Up next: Meanings

When we launched Michael Tracey’s series on the Ramsey case we frankly didn’t know what to expect. We hoped for intelligent engagement around the essay’s central thesis – a runaway media and what it tells us about the sad state of our democracy. We feared that the place would be overrun by nutters. In the end, though, neither our hopes nor fears have been realized.

Instead there’s been a lot of silence. We know some people are reading – we have access to the stats, after all – but there’s been minimal response.

I think I know why. The other day Lex, one of our most prolific commenters, posted this:

Honestly, I didn’t think that this would be very interesting at first…but that almost certainly stems from the JonBenet overload that, apparently, still affects me. I was wrong. I’ve now gone back and read the whole thing (twice for a few of them) and I’m hooked.

Of course, now I’ll never be able to watch one of those Hollywood serial killer flicks without thinking how the actual scenario would probably go.

Thanks to S&R and Mr. Tracey.

“JonBenet overload.” In truth, there has certainly been plenty about this case to get sick of, and I’m guessing that the smarter you are, the sicker you are. If ever there was a case of Tabloids Gone Wild, this was it. I suspect a lot of people see any mention of JonBenet and lunge for the remote, and it’s hard to blame them.

Of course, this means they’re avoiding this remarkable series without understanding what it is that they’re avoiding. And what they’re avoiding isn’t tabloid mania, it’s instead one of the most well-reasoned and coherent analyses of tabloid mania that you’re ever likely to encounter.

Early on in the series I got an e-mail from the editor of a highly respected blog. He’d initially made the same mistake that so many others had. Here’s what he had to say:

This is great stuff, Sam.

Really wonderful. For those who didn’t read it because it’s about Jonbenet, well, it isn’t. It is about how Media NARRATIVES are established. JonBenet is simply the example which is used.

Highly Recommended.

We’ve now completed the prologue, the section on the media malpractice surrounding the case and a chronicle of how one of the more disturbing admitted pedophiles we’ve encountered in awhile was tracked down and arrested. Up next comes the meat of the series: Tracey’s extended examination of what it all means for those of us who live in a society that’s oversaturated by irresponsible media and undernourished by any genuine perspective on how we’re being manipulated and automated out of our freedom.

We hope you’ll catch up, as Lex did, and join us in the coming days as we engage in some of the best work that has ever appeared on Scholars & Rogues.

For my part, I think that’s a pretty big statement.



  • Sam,
    I read the series, and agree that it was excellent. That being said, I believe that the population and readership suffers from “Ramsey Fatigue.” I’m serious about this. I don’t normally mince words, but the “Ramsey Fatigue,” “Media Fatigue” has just worn people out. I know from a personal standpoint that there’s certain things that I’m just sick of hearing about and choose to ignore it.

    In my opinion, your “Letters From Afghanistan” series was one of the best pieces I’ve ever read in a blog, any blog.


  • I liked the letters from Afghanistan series. I read these JonBenet posts, too, though I’m pretty much forcing myself to do it. Tracey’s doing a great job, of course. But it feels more like a lecture I know I should hear rather than something I WANT to do, if that makes any sense. As for commenting, I don’t think it’s really fatigue for me. I just have nothing to say.

    It’s said, I know, but I remember when it was happening that I kept thinking, why is this getting so much hype? It was like the homicide version of Brittney Spears displaying her hoochie coochie for all to see. Sadly, shit like this happens every day. Why is this one case getting so much press? Would it get so much press if the kid that got killed was poor and black? It’s the same thing I’m thinking now with the horribly tragic case in the news today about a triple homicide involving Hudson’s family. Would THAT case get so much hype if everyone involved wasn’t related to an Oscar winning actress and American Idol contestant? Maybe, but I kinda doubt it.

    Back to Slammy’s post. The way I see it, there are three overlapping reasons why no one is commenting:

    1) people didn’t care then and they don’t care now
    2) people already know this is the way the pop-news-media works and feel that there’s not a damned thing they can do about it
    3) people already know that this is the way the pop-news-media works and don’t really care or actively encourages the behavior

    I’m afraid I’m somewhere in the middle of reasons 1 and 2. In the end, there’s not a whole lot to say.

  • I can’t read it. I am still mad about the fact that the forces of law and order plus standards of decency and credible reporting were thrown overboard by just about everyone involved.

    She deserved better and no doubt a lot of people made a lot of money out of her savage killing.

  • As a peripheral character in this case, I know Michael Tracey and many of the characters he writes about. I am very interested in what he has to say.

    I believe my forum, scheduled to close soon, would have enjoyed the discussion and they would have had plenty to say about what he wrote.

    Mame, a member of my forum who is also a peripheral character in this story, copied the first part of this series to my forum. Before the discussion got started, I got an email from Tracey chastising me for copying the article. I had not, but did as he demanded and immediately removed it.

    The discussion was quashed on my forum.

    Understand, many Ramsey case followers have found their screen names used on unprotected forums. Most tend to stay on one or two areas where their names are registered and password protected. Otherwise they find themselves posting things they would NEVER say.

    You know many are reading and I hope the series continues. But if you really want comments and discussion, I suggest you lift the ban on unedited discussion elsewhere. JMO

  • Jameson, full copy/paste of an entire section is in violation of copyright. I don’t know Tracey myself, but I would hazard to guess that was probably his problem with it. Copying select portions for discussion is usually considered fair use.

  • Ubertramp asks, “Why is this one case getting so much press?” That is the question that Tracey seeks to respond to.

    Tracey’s explication is an indictment of American (and for that matter, much of the rest of the world’s) journalism. But I wouldn’t write it off as just another expose of how the pop-news-media works. What is compelling is the methodical, empirical detail with which Tracey lays out the story. It goes deeper than a critique of the popular press’s obsession with Britney or Paris because it seeks to reveal the structures within our culture that have created such conditions — the character of the media audience that has relinquished citizenship for the consumption of spectacle.

    It is important that we understand how these sorts of media narratives come to be, if we are to address and challenge the conditions of their creation, and by implication, the significance of journalism for democracy. If we do not wish to pursue the latter, whether we are cynical or merely fatigued, then we get what we deserve. And some people, like the Ramseys, get what they do not deserve, indeed the ruination of their lives.

  • First, most people are comfortable with a media that feasts on death styles of the rich and famous.

    Second, I think many dropped the Ramsey case because it’s conclusion was monumentally inconclusive. “But, I could swear it was the mother,” many thought. Then Karr says he did it, but he didn’t. Or did he?

    The public drifted away in pursuit of another such case that could be wrapped up neatly. Yet that seldom happens. They still don’t know for sure what happened to Laci Peterson.

  • I just remembered an episode of South Park that mocks celebrity worship and press obsession while still pointing the finger squarely at the viewer as the responsible party: Britney’s New Look.

    It’s funny in the usual messed up South Park way, and is not kind.

  • Wendy, sure. Critique all you want. I certainly understand putting a spotlight on something to figure out why things happen. I’m a scientist. In a sense, it’s what I do every day. But this is a nuance that’s likely lost on 99% of the pop-news-media consuming public. IMO, for a significant fraction of the population, news isn’t about education, it’s about entertainment or about feeling better about their lives by seeing how horrible other people have it. Or, worse yet, being told that their beliefs are right in the first place (like, conservatives watching FOX and liberals watching MSNBC. hehehe). The actual facts are actually irrelevant as long the fantasy seems real enough.

    Also, IMO Tracey is preaching to the choir with what I can guess about the hardcore audience of this blog. He isn’t saying a whole lot that would surprise anyone here, so there’s really nothing to debate. There may be some debate about the facts of the case, but that’s not what this series is about. All we can do is occasionally pat him on the back.

  • Jameson: Brian is right. The reason we responded as we did was because you scraped the ENTIRE POST. No blog in the world complains if you excerpt or summarize and provide a link – that’s the goal, actually.

    If your commenters have some concerns about what they say and where, that’s fine – come read the post and go back and discuss it on the forum. That happens just about every day, in fact, and we’d never complain about it. We own our intellectual property, but we don’t own what people have to say about it or where they discuss it.

  • I didn’t post the article, someone else did. A simple request that it be removed would have been honored with less hard feelings.

    You can (and probably should) just remove these comments. Chalk it up to a personal miscommunication between Tracey and myself. No need for any of it to be public. I apologize for making it so.

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