Saturday, February 2, 2008

status offenses

teaching about status offenses in my delinquency class this week, i showed students results of the self-report survey they took on the first day of class. whenever i give such a survey, students always want clarification about whether i'm asking about their current behavior or their behavior before they turned 18.

it always struck me as strange that we criminalize age-inappropriateness. at twelve, i remember thinking that age-graded laws were a complete sham. i understood why cigarettes, pornography, booze, and gambling might be bad for me, of course, but i couldn't get my head around the idea that they'd suddenly be rendered harmless once i turned 16 or 18 or 19 or 21.*

if you are looking for a 40-second illustration of the contradictions of age-grading, check out this old mojo nixon public service announcement. in the late eighties, mr. nixon appeared in a fine series of revolutionary feel-good p.s.a.s for mtv, directed by ted demme and mark pellington. they are far less profane than mr. nixon's recordings or his radio shows, so perhaps better suited for classroom use. the libertarian poli-sci major from ohio u now deejays for sirius radio, as the loon in the afternoon, with a saturday night political show titled lyin' ***ers.

* when i graduated high school, the drinking age was 19 in minnesota, 21 in illinois, but only 18 in wisconsin. this differential was a major topic of conversation during my freshman year in madison.

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