Saturday, September 1, 2012

Pre-Criminal Education

Most people aren't going to agree with this, so we're going to start by explaining the basics: Our brains are smarter than we are.

Our brains are a wonderful tool, and we only consciously use about a quarter of it. Which is how it's supposed to work. If we had to consciously do everything our sub- and unconscious minds do our heads would explode. We'd never get anything done. And one of these things is reading ten million social cues a day so we can behave in a socially acceptable manner.

Unfortunately one of the cues in our society is this thrumming undercurrent of "they deserved it".

Let's use a movie as an example. It can be any horror movie in the last fifty years, but we're going to use Cabin Fever because what I'm talking about is really blatant. Victim blaming is par for the course in horror movies, which is sad because it takes most of the actual horror out of the equation, but that's a rant for another day. The premise of Cabin Fever is, a bunch of friends show up at a cabin, get sick with flesh eating rabies (or something) and try to quarantine themselves/get out/keep everyone from getting out/survive angry mob of townspeople. You'd think this would be horrifying, but then we meet the characters.

And you realize the world would be better off without them. They totally deserve it.

In any horror movie/movie about serial killers/movie where a lot of people are going to die, you can always pick the first deaths out of the crowd. They're the ones behaving in a socially reprehensible manner. In Cabin Fever the kids are heading up to the mountains to party over spring break. They all have responsibilities they've elected to dodge so they can get drunk on a mountain. The promiscuous girl? Dead. The kid taking a drag on weed? Dead. Final Destination 3 lets you know who's going to die by having a character declare her intention to break up with a devoted boyfriend within five seconds of her introduction (also: death by tanning bed).

The function of doing this--setting up an unlikable character to die--is a reflex on the writer's part. We don't want our likable characters to die. We don't want to be affected by death. If you're reading a book and you suddenly come across a lot of "She saw it happen" and "it seemed/almost/probably" it usually means the writer was REALLY uncomfortable with that scene and tried to add more distance between themselves and the action by having it almost happen through the character's eyes, not their own. I call them "filter" words. Unlikable cannon fodder serves the same purpose. We're protecting ourselves from the mayhem we're about to create by shoving the morally reprehensible under the bus.

The problem with doing this is it creates a social implication. That being that only the morally reprehensible get thrown under the bus. It's subtle and not something we pick up consciously. But our brains are smarter than we are. Subconsciously, we pick it up just fine. And if something bad happens to you? You must have deserved it. If you were good, and of upstanding moral character, you would be Final Girl, walking out of the dead zombie horde with a bloody chainsaw. Victims are the weak. The truely strong can fight it off.

It's bullshit, of course. You can take steps to protect yourself, but over and over and over again there are stories of homeowners who did everything right, who still got robbed. Women who carry mace and whistles and know you scream "Fire" still get raped. The people who trusted Bernie Madoff weren't idiots. They did their homework and got taken anyway. Victims cannot control what happens to them. Or to phrase it slightly differently: gazelles can't control when the cheetahs get hungry.

Thing is? People aren't cheetahs. Victims shouldn't have to be the one responsible for their safety, as the victim is not the person putting themselves in danger. The initial decision, "I'm gonna go hurt somebody", does not lie with them. They can choose how close to danger they get--don't walk alone, lock your doors, buy alarms, carry mace--but they do not choose when danger will exist. That choice lies with the individual committing the crime.

Imagine how effective drunk-driving campaigns would be if they were aimed at the victims, and not the drivers. "Know how to identify a drunk" would be one class. "Avoid these roads. Drunks use them" would be posted everywhere. Cops would be pulling sober drivers aside and say, "Don't go out tonight, there's a drunk in the neighborhood."

Why aren't we doing that? Because it doesn't work. It will never work. Educating the victims on how not to be a victim does not and will never be an effective social tool. We're educating the drunks because the drunks are the ones with the initial choice.

But other crimes, it's okay. Because we still have that social implication: You were asking for it. And that implication is why people laugh if an unchained bike gets stolen. It's why that FUCKING MORON from Missouri said women can't get pregnant from rape, why the rich white men in charge of the world keep saying "lie back and enjoy it, if you can't avoid it".

We need to educate the people who can actually stop crime: The people most likely to commit it. Right now all the materials say "Rape is wrong, here's how to avoid it". It might save my life, but it won't save every life. The day I see a poster with the message "Rape is wrong, don't do it", I'll know we've turned the corner.

Hey, and don't forget to check out the preview for my next book: Starbleached due out on Monday. 

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