Wednesday, August 23, 2006
White Goods for JonBenét
We are living in dark times, ladies and gentlemen. Or at least I feel like I'm having some kind of Sylvia Plath week – dead ladies and white goods. Recently I said to my neighbour, "Listen, Janet, I started a blog because blog culture lacks a genuinely honest voice in the dark cyber fog." Janet said, "You're like Lenny Bruce or Sandra Bernhard, riding a magic zeitgeist carpet ride into a networked world that needs new over-ripe diatribe." I felt humbled by Janet's endorsement and a little guilty because she obviously thinks I know something about "blog culture."
But yes, I do feel like it's time to cut through the bullshit and pay a little long overdue respect to the little lady of perky pageantry – JonBenét Ramsey. If I could say something to JonBenét and be assured she could hear me, I'd say:
"Since you've been gone, little lady, I've been in this really dark place because I know you would have grown up and been really important. Yes, you would have been getting all kinds of Nobel prizes for, say, inventing a more aesthetically viable substitute for the kinds of plastic purchased from Ikea or designing Braille for blind animals. I just know you would have done something cool and worthwhile like that."
But baby Benét never had a chance. Tarted up like a featured extra from Bugsy-meets-The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, it's become clear there's a whole lot more going on since John Mark Karr has confessed to accidentally murdering her (yeah right, I'm really getting into accidents too – they're such convenient ways to describe strange phenomena). Anyway, I feel the whole Karr thing is a bit weird. It just doesn't ring true that this freak actually did what he claimed he did. I suspect he longs for some kind of demented notoriety because JonBenét has a starring role in his perverse fantasies. How could anyone who writes poetry for the littlies and claims they "identify with Michael Jackson" be guilty of crimes against a child? Surely Jackson was never found guilty of such a thing.
I reckon whatever love attachment Karr had for JonBenét was based on some confused fiction and reality distinction. In an era where the image reigns supreme, JonBenét has become one of our most beloved endorsements for Americana rendered iconic by the image. Like the US flag or an Andy Warhol soup can, JonBenét's little tiara-encrusted-hair-spray-do framed a sweet little face that spoke to dreams unrealised, hopes dashed way too soon. If I was a semiotics professor, I'd say she was signification gone awry – a poster child for the American fascination with sexing up kids and cashing in on precocious child-star talent ala Jodie Foster or Dakota Fanning. I'm waiting for the day Mattel releases an interactive board game for the US market called "Will the Child Star Crash & Burn or Win an Oscar One Day?" The tagline would be: "Roll the dice and you decide Little Man Tate's fate." (If you're playing as Haley Joel Osment, then you'll probably just get an Oscar nomination before heading into Star Rehab). If this game gets the corporate nod, I'll be sure to order one from Amazon because the Tall Poppy lopping Australian in me loves to see these little stars-and-stripes stay lopped.
Except when it comes to JonBenét the game gets a bit dicey because she reveals how kids in pageant land are manufactured as fodder for child porn fantasy. The whole child beauty industry is only good for one thing in my view: it provides hours of entertainment for connoisseurs of American trash culture. But really, it seems American culture doesn't see it that way, upholding its child pageant industry like it's a complex totem signifying innovation, progress, education, family values, patriotism, and good old fashioned shiny whiteness.
Whatever JonBenét represented then as much as now, I just can't shake the whole anxiety that whether or not this Karr person is really guilty, he's symptomatic of a culture happy to consume kids painted in grown-ups drag as if to satiate a line blurred between childhood innocence and adult fantasy.