By Lenore Skenazy
There was an outpouring of online sympathy for the parents of the little boy killed by an alligator at a Disney resort in Orlando last week, which just goes to show that sometimes the Internet has a heart, and sometimes it calls for blood.
The question is why.
In contrast with the half a million people who signed a petition against Michelle Gregg, the mom whose 3-year-old son got into the gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo, leading zookeepers to kill the 400-pound gorilla named Harambe, commentators did not go nearly as insane over the fact that officials “put down” several Disney-area alligators without being positive which of them, if any, dragged 2-year-old Lane Graves to his death.
It was with relief that I found far more comments castigating those who would blame the parents than actual parental castigation. It is like the high road was the cool place to be, this time.
“It’s ridiculous to blame the parents who were sitting a few feet away and did all they could to save him,” read a typical online comment. And, on Twitter, “Pray for his family. Don’t judge.”
Compare to: “#GorillaIncident Mom is totally at fault shoot her.”
So, what accounts for the vast difference in response to these two incredibly rare toddler-animal tragedies that took place at family-friendly places?
Well first of all, of course, the 2-year-old died. There’s no way to say that the Graves family hasn’t suffered enough. (And what an eerily sad last name.) Also, even as the story broke, we heard that the father desperately tried to open the alligator’s jaws and couldn’t. No one could dare accuse that dad of not doing enough.
Then, too, there’s the question of racism—although I think many people were jumping on the Cincinnati mom before they knew she was African-American. Graves was white.
And there’s even the question of species-ism: Gorillas look like us. Alligators don’t. (At least, not like most of us.)
But even more than all that, I think that so many people were eager to flog the Cincinnati mom because the mob needed someone to blame (that’s what mobs do), and moms are a favorite target these days.
This is the era when we have come to believe that mothers can and must be in control of their kids at all times. Any mom who takes her eyes off her kids—and we hear about it—is automatically a public enemy (Think of all those moms berated for letting their kids wait in the car a few minutes, or play at the park unsupervised). So if anything bad happens to an unsupervised kid, it is the mom’s fault.
But with the alligator incident, the mob seems to be aiming not at the mom, but Disney.
“I say the Grand Floridian is responsible for not having signs posted about the gators!!” read one typical comment.
The similarity here is that if there is any entity we love to blame more than moms, it’s corporate America. So if we truly believe a mom should be been thinking, “Well, I know this has never happened once in 38 years of the gorilla exhibit, but what if today my kid tries to get in—and does? I better be preparing for that!” then we are also quite capable of thinking, “Well, just because we are one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world and not once has a guest ever been killed by an alligator, nonetheless we should be constantly warning vacationers about that gruesome possibility.”
In both cases, the crowd has found someone it can second-guess after a once-in-a-generation (or two) tragedy. That way it doesn’t have to contemplate the unpredictability of life, or the fact that there is no such thing as perfect safety, or perfect parents. It can simply sit back and blame.
Armchair blaming has become America’s favorite coping device.
Lenore Skenazy is a keynote speaker and author and founder of the book and blog Free-Range Kids.