Tattooed for life
In our view
Remember the story of the very suntanned New Jersey mother who forced her 5-year-old daughter onto a tanning bed? It went viral on the Internet.
But the virus had passed by the time the notorious "tan mom" -- her name is Patricia Krentcil -- was vindicated by a grand jury that declined to indict her on second-degree child endangerment charges.
Krentcil said all along that her daughter never went in a tanning booth with her. The girl simply got a sunburn. The jury found she probably was right.
"What this world did in the past year made of mockery of me," Krentcil shouted down to reporters who assembled outside her home after the case ended. The media reported the quote, and added that she appeared paler than previously.
She called her case "the biggest ridiculous thing in the world." From being a private citizen one day, she was an object of global ridicule the next. She was mocked on "Saturday Night Live" and a novelty company began selling a "tanorexic action figure" based on her.
New Jersey prohibits anyone 14 or under from tanning with ultraviolet devices. The law is meant to protect children from skin cancer. Krentcil could have faced up to 10 years in prison.
While it is the state's interest to protect children, such a penalty seems excessive. And the human herd was more than ready to turn viciously on someone for a perceived difference. It wasn't her daughter people reacted to; it was the look of the woman herself, and her obvious devotion to a legal activity our scolds would have us condemn, even though it's none of our business.
The Celebrity Website TMZ, with an estimated monthly readership of more than 4 million, reported the case being dropped, but continued to heap gratuitous snarls on Krentcil, calling her a "human raisin" and a "44-year-old trainwreck" and invoking the orange-skinned Oompa Loompas from Willie Wonka.
This sort of communal condemnation seems shabby, coming as it does from a nation that now sports cheap formulaic tattoos from head to heel and hasn't found a body part it wouldn't pierce and thrust out on display. Where obscene T-shirts get worn to public events and car radios blast all seven of George Carlin's words-you-can't-say-on-television in alphabetical order.
Public shame always has been an aspect of human communities. A community always had ways of expressing displeasure with an individual's way of life. They were rough and cruel: Hot tar, chicken feathers and a splintery rail-ride out of town. But they were local and temporary. You could lick your wounds, move on to the next town and start over.
This? It's global. She's "tan mom" in Australia, should she try to go there. It's permanent. Her name is locked into a thousand condemnatory blog posts and snarky Twitter slurs. It will be so for the rest of her life, even though she was found to have done nothing wrong.
A community always had ways of expressing displeasure with an individual's way and life. But it was local and temporary. You could lick your wounds, move on to the next town and start over. Now, it's global.