Friday, August 18, 2006

I Hold the Ramsey’s Partly Responsible

I recently went to a county fair where I saw some kids I work with show off their cattle, hoping to place high enough to compete in the state fair. They were so proud of their heifers, steers and bulls, to the point where they spent hours grooming them, from making their tails bushy with cow hairspray to ridding them of all the excrement they routinely walk in. I couldn’t help but note the irony that Miss Champaign County was walking around, complete with sash letting everyone know who she was. I wonder if anyone else noted the eerie similarity between the way we parade cattle around and the way we parade ourselves around?

I completely understand the need to show and place cows; this is a way of ensuring we are good stewards of the animals, that we take care of them and get the most we can out of them. It also helps us scientifically understand more about the way cows are used for food and genetics, and helps us place a fair market value on them. (I am told there is simply no comparison in the quality of today’s cattle from 50 years ago. Thanks to these types of competition, cattle quality is superior to that from previous generations.) Now, why we do it with ourselves is beyond me. Just when I think we’re civilized, we do something as primitive as beauty pageants.

What’s even worse than Miss USA, however, is that 5 year-olds compete in these as well. Isn’t that a little too young to teach children that beauty is only skin deep? Pardon the cliché, but I don’t know what other values these sorts of pageants can possibly teach these children. Besides, of course, good posture. For that reason, I hold the Ramsey’s partly responsible for the death of their daughter. Even though it appears that someone is finally confessing to the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, I am not quite so ready to exonerate them for their part in making their daughter a target. I realize in the eyes of the law, they are innocent and even model citizens. But in a world where pedophilia is on the rise, why would you subject your daughter to such emotional brutality?

It is irritating that we look the other way when parents allow their children (who are barely old enough to even remember these formative years of their life) to participate in such sick competitions. Does it really matter that a child can wear make up, or dance or sing at the age of 5? Why is it okay that we glamorize this lifestyle, when the children have no opportunity to say no?

It is this sort of activity that reminds me that so many of our problems in America are self-inflicted. Systemic poverty and no father among the poor? This wasn’t nearly as big a problem before LBJ’s Great Society. Lung disease, diabetes and obesity? Smoking and high-sugar diets seem to help bring these on. I don’t want to turn this into a complaining session. I just want to point out that while the Ramsey’s didn’t inflict the fatal blow, they were complicit in what I see as a very sick culture. Perhaps the right people haven’t made the compelling arguments for putting children in this sort of limelight. But to me, it is asking for trouble when we see the totality of the human person in such a narrow light. After all, what else are we expected to value about JonBenet if her own parents don’t see beyond her glamorous possibilities?

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