Column: Damsels in distress

By Eric Naing

Not so long ago in a kingdom very much like your own, a young damsel whose skin was fairer than the brightest pearl and whose hair shone like the golden rays of the morning sun was tragically taken from her castle. While this sounds like some fairy tale, it could just as easily be the lead-in to one of the big stories on any major news network.

Damsels in distress are big business these days. Currently the story of an Alabama teen who went missing while vacationing in Aruba is making huge waves in the news world. But this poor girl isn’t the only one in recent memory. Other media damsels such as Lacy Peterson, Chandra Levy, Lori Hacking, Elizabeth Smart, Jessica Lynch, JonBenet Ramsey and plenty more have been given copious amounts of airtime and have had their stories told, retold and over-dramatized over and over again.

But what links all these people together? Well for starters, they are mostly young, white, attractive and from the middle or upper class. That’s right, like the Disney-esque fairytales of our youth, these damsels have been churned out of a media-designed mold to tug at our heartstrings.

The circus that surrounds these types of stories further highlights the glaring biases that the news media holds. It’s touching that the media would dedicate so much effort to help find these missing girls, but there are other people who are in just as much need that go completely unnoticed. Here, the news media is guilty of several “isms” – racism, sexism, ageism and even classism (yes, that is an “ism,” too).

If you are elderly, male, nonwhite, poor or unattractive, you’re probably out of luck. We almost never hear about the missing African-American boy from the inner-city or the elderly Latino woman who never returned home from work. It’s as if the news networks don’t think their target audiences will care enough about these cases, or that their ratings will be higher if that play up the damsels instead.

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    This leads to a dangerous media perception of minorities. By not focusing on the missing person stories of minorities, the news networks are essentially saying that being the victim of a crime is almost synonymous with being a minority. Young white girls, on the other hand, are never supposed to be subject to such a thing.

    Furthermore, this damsel in distress phenomenon feeds into the sexist “princess” or “ideal woman” image that has long been burned into our and countless other cultures. The women that the media hold up whether it be in literature, movies or even the news all seem to fall into this same damsel mold. They are young, beautiful, helpless and thoroughly unrealistic.

    The news media seems hell-bent on creating its own narratives and it’s scary just how many different conclusions can be drawn. Are these damsels going missing because we live in a society without morals or is it because women have too much freedom? Even scarier is that this narrative is a false one. In recent years, the number of missing or kidnapped children has actually decreased, but one would never know this based on the coverage provided by all the major news outlets. I don’t mean in any way to lessen or mock the tragedy of these missing girls, but I do wish to put their cases in context.

    Of course, this all fits into the grand media narrative that has been building since Sept. 11 – that our world is a more dangerous place, regardless of what the facts say. The news media seems to be following in the footsteps of our president by artificially creating fear and drama. While the latter does this to push his agenda, the former does it seemingly for higher ratings.

    News is no longer news – it’s a business, it’s entertainment. Pretty soon we won’t be watching news anymore, we’ll be watching CSI: MSNBC or Law & Order: Fox News Unit.