April 19, 2008
Those not living under a rock have by now seen the famous “teen beating video” of Florida girls pounding on a hapless peer a dozen times, along with the usual boilerplate commentary about “animalistic,” “vicious,” and–utterly without irony–“publicity seeking teens” driven to violence by hopes of Internet fame (see Associated Press, 4/12/08; ABC News, 4/13/08; and 400 other outlets).
Amid berating girls for seeking publicity for their brutality, major media outlets then broadcast–and pundits like the Miami Herald’s Leonard Pitts (4/17/08) and martial artist/idiot commentator Chuck Norris ad infinitem–afforded these youths (who were never shown to have sought any publicity, or even posted the video themselves) audiences of tens of millions in hundreds of mass nationwide showings and commentaries.
So, let’s reverse the question: why, in a nation whose National Crime Victimization Survey (2006) shows an estimated 2,000 felony assaults occur every day–any one of which, if videotaped, could be made to appear similarly brutal–did this particular one merit mass media attention and commentary?
Why, because it (a) involved teenagers, (b) involved girls, and (c) was videoed, making it an ideal vehicle for the self-flattering moralizing by reporters (most of whom interviewed only prosecutors or police) and lazy no-context, no-other-side, no-objectivity moral outrage the press reserves for reports on young people. Easy stuff!
If the media and pundits like Pitts were sincere about denying publicity to people who videotape untoward acts like beatings, they would steadfastly ignore them, deny them mass exposure, and instead concentrate on the millions of offenses that don’t involve such convenient visual sensation and powerless targets.
Let me suggest an alternative utterly ignored in the media to date. The 2006 Child Maltreatment report confirms a minimum of 83,000 substantiated violent and sexual abuses of teenagers inflicted by their parents and caretakers that year, 40,000 of them against teenage girls, only the iceberg-tip of the true number of cases, most of which go unreported (and virtually none of which are videotaped). As is often the case, adult violence against teenagers is relevant even to “youth violence” stories. Buried references in the “teen beating video” case show the victim was living with her grandmother due to a violent altercation with her mother. And, as is nearly always the case, there is much more to even the simplest story than the simplistic media cares to explore beyond exhortations.
This mass adult violence against adolescents reveals a real epidemic: the explosion in violence arrests among middle aged groups of age (35-59) to be parents to teens. In 1980, FBI Uniform Crime Reports show, 57,000 middle-agers were arrested for felony assault. In 1990, 106,000. In 2006, 145,000. This violence increase among Mom and Dad far outstrips anything going on among teens.
Tens of thousands of teens beaten, raped, and violently abused by their parents and caretakers every year, documented by a federal agency? Grownups arrested for serious assault in record numbers, documented by the FBI? Of course no one important–especially in the major media and its pundit corps–cares. Media bullying of adolescents and quoting self-aggrandizing “experts” to remains far too easy in today’s youth-hating climate for anyone to explore the true dimensions of American violence.