L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 331, August 7, 2005
"Stop meddling in other people's business"
Why Bad Things Happen To White People
Special to TLE
Cable news and missing white girls.
Missing white girls and cable news.
The two go together like chocolate and peanut butter. From Chandra Levy and Elizabeth Smart to Laci Peterson and Natalee Holloway, it's impossible to imagine a moderately attractive white female disappearing these days without Fox News and CNN rushing to the scene.
Last week, though, with a little nudging from blogger Richard Blair, the news networks decided to try something different. That is, they decided to give a shit about a "person of color" who wasn't missing on account of committing a crime. The unlucky star of this crucial moment in media history was Latoyia Figueroa, a missing pregnant woman from West Philadelphia, who, as Blair pointed out, resembled Laci Peterson in every which way... except for the fact that she didn't resemble Laci Peterson.
So now Ms. Figueroa is getting national attention because people "like her" don't usually get national attention. And people are starting to wonder where this sort of story has been all along. Why doesn't cable news cover minorities who go missing? After much consideration, I've boiled down the possible answers to a short list of three:
1. Because bad things don't happen to minorities.
Obviously, this isn't true. Bad things happen to minorities all the time. Watch the local news outside any major city and you'll learn this pretty quickly. The problem is, the bad things that happen to minorities often happen at the hands of other minorities. That's why they don't get national attention. Because they wouldn't do any good that way. Minorities rob, rape, and murder other minorities all across the country. A missing minority girl in Philly wouldn't concern a guy in Sacramento because a guy in Sacramento has his own missing minority girls to learn about. That's the key. To get the most out of these stories, you need to know minorities are having problems right in your own backyard. You need to know that they're coming to get you. Otherwise, you'd watch the local news for traffic and weather, and then you'd turn it off.
2. Because white people don't care if bad things happen to minorities.
This is what Richard Blair seems to be suggesting, and perhaps it's more on target than Answer No. 1. However, this line of thinking gives whites far too much credit for hating minorities. I know it's popular to imagine white people sitting around in their La-Z-Boys all day, rubbing their hands together, dwelling on how much they hate the idea of people existing with different colored skin. But this image is wrong and dumb. And besides, who owns a La-Z-Boy anymore?
3. Because white people like it when bad things happen to other, preferably better-looking white people.
Bingo. There's your answer.
Look, I hate to break it to you, but the reason cable news doesn't care about missing minorities is because cable news isn't meant for minorities in the first place. It's meant for white people. This has nothing to do with minorities being "uneducated" and everything to do with minorities not being up for grabs politically. Ninety-nine percent of blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities are assumed to be Democrats. And since the core function of cable news is to divide Americans into Blue and Red categories, its content is geared towards: (a) people who haven't chosen team colors yet; and (b) people who need their choices reaffirmed by Hannity & Colmes. Therefore, cable news targets whites because they're the only race that isn't a voting bloc. Essentially, its news for people who think they can "make a difference" if only they make up their mind.
That said, Crossfire couldn't sustain an audience for a single hour, let alone 24 hours, so rather than broadcast 24 hours of Crossfire televisionand rather than report the actual facts about things like, oh, warthe news networks fill up the rest of their schedules with murders and kidnappings portrayed like typical gossip. Ostensibly, this is a good thing. Few would argue the benefits of Amber Alerts and other awareness-raising media activities. But, ultimately, this missing-white-girl coverage exists because it reminds you of journalismand that's what keeps you tuning in. Just as the local news lets you know about the minorities causing trouble in your neighborhood, the national news lets you know there are fine peoplepeople just like youall over the country, in need of assistance. And only you, with your strong [insert ideology] values, can tune in and help them.
That's what I mean when I say white people like it when bad things happen to other white people. Because when it comes right down to it, people of all colors like gossip. They like knowing there are people down the street whose lives have taken an awful turn. And since cable news caters to white people, white people naturally star in these gossipy soap operas. It's not about racism. It's about demographics.
Missing-white-girl stories have become an end unto themselves the last few years, but just look at the core of this phenomenon. You'll see that we care about these storiesor think that we care about these storiesbecause, deep down, they make us feel like we're better off than people exactly like us. Chandra Levy was the overachiever, the girl whose mom no doubt had "My Kid's An Honor Student" plastered across her bumper; she grew up and scored a United States congressman. Laci Peterson was the cheerleader who married a guy who looked like the human embodiment of Varsity Blues. These are prototypical Cinderella storiesstories Hollywood has pounded home and portrayed as normalcy for years. Not every American gets the chance to live through such fantasies. But every American knows someone is living through such fantasies, and most Americans love to whisper when those fantasies go tragically wrong.
Not that Americans don't feel genuinely bad for these missing white girls. I believe they do. But in a strange way, the thrill of the chase is worth it to them. So let's face it: Minorities shouldn't want in on this circus any more than those poor white girls should.