Thoughts About Fame and Bad Decisions After Jussie Smollet

So, now we know that Jussie Smollett was not the victim of a hate crime. And we know that Smollett was actually just dissatisfied with his salary on Empire. And, we know lots and lots more about Smollett than we did a short time ago. For some of us, myself included, who are not fans of the show, who have seen maybe one or two episodes, we know loads more about Smollett thanks to the news and tabloids and pundits than we did a few weeks ago.

All of this news swirling around now that it has been revealed that what we once thought was a horrific attack is actually a made-up story and a false police report prompted me to do a smidgen of research. I know from some other writing that I have done, and because I am a human on this planet, that there are some types of crimes — real crimes that actually happen — that frequently go underreported. Among those crimes are sexual assault of minors by a family member or clergy member, sexual assault of women (especially teens), and financial fraud against a senior citizen. I wanted, though, to get some information about how often people file false police reports, not how often they fail to report real crimes.

It is fairly difficult to determine how often women falsely report sexual assault because, well, there are so many inconsistencies in how that data is collected. Some estimates are that between 2 and 10 percent of all sexual assaults reported are not actual sexual assaults (that is a scary number for those accused, though) (Lonsway, Archimbault & Lisak, 2009).

Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan, estimates that false convictions may hover at around 4.1 percent, which means not that reported crimes rise to that staggering a number, but if we extrapolate out of that a reasonable number using the Drake Equation, let’s say that half as many — 2.05 percent of all crimes — are not accurately reported or are made up, then we might get to the meat of things. Because, after all, we would have to factor in how many crimes are unsolved, net no arrest or conviction at all, because there is no perpetrator, right? Staggering numbers would reveal then, that roughly 1,197,000 violent crimes were reported in 2018, so nearly 24,000 of them are, or certainly could be, fake.

Here is the takeaway:

We are spending precious oxygen discussing Jussie Smollett and his bad decision. And it was a doozy of a bad decision. No one could deny that. He no doubt had many other ways to show his dissatisfaction with his salary, working conditions, whatever things he wanted to change. So let’s take that part off the table. Smollett could have done something else. That is not my point. My point is — we are obsessed with his bad choice because, and only because, he is famous. If Jussie Smollett was just a guy from Chicago who set up his own beating and paid some guys $3,500 (not a ton of money, I might add) to make it look like they gay-bashed late at night, we would have forgotten him among the other twenty-four thousand. Twenty-four-thousand fakes. But instead, we are giving Jussie Smollett air time and

Why do I even care, you might ask? I seem to be giving him oxygen as well, after all.

Well, I do think he deserves a little air time. He was on a pretty popular television series. But we should all quiet down pretty quickly, and move past it. Clearly, thousands of false police reports are made. There are many more important things to discuss. All of us — not some, but all — are one bad decision away from a similar fate, and yet we will not be splattered on the nightly news for rabid dissection.

And that is the important part.

If you — YOU — file a false police report tomorrow, you will not be discussed, taken apart piece by piece, examined for flaws and shortcomings, made into a meme and ruined forever. You will be barely noticed. Sure, you will be charged and you will need to pay an attorney or be given a public defender. Your friends and family will know you have done wrong. But you will move on, eventually. You will not face a firing squad. People will not determine your motives before you do. And if you question whether you are capable of such a thing, and are sure that you are not, take a moment and meditate on what you might be capable of if you find your wife in bed with your brother, or your boss. Consider what you might want to do if you discover that your daughter is stripping for a living or that your accountant ran off with your life savings. That your homeowner’s insurance lapsed the day before your house fire. I don’t mean ponder these things for a moment, I mean meditate on them. Consider all the angles. Insurance fraud might look okay. Bashing in a windshield in the work parking lot could be attractive.

We are all human, and we are all fragile.

Some of us chose a life of relative anonymity, and some of us made great (or at least acceptable) choices. Some of us did not.

There but for the grace of the flying spaghetti monster go we all.