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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Jeremy Meeks: The Media Sensation Mugshot Hunk

     In our celebrity driven culture that puts a high premium on good looks, it's not surprising that a young, good-looking convicted felon with street gang credentials can attract thousands of adoring fans. While beauty is only skin deep, and a lot of beautiful celebrities are narcissistic jerks, it's beauty, not talent, achievement or decency that gets them into People Magazine, one of America's most popular and puerile publications. The overnight fame of a young criminal named Jeremy Ray Meeks is testimony to the power of good looks, the influence of social media, and the shallowness of American culture.

     Jeremy Meeks can thank police officers in Stockton, California for his fifteen minutes of fame. On Wednesday, June 18, 2014, pursuant to a joint law enforcement crackdown on street gang activity, officers pulled over Meek's car. A search of the vehicle resulted in the discovery of 9 mm ammunition, an unregistered .45-caliber pistol, a small quantity of marijuana, and two handgun magazines. When taken into custody, Meeks was accompanied by a 23-year-old man who, like himself, was serving time on probation.

     A San Joaquin County prosecutor charged Meeks with eleven felony counts related to firearms possession, gang membership, and probation violations. When someone in the Stockton Police Department posted Meeks' mugshot, the accused gang member with the high cheek bones, chiseled face, and striking blue eyes, became an instant media sensation. (To me, the gaunt arrestee with the vacuous expression on his face looks a lot like the male fashion models you see in J.C. Penny ads.)

     At his arraignment, the judge posted Meeks' bail at $1 million. While the suspected street gangster cooled his heels in the San Joaquin slammer, someone on Facebook posted his mugshot and created a fan page in his honor. In a matter of days, the Facebook page attracted 80,000 "likes," 21,000 comments, and 9,500 "shares." Not only that, news outlets like USA Today, TMZ, "Inside Edition," and New York Magazine published his mugshot and featured his story. (I wouldn't be surprised if Meeks makes the cover of People Magazine.)

     Jeremy Meeks mother, Katherine Angier, taking advantage of the media frenzy surrounding her outlaw son, set up a fundraising website that features photographs of him with his 3-year-old son. On the GoFundMe site, she addressed the issue of his gang-related tattoos that includes an inked teardrop beneath his left eye (a mark that honors a gang killing), the word "crip" (Crips gang) on his arm, and other prominent tattoos on his neck: "He has old tattoos which causes him to be stereotyped. (Wasn't that the idea behind the tattoos in the first place?) He's my son and he is so sweet. Please help him get a fair trial or else he'll be railroaded."

     By June 21, 2014, Angier had raised $2,000 for her son's defense.

     So, who is this sweet boy with the gang tattoos and fashion model face? In 2004, he left prison after serving two years for grand theft. A year later, in Spokane County, Washington, a prosecutor charged him with identify theft in the second degree for impersonating his brother, Emery Meeks. That prosecutor also charged him with resisting arrest, a count that was later dismissed. When the dust settled in the Washington case, Meeks ended up on probation.

     Stockton police and the prosecutor in San Joaquin County, California have expressed puzzlement over the Meeks media sensation. I guess these law enforcement practitioners don't realize that a segment of the American public has always considered the good looking outlaw a romantic figure. Meek's mother, by calling her son "sweet," might end up destroying his image and hastening  his return to obscurity.


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