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The Hemingway Award

February 26th, 2005 · 4 Comments

Borrowing a page from Andrew Sullivan, I decided earlier this month at Hit and Run to inaugurate the Allan Bloom and Jedediah Purdy awards.

Well, this Michelle Malkin column seems like a good first candidate for the Ernest Hemingway Award for Journalists with No Built-In Bullshit Detector. It’s about the practice of “cutting”—you may recall that the title character in the film Secretary did this—deliberately injuring yourself as a way of dealing with pain or trauma or depression. Says Malkin:

In Britain, health care researchers estimate that one in 10 teenagers engages in addictive self injury.

That sounded awfully high, so I took a look at the actual report by said researchers. And, funnily enough, they estimate no such thing. They found about 10 percent had engaged in some form of “deliberate self-harm,” which also included poisoning. Some of those may have been suicide attempts or pseudo-attempts, which, while obviously a bad thing, should probably be regared as a distinct phenomenon, even if they’re correlated. But here’s waht the report goes on to say:

Self-harm is a clear sign of distress. Unfortunately it is one which is often repeated, with some 10 to 15 per cent of self-harmers harming themselves again within a year.

I don’t want to minimise how serious this is for the people who do do it—certainly we should be concerned about them—but by any ordinary definition, an “addictive” behavior is something you do, well… addictively. Which at minimum might suggest you repeat the behavior within a year. But her own source has 10 to 15 percent of the total population of self-harmers (mostly, though not exclusively, “cutters”) doing it again within a year. So we’re talking, at the upper end, fewer than 2 percent actually fitting Malkin’s description.

Whatever the number is, of course, it’s a serious issue. But one of Malkin’s later assertions manages to be pretty damn funny anyway:

There is even a new genre of music — “emo” — associated with promoting the cutting culture.

As Begging to Differ observes, Malkin manages to be wrong twice in one very short sentence. First, “a new genre” is a slightly weird way to describe something that’s been around, by most accounts, since the 1985 release of Rites of Spring’s eponymous album. More importantly: Emo’s, like, sad but it doesn’t “promote” cutting. Not even a little. Maybe depressed kids who engage in cutting are also likely to be drawn to sad music, but that’s a little like saying Die Walkure promotes Anschluss.

Finally, she passes on a letter from a parent whose guidance counselor informs her that “70 percent of the kids here cut or know someone who does,” Well, hey, maybe it’s a small school and most everyone knows everyone else, or maybe it really is unusually prevalent there. But there’s no hint of any kind of attempt to follow-up, which one might’ve expected for such a surprising figure.

Oh, and this doesn’t really fall in the same category, but Malkin’s conclusion is just mindblowingly banal:

It may be all fun and games for a Hollywood starlet like [Christina[ Ricci, but her mindless stunts have inspired countless young girls to carve themselves into a bloody stupor. Hollyweird strikes again.

I’m sure the psychologists working on this problem will be gratified that Malkin has identified the deep roots of (mostly) adolescent girls’ feeling they need to mutilate themselves to deal with their pain: Christina Ricci. Sarcasm aside, this hyperbolic exploitation of a real and serious problem to take a gratiuitous swipe at “Hollyweird” if pretty appalling. Shame.

Tags: Journalism & the Media



4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jon // Feb 26, 2005 at 6:14 pm

    “Maybe depressed kids who engage in cutting are also likely to be drawn to sad music, but that’s a little like saying Die Walkure promotes Anschluss.”

    I’d say the latter correlation is a little more plausible.

  • 2 la rant // Feb 27, 2005 at 8:24 am

    I’M SO SAD, I COULD CUT A HILARIOUS PIECE ABOUT DC AND IT’S SERIOUS PUNDITS. editing video is awesome. kind of like blind date, you can make anything real if you want too.
    it’s so late here.


  • 3 Amy Phillips // Feb 28, 2005 at 2:59 pm

    The self-harm report, by the way, counts “use of recreational drugs” and “use of
    alcohol” as methods of self-harm (and they distinguish between those methods and poisoning, so clearly they’re not talking solely about self-administered overdoses). By those criteria, the 10 percent number actually wouldn’t be that surprising…

  • 4 Greg Newburn // Mar 15, 2005 at 11:16 pm

    That Rites of Spring record is bad ass, by the way.