Subtlety In "Mistakes Kids Make" Video Weakens The Message
Amid the horrific allegations of the Steubenville rape trial, I didn't expect to receive an email pitch that commenced with "Did you make a mistake when you were a kid?," even if it was sent before the verdict and CNN's subsequent fraternity-grade reporting. But to answer the question, sure I did. We all did. Golly, there was that one time we threw snowballs at cars and the other time (by "time" I mean "700 or so times, give or take the summers of 1985 through 1990") we mixed-and-matched potions from the cabinet where Mr. Deutsch kept his daddy juice. Arrestable offenses, both. Thank heaven this country had long since been co-opted by the socialists and hippies; otherwise, I'd have found myself in quite the penal pickle.
So yeah, I empathize with any dumb kid who does a dumb-kid thing - up to a point, which is located far, far, far short of what happened in Steubenville. And that's why I have a hard time reconciling my thoughts on personal accountability with the apologist thrust of Mistakes Kids Make's first-ever video fusillade, independent of the peculiar and unfortunate timing of its arrival.
Self-described as "a storytelling project to remind us that the mistakes we make as kids should not ruin the rest of our lives or the lives of our families," Mistakes Kids Make believes that, as a society, we over-punish kids (the organization goes out of its way to use the word "kids," rather than "teenagers" or "young adults") for mistakes (again, "mistakes" and "bad choices," rather than "crimes") made when they were unable to fully understand the consequences of their actions. Judging by the group's web site, it favors a have-cake-and-eat-it-too approach towards discipline and education ("most [kids] would benefit from being held accountable while also getting the kind of support and services necessary to make better decisions in the future").
Does the country have the resources and/or the will to accomplish both goals? Beats the hell out of me. I majored in English. But no. No, it does not. Don't be silly.
Anyway, now that I've inadvertently stamped myself as inflexible punitive man, let me say that I'm somewhat swayed by the just-released clip. Where most PSAs alternately preach and pat their benefactors on the back, this one is an exercise in restraint. Artful - dig that Keith Haring-ish animation - and borderline meditative, it ranks among the most subtly angled PSAs I've seen in some time.
That restraint, however, ultimately undercuts its authority. What Mistakes Kids Make attempts to do in the clip is distinguish between violent "mistakes" and lesser ones, then ask why similar penalties are meted out for both. Okay, that's a legitimate question. But the video barely even poses it, instead retreating behind non-loaded language about "full potential" and "role models" and half-formed potential solutions like "what if policies were more adaptable?" Throw in some sloppiness, courtesy of the clip's bold, alternative spelling of "alchohol," and it comes across as a minor-league effort.
As for the particular timing of its debut, I can't be the only one who connected the release and promotion of the clip with the Steubenville trial. Maybe that was Mistake Kids Make's intent, to hurl itself into the crucible of the debate at a moment when it remains pitched. If so, the organization should've taken pains to distinguish between the Steubenville rape - the type of conduct, one hopes, that Mistakes Kids Make or any other sane-minded entity would never pass off as a flight of youthful fancy - and acts that instead brand the perpetrator as immature, easily led or just plain stupid.
I appreciate a solid redemption arc as much as the next guy, assuming the next guy doesn't work for the Arizona police force, and I'm fortunate that my myriad teenage dumbasseries haven't trailed me through my 92.5 percent law-abiding adulthood. That said, as a kid/teen/whatever, I never committed grand theft auto, an offense that Mistakes Kids Make seems to file under totally-not-cool-but-excusable. The clip derives its power from its subtlety, but that very subtlety is what weakens its message. Are the words "penal reform" really that loaded?