Jeremy Meeks and the Trouble with the Viral Mugshot

On June 18th, convicted felon Jeremy Meeks and three other men were arrested on weapons charges during a police sweep of the Weston Ranch neighborhood of Stockton, California.

As they are wont to do, the police are referring to the sweep as a “multi-agency Operation Ceasefire enforcement mission.” Of course, if mustaches were bullshit filters, any cop would tell you that this kind of thing is really just an excuse for a militarized local police force to justify its SWAT budget while strong-arming racially profiled parolees with overt threats of selective prosecution, but hey, who gives a shit about policy, am I right?

This kind of thing happens every day in America. Nothing about it is remarkable. It’s just business as usual for the revolving door of the prison industrial complex. Hell, the execution of this otherwise unremarkable stack of search warrants wouldn’t have even made the local news if it weren’t for the Stockton Police Department’s deplorable habit of posting mugshots on Facebook and the ridiculously photogenic quality of Mr. Meeks.

Yes, folks. He’s hot. Dude’s got cheekbones that could cut glass and an icy blue gaze so ocean deep, you need a wetsuit just to make eye contact. By any conventional standard of beauty, that man is foine, and since we’re all being honest, let’s not pretend we aren’t a little titillated by the teardrop tattoo. Still, is this man’s image really something we should be exploiting?

We can’t help what gets our nipples hard, and none of us can control what bizarre piece of criminal justice ephemera might raise the waxed eyebrow of our collective consciousness, but we ought to take a step back from this viral moment and recognize how tacky it is to be photoshopping a mugshot into ads for Givenchy, Calvin Klein, and Dolce & Gabbana.

This is not acceptable behavior. It may seem innocent, perhaps even justifiable to those who’ve never had any real contact with the criminal justice machine, but the objectification of Jeremy Meeks amounts to a public humiliation on what is now a massive scale. What’s even worse is that since he is already a convicted felon, we find it that much easier to ignore his presumption of innocence and manipulate his image for our mere amusement.

We should be ashamed of ourselves, and I’m not saying this because I feel the urge to defend Mr. Meeks personally. I have no idea what kind of man he is. He might be a violent monster. He might be good guy caught up in a bad situation. It’s never really that simple anyway. None of us know who he really is, and that’s kind of the point.

We should know better than to engage in this kind of exercise in depersonalization. Making light of this man’s incarceration — or anyone’s incarceration — should be something that makes us sick to our stomachs. The prison industrial complex is the ugliest stain on America’s soul since slavery, and there is absolutely no justification for fetishizing images of people caught up in our broken criminal justice system.

First Encounters: Charlie Sheen in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

My best friend from elementary school had an older brother with a motorcycle. The motorcycle isn’t at all relevant to this story, except to say that he was the first boy I ever met who had one. He also had a VHS cassette of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

We were little girls — way too young even to be watching a PG-13 movie by ourselves, but on the days when I would come to her house after school, my best friend’s mother didn’t give a shit what we stuck into the basement VCR as long as we didn’t bother her in the living room while she smoked cigarettes and drank pink wine during General Hospital.

It must have been dozens, but I honestly can’t remember how many times the two of us snuck down the stairs to watch her brother’s copy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, my first of many John Hughes movies that made Chicago seem like a faraway land where the luckiest kids in the world got to go to a magical place called high school.

My best friend was obsessed with Sloane Peterson. That was fine with me, because I always thought Sloane was kind of boring. I was obsessed with Jeanie Bueller. (All you misunderstood brats out there know exactly what I’m talking about.) I wanted to be constantly scowling and still look super cute. I wanted my own room where everything was mauve and I had my own telephone. I wanted pretty much everything about her life, but what I really wanted most of all — like, more than anything else in the world — was to make out with a teenage delinquent Charlie Sheen on a police station bench.

Holy shit. To this day, when the camera pans off Jeanie’s look over to “boy in the police station,” it still gives my insides a little flutter. It’s an easily overlooked moment in a movie already crammed full of ridiculous hijinks, but damn, Charlie Sheen’s minor character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off quietly established the foundational archetype for my life-long bad-boy fantasy.

That scene made me feel things, and I don’t mean emotionally. I mean physiologically. My reaction was chemical, and wow did it feel good. There was nothing overtly sexual about their interaction, but something about Sheen’s posture, his leather jacket, his mussed up hair, his literally “too cool for school” attitude — I was instantly and for the very first time a warm gooey pile of boy crazy.

I got such a thrill when later in the movie they cut back to the two of them making out on the police station bench. At the time, I hadn’t kissed any boys. Hell, that wasn’t even a thing yet, but I totally understood why Jeanie was suddenly acting so smitten, and I knew I wanted to feel that for myself.

Even now as an adult, when I watch the way Jennifer Grey projects her character’s sheer infatuation by goofball giggle-snorting her exit down the stairs, I still want to feel that. Every once in a while, I still do, and of course, whenever I get giddy over a boy, the theme music that plays in my head is “Ooo Shawna.”

(Read my First Encounters piece over at Nerve.com)

 

What’s The Difference Between Steve Ballmer and Donald Sterling?

A quick disclaimer: I’m not much of a sports fan.

Actually, no. In the interests of full disclosure, I fucking loathe professional sports, but “I’m not much of a sports fan” is what I have to say in public so dudes don’t look at me like I’m a communist space alien who eats live puppies.

Point is, I do what I can in my day-to-day life to avoid getting any sports on the rest of my popular culture, but every once in a while, a story from that crass and pointless world comes along that is just too mythically preposterous to avoid.

Cue Donald Sterling.

I’ve lived in Los Angeles for well over a decade, and in all that time I was happy never knowing the name of the racist slumlord who owned the LA Clippers. In fact, if his tacky airhead of a mistress hadn’t grossly miscalculated the public’s lust for schadenfreude, I might very well have gone my entire life without ever learning of Donald Sterling’s existence.

Oh, well. Too late now. It’s been over a month since TMZ released that bizarre bit of eavesdropping, and Donald Sterling continues to be the nation’s devil du jour. I’m totally fine with that. Personally, I think the misogynistic gender dynamics on that recording between Mr. Sterling and Ms. Stiviano are far more insidious than all the hamfisted racism, but that’s an opinion for a different article.

Yes, Donald Sterling is easily hatable for all kinds of reasons, and it’s always nice to see a villain’s legacy go down in flames, but there’s something shady about this whole courtside coup d’état. I call shenanigans. It’s all just a little too convenient, and I’m sorry, but I can’t quite get comfortable with the way everyone is licking their lips and strapping on their knee pads to welcome former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer as the Clipper’s new owner.

All I keep seeing are stories about how Steve Ballmer is the perfect guy to buy the team with his “booming voice and energetic high-fives,” and how word on the street is that Clippers fans are embracing Ballmer as the team’s future owner. Of course, “word on the street” almost always means “carefully crafted public relations narrative,” but that’s beside the point.

There’s this sick notion being floated around that everything is okay now because the evil racist billionaire is out and the cuddly benevolent billionaire is in, and it’s such a steaming pile of bullshit. The idea that Steve Ballmer is somehow any less grotesque than Donald Sterling is absolutely ridiculous.

Both of these guys are villains. Hell, they’re practically caricatures of classic movie bad guys. Donald Sterling is a cartoonish composite of every corrupt string-pulling bossman from every Blaxploitation film ever made, and Steve Ballmer is the boring corporate version of every super-wealthy Bond villain since Blofeld.

Both men represent the very sinister realities of that rags-to-riches American dream an entire generation now knows to be a great lie built on a rigged and rigid class system with no real chance of any social mobility, a lie that nevertheless continues to unabashedly celebrate obscene levels of wealth inequality. We call these men moguls and magnates. We hold them up as paragons of achievement. In a nation of consumer capitalism, these men are considered American nobility, and yet they are anything but noble.

Donald Sterling’s personal character flaws turned out to be glaring under the harsh light of public scrutiny, but let’s not forget that Steve Ballmer has been hailed as the worst CEO ever. In a category teeming with avaricious sociopaths, he wasn’t even any good at his damn job. He founded nothing. He invented nothing. He added no value to the world whatsoever. It seems all he did during his tenure as Microsoft CEO was erode over $300 billion worth of market capitalization from what was once the greatest computer company in the world. Still, the genetic lottery winner who happened to share a sophomore dorm with Bill Gates managed to walk away with a net worth of $20 billion.

Sure, I guess that’s the kind of guy who’d be willing to pony up the gross domestic product of Greenland to be the latest spoiled billionaire with the ultimate status symbol. (Mega-yachts are so 2000. These days, it’s all about owning a professional sports team.) Still, why are we all supposed to be rooting for him? What’s in it for us, the general public? As per usual, absolutely nothing.

How about instead of all screaming, “Sterling bad. Ballmer good. Yay basketball!” let’s all take a step back and realize what’s really happening here: A buffoonish billionaire with money to burn is getting a shiny new toy, and a racist slumlord is making an obscene profit as a direct result of his disgusting behavior.