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Saturday, February 1, 1997

The Gruesome Marketing of JonBenet

by CLINTON FEIN

With the regurgitated hollow of greedy promises and sycophantic evil, the lickspittle hounds of perversity package our collective grief, and with depraved, whore-like lust, sell it back to us for nothing less than our battered souls, politics and thirty pieces of tarnished silver.

On a chilly night on Christmas eve, in a small town in Colorado, a six-year-old girl was brutally raped and murdered. Not much was happening in the O.J. civil trial...Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich were being nauseatingly sweet to one another, feeling, perhaps, that their shut-down gift the Christmas before was more fun giving then the ethics scrutiny they were receiving this year in return. The shark-like media, stuffed and lazy, circled the tank of American obdurance and prejudice, slowly in sinful abundance. And further South in Petaluma California, Polly Klaas lay in her grave, silent, still and forgotten.

The abduction and murder of Polly Klaas was easier for America to deal with because of the evil embodied by her captured murderer, Richard Allen Davis. The terror that a stranger could come into our homes in the middle of the night and take away and destroy our most treasured possessions - our children - struck at the chord of our increasingly volatile sense of safety in our homes. Davis, with his notorious flipping off gesture to the cameras, provided the perfect conduit to absorb our collective outrage and anguish. Locked away eventually, the media's regurgitation of OJ's (now-complete) civil trial, averted our attention. With Davis locked up, our children were safe again. Only Petaluma still remembered.

JonBenet's grisly rape and murder was not enough for America's noble media machine however. A frantic need for a hook - something that would enable them to both pique interest in a phenomenon that is frighteningly commonplace, as well as help stomach its awful reality - was needed, found and appropriated with laser beam intensity. JonBenet was a former beauty queen.

Before long, there was nary a media outlet in the country that did not associate JonBenet in some way, as a beauty queen. That she was white and born of wealthy parents was additional ammunition for the media onslaught to follow. Like an uncontrollable virus, the hoards cut and pasted every detail they could find. JonBenet specials, inside scoops, latest updates, interviews with friends, neighbors, maids, aunts, cousins….exclusive interviews, exclusive photos, exclusive obituary. The almost comical, but depressing accusations by tabloids of tabloids. Web sites, parasitic, sprung up like warts, feeding on one another and perpetuating each other's relevance... beauty queen JonBenet, not really child, not really real, not really everyday… and we the gullible and the beguiled bought it hook, line and sinker, while our six year old daughters still wonder why it's okay to murder and rape those less fortunate…perhaps black, perhaps poor, perhaps ugly.

That American media would turn this cruel murder into a bizarre freak show is not even remotely surprising. It's the commercialization of it that is so sickening to the stomach. The "Coming Up This Hour" teasers on CNN, that intersperse JonBenet walking down the T-bar in slow-motion to a Hitchcock-like jingle with their Play of the Day, or the Reuters updates in their Entertainment Summary. This is entertainment? How can we but question with fervor, the extent to which those media outlets are in a position to even qualify as news organizations,and reap the privileges that are afforded them?

The issue of child abuse is perhaps the darkest of human conscience. The inherent intelligence of humans enables the intellectualization of behavior, within the inevitable paradigms of morality and guilt. In this context, it is far easier for our collective psyche to create a diversion - the beauty queen angle - that facilitates avoidance of the bigger question underlying what is really happening.

The commercialization of JonBenet leaves us numb enough to avoid examining the possibility that the taut and unyielding strictures of our Judeo Christian nucleus are erupting in pus-like rage, causing us to kill and fuck our petrified and abused children. But we don't want to go there. We'd rather hear that JonBenet was a Beauty Queen. A bizarre world to exploit and explore. Should little girls wear lipstick and make-up? How do we avoid the desperately necessary exploration of the remaining vestiges of patriarchic misogyny at it's most blatant and disturbing - the assigning of value to the empty objectification of sexuality - paraded around like cattle before the slaughter? The subconscious provocation of child sexuality. The stuff that Jesse Helms and Dan Coats soil their pristine sheets over in their Internet wet dreams. Oh the wonderful lessons our children are learning.

This is not going away. The abuse that JonBenet experienced in her short life was only the beginning. The story of JonBenet, and the coverage we have seen, and can expect, are as American as apple pie and baseball. JonBenet's death is still fresh, so we may be a little premature in wondering which network will air the first JonBenet: Portrait of a Child Beauty Queen movie of the week, which book will stay longest on the New York Times best seller's list, who will turn on who, who will spawn careers from punditry, who will launch TV talk shows, who will sell who down the river first, and who will market the first toy. Welcome to 1998.

Clinton Fein can be emailed at


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