June 20, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
One of the most tenacious enemies of the truth is our dependence on fictional narratives. This is not to say those narratives don’t often provide a window on the truth; they do. But when facts collide with a popularly-held narrative, however fictional, we often set aside the facts and keep the narrative. As Coleridge said, we attain “that willing suspension of disbelief” that all art requires.
At the same time, although people may tend to set aside facts that contradict cherished beliefs, over time, those facts can erode belief in anyone who’s not neurotically attached to it.
So I wonder what’ll happen when this show airs (Louisville Courier-Journal, 6/18/14). It seems there’s to be a local television program that’ll follow non-custodial parents behind on their child support payments into court and then into jail if necessary. In other words, viewers will be confronted, not with abstract “deadbeat dads” we’re so often treated to in the news media, but with real flesh and blood people. They’ll have stories to tell, problems to solve. They’ll talk about the loss of jobs, how they could never pay the support ordered, their inability to see their children. Some of them will find friends, relatives, neighbors to help them come up with what they owe. Some won’t and will go to jail and wonder for the cameras how this helps them pay the bill.
Of course many viewers will come to the show with the pre-conceived notion (fictional narrative) that all these people are worthless and irresponsible, because that’s what they’ve been told a thousand times. And many of them will never get beyond that. But I suspect some will. I suspect that the reality, the facts the show will place on their television screens, will have their effect on some people’s awareness of the multiple problems of how child support is set, and how it’s enforced. Like soldiers so often do in warfare, they’ll look at the “other” and see he looks just like them.
So, tawdry as “Deadbeat — Kentuckiana Child Support Court” will unquestionably be, I like the concept. Education is always a good thing, and if the show moves a single person to the realization that what we’re doing about child support is so often wrong, immoral, of questionable constitutionality and unhelpful to kids, it’ll be a success, whatever the motives of its producers.
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