By now, you may have heard that the “Hiccup Girl” of recent Today Show fame (real name Jennifer Mee) is suspected of murder.
You may recall that in 2007, Mee was on the Today Show for suffering from hiccups for five weeks straight. Across the blogosphere, she received some sympathy, some jokes, and, ultimately, congratulations when the hiccups were cured. Of course we all promptly forgot about her, until this week when she became involved in an elaborate scheme and was implicated in a murder.
The headline on the first story I read about this case just referred to her as “Hiccup Girl,” but I knew before clicking on the link who they were referring to, and my first thought was “No”¦not that Hiccup Girl!” As if I knew enough (or anything really) about her to make me disbelieve that she could do such a thing. Not to mention that this sad but otherwise unremarkable story is national news-worthy because the general public knows who she is. Or rather, feels that they know her.
This happens frequently, not only with huge celebrities but minor “news celebrities” like the Jennifer Mee. Whether we are aware of it or not, due to watching them, reading about them, and discussing them, we often put celebrities into the category of “people we know.” It’s why we’re shocked when a beloved sports star, politician, or entertainer is involved in a crime or unsavory behavior like an affair. No one I know would hurt or kill anyone. It’s a way to help protect yourself from the reality that people close to you can do bad things.
This is the same basic function that can lead to victim-blaming. It’s our conscious (or unconscious) attempt to put order and predictability to a chaotic and often unjust world. People soothe themselves with the idea that if they avoid the victim’s behavior, they can avoid the same fate. Of course this isn’t true. Of course, a crime is committed by the criminal, and often due to a tangled web of causes and circumstances beyond anyone’s, including the victim’s, control.
People want to believe that sufferers of crimes were hurt or victimized because they didn’t follow the rules. Don’t leave your GPS on display and your car won’t get broken into. Keep your wallet in an inner pocket and it won’t get stolen. Don’t flirt with a guy, ever, especially if you’ve been drinking, and you won’t get raped. There was even coverage of Mee’s mother’s statement that the hiccups themselves led her to commit these crimes. (OK, well if I don’t have a five-week bout of hiccups, I won’t get involved in a life of crime.)
Hiccup Girl was put in the category of “cute kid” or even “person I know” due to her press exposure and the generally sympathetic nature of her plight. Now, just three years later, she’s in jail and we’re left scrambling to explain how this could have happened. It’s the same feeling of helplessness we are faced with when a friend is hurt by someone: we want to know why. Well, there aren’t any answers yet. Maybe there never will be. The only thing that’s certain in this sad case is that none of us actually knew Jennifer Mee. And even if we did, that wouldn’t make her incapable of a crime.