I am declaring a personal moratorium on books and shows and movies about kidnapped-presumed-raped-and-murdered girls. I don’t care how awesome the shows or books or movies are. I don’t care if they are Twin Peaks, a show I have still not seen in spite of its fanatical popularity in certain circles and now may NEVER SEE because I have absolutely had it with this storyline.
This weekend I read Sara Zarr’s Once Was Lost. Once Was Lost is a pretty good book, per usual for Sara Zarr. It speaks thoughtfully about questions of faith and the benefits and drawbacks of belonging to a religious community. Sara Zarr is good at speaking thoughtfully about issues that in the hands of another author would come out black and white.
In the midst of its thoughtfulness, there is a story about a little girl who goes missing, and the town is set abuzz with worry and anger. And it isn’t that Sara Zarr was telling a particularly annoying version of this type of story. It just turned out to be the last straw. When I started to write a review of Once Was Lost, all I could write about is how tired I am of seeing story after story after story where a young white female person goes missing and there is a resulting media frenzy that tears apart the young white female person’s small town of origin. You know what? I do not need to read that story anymore. I have read enough versions of that story. That story exhausts me.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a talk, earlier this year, about what she called “the danger of a single story,” a phrase and a concept that I find very striking. Her point is that the real truth, in all its layers, can be arrived at by telling numerous stories; and if you get stuck on just one story (violent permanent catastrophe in Africa; little white girls snatched off their bikes in small towns), it can become the defining story of that type of person or place, at the price of silencing and ignoring other stories. I am tired of violence against women being defined by the story of an innocent white girl abducted by a monstrous pedophile or whatever.
Here is a really really common story: A woman is assaulted, kidnapped, or murdered, and the media could not give less of a shit about it because the woman was any of the following things:
- A person of color
- Sexually active
- A survivor of previous physical or sexual violence
- Believed to have been assaulted, kidnapped, or murdered by an intimate partner
I’m not saying that there aren’t good stories about kidnapped-or-murdered white girls. Twin Peaks is good (I have heard). The first season of Veronica Mars is superb. The Fates Will Find Their Way was unexpectedly weird and wonderful. There are many good books, shows, and movies that feature this storyline.
I just don’t care anymore. I have missing-white-girl exhaustion. I’m on a break from that story, starting now. The publishing, movie, and television industries have not asked for my input, but if they had asked for my input, I would urge them to take a break from it too. That old story has gone past cliche and become completely lazy, and I think we would all find it refreshing to have some time away.
Feel free to grumble companionably about this trope in the comments, or to disagree with this cranky and rather dogmatic post!