I've had enough. That's all I could think while turning away from the screen, after watching a little boy reenact hitting a little girl's skull with a flashlight on national television. It wasn't bad enough that the investigators on the CBS special The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey needed to test their theory that Ramsey's brother could have killed her with a blow to the head from a heavy flashlight. No, they needed to have replicas of child-sized skulls sitting atop what resembled T-ball tees. For added measure, they placed some blond wigs on the skulls, too. Was it necessary? Is it any of this anniversary coverage of Ramsey's death necessary? I was only 9 years old when Ramsey was brutally murdered and became a household name. I can still remember seeing her little smile, super-blond hair, and pageant costumes on the covers of tabloids at the local supermarket. But I was too young to really follow the story, or understand what happened to that little girl in Boulder, CO, during the Christmas holidays. Twenty years later, the nation has turned to revisit her story, in the same way that we revisited the O.J. Simpson trial. CBS aired its six-hour limited docuseries on her murder last month. It followed Investigation Discovery's JonBenét: An American Murder Mystery and A&E's two-hour documentary The Killing of JonBenét: The Truth Uncovered. Her brother Burke went on Dr. Phil to defend himself against theories that suggest he was the killer (he is suing CBS over the allegations). Dateline aired a new report that included a first-ever interview with the 911 operator who answered Patsy Ramsey's call.
And now, Lifetime is set to release its own highly dramatized version of events with Who Killed JonBenét? In the trailer, a little girl says in creepy voice-over, "I was Little Miss Colorado. This Christmas, I would be 26. But to everyone, I’ll always be 6.” All this because true crime is experiencing a renaissance as must-see television, 20 years later.
We're fascinated by real-life crime stories because they're morbidly thrilling, like a car wreck on the side of the road, and because they're frightening in the way of horror movies. But true-crime stories also offer a sense of comfort — we get to see horrible, unconscionable violence that actually took place from the safety of our homes, at a remove from the danger. And sometimes we even get to play detective, wondering if we've uncovered the mystery before the investigators. But I have to ask: Are you entertained by this? Really? Does that bother you? Thanks to all of the series and specials, I've learned quite a bit about the gruesome murder of that little girl — more than I ever wanted to. Reportedly, the A&E special showed her bruised and discolored neck. The CBS special showed photos of her bound hands and even replicated her entire home, splicing footage from inside the model with video from inside her real home the day Ramsey's body was found. It's all unnecessary, disgusting, and exploitative. Unlike O.J. Simpson, JonBenét Ramsey was never a public figure or even a grown-up. She wasn't accused of murder; she was a victim with no voice. The investigation into her death never reached some deeper national significance or revealed America's relationship with race or fame. Retreading Ramsey's case has always been an excuse for us to gawk at this family's tragedy and feed our obsession with unsolved mysteries. We may never know who killed her, and while my heart sinks at the idea of someone getting away with murdering an innocent child, I have to let it be. Because we aren't gaining anything by reliving it. We are simply staring open-mouthed, in disgust and awe, at this dead little girl. There were people who loved her, played with her, and lived with her. They're forced to relive her loss again and again because of the public's obsession with true crime as entertainment. News flash: JonBenét Ramsey's murder isn't entertainment. It's tragedy. And it's high time we all moved on.