No crime is more inconceivable, more horrific, than a parent killing his own small, innocent child. So the story from Illinois of a very evil man reportedly punching, then stabbing his 8-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old friend to death for going out on a Mother's Day bike ride past curfew chills the bones.
Can we officially cringe when both the TV news business and Hollywood see this story and silently think, "Ka-ching"?
Lisa Marie Presley is trying to make it as a pop-rock singer again by doing a dull carbon copy of the old Don Henley news-satire song "Dirty Laundry," which talks about the "bubble-headed bleach blonde" who chirps through horrible news with a gleam in her eye because "it's interesting when people die, we love dirty laundry." That song comes to mind as the network news people wring every shocking second out of the Illinois murders, pausing over every little detail of how the father stabbed his own daughter 20 times, including once in each eyeball.
The thought quickly emerges: What if young boys or girls are sitting around the breakfast table watching "Today" or "Good Morning America" with their parents? I know this scenario. More times than I can count I've been watching the news only to have to lunge for the remote control when a child walked in the room. Surely, children could know that someone this evil exists, but they don't need the blow-by-blow details every day on the tube.
In the land of TV entertainment, the exploitation of children under 10 has become so reliably shocking it can't be milked enough during the May sweeps. On May 2, the NBC show "Medium" had its psychic title character dream about a little 4-year-old girl being kidnapped, raped and buried alive. Our psychic's dream actually happened in the show's reality 10 years before, and the show includes a graphic depiction of the young girl's rape and burial. That's in addition to a detective on the case wildly guessing what horrible thing happened to the little girl's body -- was it run through the "meat grinder" or fed to the "tree-chipper"?
But the children don't have to die to become great sweeps-exploitation material. On that same night's "CSI: Miami" on CBS, a little girl's mother tells police her daughter had blood in her underpants, but there was no DNA match to the parents. The police discover the body of a man who died in a fall. The detectives learn the mother had posted sexually suggestive pictures of herself on the Internet and stated she was willing to meet people if the price was right. They later discover the mother posted pictures of herself hugging her daughter with the caption "Instant family, packaged deal, two for the price of one." Flashbacks show the little girl's father killed the would-be pedophile by shoving him off a balcony before he could sexually abuse the daughter.
On May 3, in the season finale (and maybe series finale) of the CBS drama "Judging Amy," the title character's mother Maxine talks to a 9-year-old girl named Amber who was raped. The girl's mother says it happened while she was walking four short blocks to school. But later, Amber calls Maxine from home saying it's going to happen again. When she arrives, the police tell her that Amber's mother is a hooker and she offered her customer sex with her daughter if he paid double. Maxine finds Amber in the bathroom, sobbing, all dressed up in slightly provocative clothes and curled hair.
Was there a memo from the corporate suits at CBS in Hollywood asking for these shows to have a mother-daughter hooker plot? These plots are to designed to shock, to lock in eyeballs for boffo ratings numbers. They certainly aren't plots designed to raise social consciousness. The only decent thing to be said for them is that they all aired in the last hour of prime time, which is still 9 p.m. in the Central time zone.
Most parents who have (or used to have) a daughter under 10 relish the innocence and joy that child can bring in the midst of a world that can seem so jaded and off-center. By contrast, so much in television today is about savaging that very innocence and burying us in cynicism for the sake of a few ratings points. And shame on those of us who actually want to watch this unfolding depravity.