Sunday, April 28, 2019

Smart Justice: The Jayme Closs Story (Lifetime, 2019)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2019 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night’s Lifetime TV-movie was based on a story that broke last October 15 — 13-year-old girl Jayme Closs was kidnapped from her home in Barron, Wisconsin by a man named Jake Patterson, who had apparently been stalking her for weeks just waiting to make his move on her. What made this story particularly bitter was that before kidnapping Jayme, Patterson shot and killed her parents — Jayme literally watched her mother die — and she was held in captivity for three months before she finally got the chance to escape. She ran from the locale in which Patterson had held her and literally ran into the right person, retired social worker Jeanne Nutter, who was able to calm her down and to get a local family to take her in until the police could arrive. Nutter was also able to talk Jayme down and help her start the healing process. I remember hearing about this story when it first “broke” and wondering — perhaps from seeing too many Lifetime movies — if Jayme were herself the perpetrator: if she had wanted her parents dead, gone online to recruit someone she could seduce, psychologically and sexually, into doing the job for her, and enlisted her alleged “abductor” as her co-conspirator. That would have frankly made a more interesting bit of drama than the truth, which was that Jayme Closs was a Room-style abductee whose kidnapper held her in bondage (physical and psychological) and subjected her to physical violence as well as sexual abuse. 

Alas, instead of the good-clean-dirty-fun I was hoping for from a Lifetime dramatic movie on the subject, the producers decided to go the documentary route, enlisting — of all people — Elizabeth Smart, the good little Mormon girl who was kidnapped by a couple who wanted her to be the man’s second wife. There’ve been two TV-movies about her but both have been hampered by their “official” nature — the first was sponsored by Smart’s parents and the second by Smart herself — and in particular the fact that none of the Smarts seem to have questioned their faith despite the obvious “theodicy” problem (the theological term for the contradiction between the allegedly peaceful, loving nature of God and the fact that He, She or It allows terrible things to happen) raised by Elizabeth Smart having been kidnapped by a man who wanted her to fulfill the darker sides of Mormonism while she clung to the white-bread Mormon beliefs with which she’d been raised. For this show —which Lifetime called Smart Justice: The Jayme Closs Story, which makes it seem like they’re planning a series of periodic specials in which Elizabeth Smart, in all her blonde goody-two-shoes Mormonism homespun beauty and waving her husband and two kids in front of us as if to say that the experience of being captured and turned into a sex slave doesn’t have to turn you off from holy reproduction and the bothersome necessity of getting fucked in order to do it, will dredge up fellow victims of similar crimes. 

Smart hosted the show and featured other victims of similar crimes — all teenagers when they were abducted, though some were sexually mature and some weren’t; some were held for just days while others were captive for a month or more — one of them was one of the Cleveland abductees who got their own Lifetime movie — though, disappointingly, the show did not feature Jayme Closs herself or any members of her family (including the aunt who took her in following the murder of her parents and who is raising her now). A New York Post article on the program says that was on the advice of law enforcement — “Members of the Closs family cooperated with the show’s producers but were advised by the Department of Justice to decline interviews, according to Lifetime” — which seems a bit odd given that Patterson pleaded guilty and is already serving a life sentence for the crime, so it’s not like the Closses giving public interviews will screw up the case against Jayme’s kidnapper. The show lasted only an hour and a half — a half-hour shorter than the Lifetime norm (were they hoping for an interview with Jayme and leaving space open for it?) — and was immediately rerun right after it was over. Bereft of an appearance by the central character, what emerged most strongly in this program was what I’ve called the democratization of extreme S/M. It used to be that only people in the upper reaches of society — like the two people who gave sadomasochism its name, the Baron Leopold von Sacher-Masoch and the Marquis de Sade — could afford to kidnap people and rape and torture them for their own sexual thrills. Now it seems like a crime anyone can do, and indeed what came through most strongly in the accounts of Smart and her fellow victims (Gina DeJesus — the Cleveland abductee — Kara Robinson, Sarah Maynard, Katie Beers, Denise Huskins and Alicia Kozakiewicz) is how similar the stories are, how much sexual abductions — like mass shootings — have become so much of the social fabric that they’ve largely lost their sensational appeal. 

The horrors these women were subjected to (no doubt there are male victims of this sort of sick crime, and if anything they probably suffer even more once they are rescued; a straight man subjected to Gay rape is going to have not only the same issues as a woman subjected to heterosexual rape but additional ones as well, including confusion and questioning about his own sexual identity) are terrible but also follow such a tight pattern that if Hannah Arendt were still alive she could probably cite them as yet more evidence of “the banality of evil.” I’m not sure Elizabeth Smart is the best interlocutor we could ask for on this trip to the dark side — though she said that as soon as she was kidnapped “the old Elizabeth Smart died,” in fact she seems to have grown up to be pretty much the same sort of person she’d have become if she’d never been abducted, a good little white-bread Mormon housewife with the obligatory husband and kids — and a lot of this show is couched in the language of “support,” not only helping the women survive psychologically but achieve normal relationships with men. That would seem to be the hardest part: I can’t help but think that if your introduction to sex was at the hands of a sick kidnapper who wanted you precisely because you were an underage little virgin, you’d likely never lose that loathing of the whole idea of sex and grow up with the thought that sex was a horrible thing to which people subjected you because they wanted to overpower you and deny you your humanity. (My own limited acquaintance with molestation victims would tend to support this; the ones I’ve known have an odd balance between projecting themselves in highly sexualized situations and drawing back in horror from the actual sex act, as if they learned from their molestations that sex is a basically evil thing but something you have to endure in order to be allowed to survive.)