid named Amos Mortier. Amos goes to MATC and has been missing for almost a month. You can see the web news coverage of Amos here.

Note that all those news sources are local Madison sources.

Again, I don't think the observation is particularly notable, in that almost anyone who thinks about it will see the differential media coverage. What puzzles and angers me is the giant racial and gender bias in the media coverage we receive, not just in the small picture of missing persons, but in the tinted lens through which we see our neighbors. I don't think this is the result of a conscious decision by shadowy media masterminds; I think it is the offhand, thoughtless commercialism that says that white girls sell newspapers, and black girls don't. It's unconscious sensationalism.

The media has a tremendous agenda-setting power. I worry that the message that we are getting is that perceived crimes against white girls are more heinous than the same crime committed against anyone else. If we are collectively inculcated to believe this, how can we ever hope to banish from our hearts and minds the invidious distinctions that spill over into every interpersonal relation we have?

7 Comments:

Blogger ryan bradley said...

First off, please understand, I do not disagree with your premise in any way shape or form; I do think the media, and the US people, are more interested in white women, and white men, than they are in any people of a minority ethnicity.

The thing is, white women of all ages dissapear every year and it is no more news worthy than a murder in L.A. in most cases. I honestly think what made the seiler case more so was that she was "found" and then she started talking about this fantasized kidnapper.

Remember, this was the second time Seiler dissapeared. The last time she was missing for a month and no one considered it news worthy.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I am afraid you are misremembering. Seiler was a huge national story before she was ever found. I will see if I can locate some old coverage for you.

8:16 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Look at this CBS story discussing how much attention Seiler's disappearance received prior to her discovery:

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/04/07/entertainment/main610775.shtml

8:18 AM  
Blogger ryan bradley said...

I suppose that's what I get for never watching the news.

9:28 AM  
Blogger ryan bradley said...

How annoying.

I tried to find a national news story from during the two days that she was missing. I can't find a single news story. I found a link to one on CNN and when I hit it found that the story had been deleted.

It's like they don't want to keep record of the period of time when they didn't know they were being fooled by Seiler.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I don't think it is conspiratorial or perfidious. These news organizations, particularly the big ones, purge or secure older stories to save on bandwidth.

That said, I could find you old articles by using Lexis/Nexis, but since you don't have a paid subscription, you wouldn't be able to view them.

9:55 AM  
Blogger ryan bradley said...

Seems kind of pointless to me; purging old news stories won't save on bandwidth unless those stories are getting hit very regularly, in which case you would think they want them available.

oh well, whatever.

11:01 AM  

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