Media partly to blame for ‘Runaway Bride’ debacle

Reality shows like MTV’s “The Real World,” where people expose every detail of their lives for the entertainment of viewers, are outdated. The new method for obtaining that oft-desired “15 minutes of fame” is to runaway from your own wedding. You’ll get more attention splashed on you than any “Real World” character ever did, and all those embarrassing personal factoids will surely get national exposure.

Jennifer Wilbanks, a.k.a. “the runaway bride,” now has her entire life thrown in front of the cameras, with plenty of average Americans making snap judgments on what type of person she really is. From her mental stability, to her prior shoplifting troubles, to how wide her eyes are, there is an endless stream of Wilbanks-related trivia to poke fun at.

This woman’s pre-marriage nervousness has received national attention. If she had just come forth with her feelings, she would have only been embarrassed in front of the wedding’s 600 guests, rather than the entire nation.

My feelings about this woman, and her situation, are mixed. I believe Wilbanks should have to financially repay her community in some way for the trouble she caused, as was the case for Audrey Seiler, who falsely claimed she had been abducted in 2004. Wilbanks should have been “woman” enough to come forward with her problems rather than arrange her own disappearance.

But I also believe that Wilbanks is not to blame for all of the media attention her story has received, which inevitably led to more money being spent on her search.

Wilbanks comes from what one reporter called “mainstream U.S.A.,” meaning that Wilbanks is a white woman who disappeared from white suburbia. Add to it that Wilbanks and her fianc?, John Mason, both come from prominently wealthy families. Mason’s father is the former mayor of the city where the couple lives.

Had Wilbanks not been a decent-looking white woman who lived in a white neighborhood and came from, and was marrying into, a wealthy family, would the mainstream media have jumped on the story? Probably not.

In a case similar to that of the “runaway bride,” a man is now being dubbed “the runaway groom.” Kenneth Edward Souza got cold feet the night before his wedding, and let his bride-to-be tell their guests of his disappearance while still in her wedding dress.

Facts surrounding the two cases are very similar. Wilbanks and Souza both left all their valuables behind; Wilbanks reportedly left her engagement ring, and Souza left his prayer book. The families of both runaways suspected foul play, and told the media just that, while the police investigating both cases said there was no evidence crimes had been committed.

The difference between the two cases is that Wilbanks’ family offered a $100,000 reward, Souza had previously disappeared on two separate occasions, and Wilbanks had previously arranged her disappearance, while Souza’s seemed to have been a spur of the moment decision.

But what really made the difference in these two cases? Was it the money or the previous disappearances? Considering that Souza’s disappearance only made local news, the money obviously influenced the national hype over the Wilbanks case.

The media jumped at the fact that there was a $100,000 reward for Wilbanks reappearance, and they liked the fact that like Laci Peterson, Dru Sjordan, Chandra Levy and Audrey Seiler, she was a pretty white woman who had disappeared from a ritzy white neighborhood.

I wonder where the national attention is for all the other people who aren’t white that have gone missing. No one human life is more important than another, and the thousands of people who go missing every day deserve equal treatment when being searched for. I should not be able to name five white women who have gone missing in the past decade, and none of any other ethnicity.

It’s also noteworthy that these so-called “mainstream U.S.A.” women all either faked their own disappearances, or were kidnapped by “mainstream” white men.