Thirsty Thursday: Who Done Did It? The Mystery of JonBenet and Shapeshifting Sensationalism

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Around the time of 4th of July and apple pie, I proclaimed that Anna Nicole Smith was America’s sweetheart. However, the buzz surrounding this week’s premier of CBS’s The Case Of: JonBenet Ramsey suggests that there is another dearly departed blonde who I may have overlooked for the title. It seems as though the fascination surrounding the murder of the six-year-old has flared once more despite two decades having passed since the tragedy and subsequent tabloid shitstorm.

For those that have somehow remained uninformed of JonBenet’s story, it basically goes as follows: on Boxing Day in Boulder, a 911 called was placed by a mother claiming she woke to find a ransom note and her daughter vanished, although her daughter was later found in the basement of her home, dead. Immediately, police found themselves with countless puzzle pieces that simply could not be put together. The Ramseys claimed an intruder took JonBenet, Colorado police claimed the Ramseys killed her, and the FBI claimed the Colorado police had completely botched the crime scene. And the media? They flocked to that shit like a crusty load on a blue dress because fuck, us peasants want the front row seat to an empire of rich white people crumbling into an avalanche of scandal and intrigue.

Let’s make one thing clear; here at Drunk in a Graveyard, we would never want to make light of the death of a child, or the death of anyone really, unless it’s someone getting nibbled on by Mothman in some type of campy remake. But what I do find absurd are some of the theories that have emerged from the JonBenet episode, and well, y’all know I love me some good old-fashioned fear-mongering 90’s journalism.

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Much like thoughts on the ethics of euthanasia or the appropriateness of pineapple on pizza, the suspected killer of JonBenet is a topic about which everyone seems to want to offer their two cents. Some point to the creepy Santa that performed at private parties at the Ramsey home, while others thought it was the Mrs. trying to cover up an unfortunate consequence of a fit of pageant mom rage. Then there are the tinfoil heads that don’t think she’s even dead at all because of JonBenet’s striking resemblance to Katy Perry.

But can pineapple melt steel beams? According to the CBS docuseries, the answer may just be yes. *Spoiler Alert* The program ultimately points to the idea that Burke, JonBenet’s brother, who was nine at the time of her death, smacked her over the head with a flashlight after she stole a piece pineapple out of his bowl, which led to a brain bleed (turns out people have always felt some type of way about the fruit – I know Monica loves it because the acidity gets the funky taste right out). The parents panicked and hatched some half baked plan to make it look like a staged kidnapping by Al-Qaeda’s resident hash slinging slasher, presumably to protect Burke as well as the family reputation, because, yano, rich people.

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The key to unlocking this theory came down to matters of the stomach; during her autopsy, a piece of half-digested pineapple was found in her tum even though the parents claimed she had gone straight to bed without a snack. Miraculously, a bowl of pineapple covered in Burke’s fingerprints was found on the kitchen table, right next to a big ass flashlight, perfect for whacking. The coup de grace was also that the ransom note was written with paper found inside the house, because a kidnapper from an intelligent “foreign faction,” as the letter claims, totally wouldn’t have come with it already prepared.

CBS’s theory seems plausible enough to me. It does leave the evidence of sexual abuse also discovered during the autopsy unaddressed, but I suppose it’s possible that the assault was unrelated to JonBenet’s murder, which only makes the girl’s short life that much more heartbreaking. I assume she had just seen that funny Santa the day before after all.

So, while the Ramseys may be in on JonBenet’s death, perhaps their intentions were not as malignant as they were painted to be in the heyday of the incident. While it seems confusing at first why the parents would feel safe living with an angry, flashlight-wielding boy, perhaps you have to keep in mind the possibility that that’s not an accurate characterization of Burke in the first place. Kids of all kinds act out. Their brains just kind of operate on the caveman id. Accidents happen sometimes as the result of it (particularly before the era of head injury prevention awareness) and the Ramseys could have had some kind of subconscious fear of having another child taken from them so soon, so they knee-jerkingly covered his ass, and they did so quite sloppily given their distressed mental state.

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At the end of the day, though, as fascinating as trying to weave the facts into coherent theories may be, only JonBenet knows the whole truth, from her abuse, to her murder, and sadly, she’s not much in a position to speak on her own behalf. Personally, I hold the theory that Harambe burned down the dank Mexican joint near my house so that he can have burritos in the afterlife, but as comforting as such a proposal may be, I know it’s not going to bring either of my two favorite institutions back. Similarly in the case of JonBenet, perhaps it is more productive to, of course, preserve her human legacy, but also analyze the ways we talk about the surrounding incident. That leaves us with a glaring question – did America fail JonBenet the same way it failed Anna Nicole? The answer is a little bit of a mixed bag.

On one hand, the privilege of the Ramsey family is what garnered attention for JonBenet and ignited a fight for justice on her behalf, but it was ultimately no more than sentiment since pragmatically, privilege is what allowed her murder to go unsolved (the ability to retain top lawyers, the entire conspiracy to prevent the smearing of their prominent name, and so on). There also seemed to be a ready gang of media outlets to pretty much exploit the case for everything that it was worth, particularly as the story gained widespread tabloid success. The point of genuine concern and outrage stopped and fascination with a sick scandal began. But like with any tabloid headline, the story behind it was painted, not reported.

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Patsy Ramsey was presented as mommy dearest, forcing JonBenet into getting dolled up in pageants to the point where she looked 16, not 6. The subsequent Lifetime movie made about the tragedy even made it seem like it was a kidnapping spurred by JonBenet catching the eye of a pedophile at one of her beauty pageants. An old Dateline documentary even outright blamed the Ramseys for parading their daughter around in a hobby where such a risk lingers. But I mean fuck, what are you supposed to do, cower? Limit your opportunities because someone’s funny uncle might be watching? That doesn’t seem like the kind of lesson we should be teaching parents to instill in their daughters. If anything, it’s good to get out, learn some street smarts, and build confidence. I’m also pretty certain that pedophiles like that potential creepy santa don’t choose victims based on who’s the most hung Timmy on the playground; they take advantage of whoever’s the most easily accessible. So yeah, let’s not go around blaming people’s children for getting murdered because their parents made them look too cute. Thanks.

If nothing else, the CBS program indicates that reporting on JonBenet seems to be taking a move for the tasteful, and, well, accurate. While tabloids still lurk next to the Easter egg pantyhose at the grocery store, clickbait seems to be subtle sensationalism for the new meta millennium. Where those “I WAS KIDKNAPPED AND DRUGGED STORYTIME” YouTube videos seem to diverge from the old is that there isn’t even a fake story to tell. In fact it’s usually not much of a story at all. It’s revealed that some dude drove by the storytimer in a white van and threw half a cigarillo out the window, the end. It’s a flop. I don’t know if that’s better or worse than backing up shocking headlines with damning lies, but it seems to be the cultural phenomenon we’re in the throws of nonetheless. But perhaps the most significant phenomenon of all is that despite living in the “post-shock age” I asserted in the inaugural edition of Thirsty Thursday, the nation continues to be enraptured by one of the most gruesome fringes of the unknown.

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