Back when I was in high school in the late 1970s there was an incident in my town that got a lot of media attention.
A guy was driving downtown and stopped at his bank to get some money. There were no bank machines then. He parked his Corvette out front and left it running with the four ways going. His girlfriend was in the car.
When he came out the car was gone. He called the police.
Arrests were made a little while later and the girlfriend was alright. She was a little too alright to be honest and that is what got the media attention. You see, a guy had jumped in the car to take it for a joy ride without noticing the girl. When he noticed her he started to talk to her and convinced her to join him. They hung out for a few days. During that time, at least as she told the police, she never once asked his name.
They did, however, drive to Montreal and partied a fair bit staying in hotels.
The local paper wrote it up and it got picked up by the wire services. The wire version was a short version of the story, about the same length as my version above only it included names of those involved. It wasn't really news in my home town. Dozens of cars get stolen every year there and none of those incidents make the papers. It was definitely not news anywhere else but it got picked up by papers all over the world.
Johnny Carson mentioned the story including the name of the victim during his weekly monologue.
The journalistic justification for such stories is that they are "human interest". What that really means though is that it's supposed to be funny. I thought it was funny at the time.
I didn't know any of the people involved. Friends of mine claimed to know them but I think they were lying. But I knew a lot about the town and even though I didn't know the guy I should have been able to imagine his life in more charitable terms than I did.
As I've said before it was a mill town. That guy worked must have hard and long to save up to buy that Corvette. It wasn't a wise investment but guys in my town liked Corvettes because they saw them as status symbols. Only working class guys saw them that way back in the 1970s. Everyone else saw them as asshole cars; meaning that was what we assumed about the driver just as most people today see a hopped up Honda and automatically assume the owner is young and male and a jerk.
And that was why it was all so funny. The guy had the wrong values so the fact that he was publicly humiliated was some sort of justice. We knew nothing about him except that he owned a Corvette but that was enough.
A couple of years ago someone E-mailed a similar story. It was about a guy who had been held up as he was getting into his BMW. The thieves took the car. According to the story, which I hope was an urban myth, they also cut his finger off because the BMW had a fingerprint-activated lock. The person who E-mailed me the story thought it was hilarious.
Think about that a while. And notice that these sorts of stories are only funny when they happen to guys.
What is it about a man owning wanting the "wrong" kind of status that somehow makes them deserve to have horrible things happen to them? Where do we get this notion of justice?