On Being Judgmental
by Tina Blue
October 23, 2001
Do you remember Jeremy Strohmeyer, the eighteen-year-old boy who raped and strangled a seven-year-old girl in the women's restroom at a Nevada casino a few years ago? Perhaps you also remember his best friend, David Cash, who witnessed the struggle between Strohmeyer and the little girl but then walked away without saying or doing anything to prevent what was happening. Nor did Cash report the crime then, as he walked past security guards, or later, when his friend told him he had raped the child and strangled her (Time Magazine 7 Sept. 1998).
In 1998 David Cash was a sophomore at the University of California at Berkeley. When he was interviewed about the incident by the Los Angeles Times, Cash said he was not going "to lose sleep over somebody else's problems," and the only regret he ever expressed was that since Strohmeyer had been arrested and convicted of the crime, he had lost his best friend.
Meanwhile, Berkeley's administration responded to those who wanted Cash off the campus by saying that since he broke no law in Nevada, Berkeley had no grounds for dismissing him or for sanctioning him in any way for his callous and cavalier attitude or for his failure to try to help little Sherrice Iverson.
As terrible as Strohmeyer's crime against Sherrice was, most of us respond to the fact of it with what one might call "ordinary" outrage. We know that such monstrous crimes, and the monsters that commit them, do exist and always have. But David Cash, now--that's something we almost don't know how to comprehend. Ordinary outrage won't do, either for his disregard of everything that means anything in civilized society or in any normal human moral code, or for the fact that there is nothing "on the books" to use to officially censure such behaviors and statements.
Certainly, we did not accept Cash's behavior as normal. He was vilified in op-ed pieces across the country, and a crowd of angry students, often joined by others--including Sherrice's mother--confronted him wherever he went and protested loudly outside his rooms. But they did not have the power to force him to leave Berkeley, and eventually the furor died down, people stopped recognizing his face, and he was probably able to go on with his life as if nothing had ever happened.
And we don't want him to be able to do that, do we?
But, in fact, people do all sorts of terrible things these days and get off scot free. Even worse, outrageously bad behavior tends to attract a certain notoriety, and since our culture makes virtually no distinction between fame and infamy, the advantages that accrue to celebrity are bestowed on the guilty as well as on the great.
Don't forget that the Spur Posse was flown all over the country to appear on talk shows They got their fifteen minutes of fame not for accomplishing something worthwhile, but for having sex with a huge number of girls (many under age, and many by coercion) and keeping score. The look of smug delight on these boys' faces whenever they showed up on TV told us that they felt no shame, nor did they consider their notoriety a punishment. They were simply delighted to be famous and on TV.
Remember Marla Maples, whose only accomplishment was to have an affair with another woman's husband and to break up a family that included several young children? Maples' home town was so proud of her for latching onto Donald Trump (who is, after all, rich and famous) that they had a "Marla Maples Day," complete with a parade and a street named after her. She also landed guest spots on such popular television shows as Designing Women. Sleeping with someone else's husband can be such a smart career move.
Think of Monica Lewinsky. Her "accomplishment" trumps (pun intended) even Marla Maples'. The married man she had an affair with wasn't fabulously wealthy, but he was famous and, oh yeah, the leader of the free world. No little streets or Monica Lewinsky Days for her. She's earned a place in history. Marla Maples' was barely a blip on our celebrity radar-screen. But the mass media did all-Monica all the time coverage for the better part of two years, and the girl is still famous enough to be invited to big Hollywood bashes and to have her own line of expensive signature handbags. Heck, for awhile there she was on more covers than Princess Di!
But read the transcripts of the Tripp tapes and of Lewinsky's grand jury testimony. Doesn't this young woman's behavior, her complete lack of anything vaguely resembling a moral compass, trouble you--nauseate you, even?
So how did we come to such a pass? Lewinsky sold "her story" for megabucks, though the proceeds went mainly to pay off her lawyers. But in a culture that feeds off celebrity, her fame is a very valuable commodity, and she has been able to do quite well by trading off her famous name, even if the way she became famous was by--well, the less said there, where too much has already been said, the better.
Perhaps what is so disturbing about David Cash's story is that it is just a more extreme example of what is a pervasive attitude in our culture:
anything goes. The only unforgivable crime, it seems, is to be "judgmental"--i.e., to suggest that someone is guilty or even evil, rather than just misguided, misunderstood, or unlucky. There seem to be no certain standards of right and wrong.
Oh, sure, we know it was wrong for Strohmeyer to rape and murder little Sherrice Iverson. But he as, after all, "just a kid" himself. He even asserted, in the statement he read before being sentenced, that he was a victim of circumstances, caught up in a powerful current he could not resist. He actually blamed David Cash for not stopping him or reporting him! "He makes me sick," Strohmeyer said of his erstwhile best friend.
Well, he makes me sick, too. And so does Jeremy Strohmeyer. And while I'm at it, let me go on record as being sickened by Marla Maples, Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton, David Morris, the Prom Mom (who gave birth at her prom and killed the baby in the ladies' room, before returning to dance the night away), Diane Zamora (who with her boyfriend murdered a classmate because he'd had sex with her), the couple who murdered their newborn and threw him in the dumpster outside their motel room, the English nanny who murdered eight-month-old Matthew Eap in Massachusetts, O.J. Simpson, the Spur Posse, the popular high school football players who raped a retarded girl with a large plastic baseball bat and a stick, and all of those other nasty, creepy people that our society doesn't seem to know how to shun and punish for behaving in ways that
decent people just do not tolerate.