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[personal profile] miss_swamp
A lot of people have posted on Facebook about Josh Powell killing himself and his two sons. For some reason this irritates me. Maybe I shouldn't write about it until I figure it out, but maybe (if anyone's still reading), you can help me do that.

First of all, yes, let me agree that the whole situation is horrible. The kids didn't deserve to die and the social worker will certainly be affected by this for quite a while. But! Aside from the drama of an explosion!, how much worse is it really than some of the things child welfare advocates see every day? The cynic in me suspects that none of it would be as big a story if the participants were people of color. Certainly the disappearance of a pretty white lady makes it a more compelling story in the eyes of the media. To me, it's sad but at this point, now that the damage is done? It's none of my business. It strikes the same voyeuristic note as the Casey Anthony case.

Perhaps the media attention this gets will help reform the foster system in a way that can benefit all foster kids, but probably it will just turn into a TV movie and we can all wring our hands and then go on with our days. I teach kids who are in foster care, who are homeless, who have been abused and neglected--and I don't think it's just 'cause they're not dead (in a dramatic way) that nobody seems to notice them. To be honest, some of them would probably rather be dead than in the situations they're in. So why is this case the one everyone's talking about? I don't think it's just because he blew up the house.

But please, if I'm missing something else here, I'm listening.

Date: 2012-02-06 06:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] apestyle.livejournal.com
I think that you might be irritated because it's just so dramatic.

Date: 2012-02-06 07:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] polychrome-baby.livejournal.com
What I read (I skimmed a little, though) said the kids were being taken care of by their maternal grandparents. So, while I do think the foster system has major problems, this was an in-family fostering by interested family members.

This is what I gathered - The mom disappeared. The father did not cooperate with investigations and him and the children lived with his father (the paternal grandfather). During investigations, the paternal grandfather was arrested on child pornography charges, and the children placed with the maternal grandparents to get out of that home. The judge ordered that the father undergo a psych evaluation (psychosexual in particular, which would seem to indicate that there were fears the father was involved in his father's child pornography stuff). The father didn't like that the children were with his missing wife's parents, and asked the court for them to be placed in a neutral home. During the visitation that was most recent to the court ordering an evaluation of the father the father stole the children from the caseworker who had arrived with the children, and quickly set himself and the children on fire. Father and children die.

Am I missing something here? Is there subtext I don't get? Would everyone have cared if the family were POC? I mean, probably not, because our news system and culture are basically stupid. The more milky white your skin, the more blue eyed, the more blond - well, the more virtuous you are. That's just how our culture judges things. It's racist and also classist*.

All that said, I think it's horrible, but don't really understand how it's an indictment of our foster system, nor of custody arrangements. Our foster system is horrible right now. I have known quite a few people who lived through it only to be severely disabled by PTSD from the horrors they lived through. And yeah, nobody seems to care. They lived, right? So who cares. It's only when people die that we care. If they live, we throw some bootstraps at them and tell them to get on with it. Which would be horrible enough even if there were no abuse within the foster system.
I mean, kids don't enter foster care because everything is puppies and sunshine with their lives. Even if there were no problems or deaths with their bio families (and it was an unjust removal by the state - which happens all the damn time) the removal from their bio families is traumatizing enough all on it's own.

I dunno. I think I've lost myself in whatever it was that you or I were each conversing about... Seeing as how I started this 4 hours ago. :/

*classist in that it favors people who tend to look the most stereo-typically Anglo Saxon - and therefore less likely to be from the waves of immigration during the first and latter halves of the previous century. Also, milky white skin was a mark of not having to toil at your own agriculture.

Date: 2012-02-06 09:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] textualdeviance.livejournal.com
(Media hat on!)

I think some of the initial fascination with the case had to do with the whole mystery of it, and the truly weird circumstances surrounding Susan's disappearance. (Who takes their kids camping at midnight in their PJs?) And then it just got weirder from there, with the grandfather and such. People love strange tales more than a run-of-the-mill boilerplate story they've seen a million times. So the fact that the story has had an equally bizarre ending just puts the cherry on the wacky sundae.

I do think that, circumstances and details being equal, any story of domestic violence is going to get more media attention if the participants are white and middle class. The popular concept is that such things are just a matter of course in poor or PoC families, and thus they're not as salient. But since white, middle class people don't believe such things happen to them or people like them, when they do, they take notice. They start clamoring for more information on the story, start driving up viewership/readership for those stories, and the news outlets respond to the demand (which may be unethical, but makes business sense--you give the people what they want, whether they need it or not.) Badabing, media circus.

To be fair, however, I'm not sure it would be a better thing if poor/PoC families in such situations were given an equal spotlight. The tone of the coverage would have to be very delicate to avoid coming off like exploitation. The same people who wring their hands over a pretty white lady (this could be me!) gone missing would instead be viewing a similar story about someone else, with whom they do not identify, with the same kind of voyeuristic glee that makes people watch Jerry Springer. Such stories would serve not to highlight the plight of the people affected, but to give the relatively privileged a sense of superiority, cementing their opinion that such things never happen to people like them.

And therein lies the rub. The reality that white, middle class folk have the majority of the power to be able to make large-scale social changes stick means that any attempt at getting them to do so has to appeal to their sense of identification with someone who's suffering. The only other solution is the big-picture stuff of teaching kids, when they're young enough to form worldviews, how to have empathy for people who are different. This is tricky, of course, because it's too easy to default to "we're all the same," which is counter-productive. Training people to care about others with whom they may have next to nothing in common isn't easy.

I'm not sure there's another solution, though, outside of improving newsroom ethics to resist the cheap ratings ploys of these types of cases (regardless of who's involved in them.)

(FWIW, there's another lengthy rant in here about news defaulting to generating outrage without also giving people the tools to put that outrage to constructive use, but I won't bore you with it. ;) )

Date: 2012-02-08 05:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] amiable-lyons.livejournal.com
I'm sure that you are right - if the family was of color, the media coverage would probably have been different and/or nonexistent.

But, what happened to THIS family and THOSE kids is truly horrific. They were attacked with an ax by their father (who almost certainly killed their mother two years ago) before they were lit on fire. They died of smoke inhalation. All while their state contracted social worker was locked outside unable to do anything to help. Not to mention the creepy whacked out child-porn watching paternal grandfather...

I'm not sure if the media coverage has been over the top or if this is the type of thing that we SHOULD pay attention to as a society. The crimes against children that we hear about at Childhaven everyday and try to treat with therapeutic care are truly unconscionable.

For my money - I'd rather people are outraged about child abuse and neglect than Kim Kardashian.
Edited Date: 2012-02-08 05:58 am (UTC)

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