Jailbirds: The Schadenfreude Gazette

“Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” – Andy Warhol

Thanks to Arkansas Jailbirds newspaper, that quote gets closer and closer to a sadistic prophecy. Don’t know what “Arkansas Jailbirds” is? Well, it’s basically the bi-monthly printed version of the county jail intake websites showing those in our area who have been arrested. It is simple: just the mug shot of the accused, their name, and the offense(s) that they have been charged with underneath their mug shot picture.

I don’t know what it is about a mug shot that is so fascinating, but they most certainly are. I guess it’s knowing that the reason for the picture is 100% not good. It’s not like when you go on honor roll or get Employee of the Year or Christmas cards they take your mug shot. No, usually (if not always) you are being arrested when the mug shot picture is being taken.

And the expressions are priceless. “Oh snap I’m so busted.” Or “I hope my boss doesn’t see this.” Or “Imsooodrunkijustneedtosleepjustalilbit” or “IWILLKILLYOUALLIAMSERIOUS!!!!!” For whatever reason, the ones that crack me up the most are the ones that look like they think they’re at Olan Mills, just cheesin’ for the camera. “Might as well smile, I’m caught!”

In my house we like to play the “Guess The Offense” game. You look at the mug shot and then just try to guess what they have been busted for. Admittedly, there is some strategy. The younger the person the greater likelihood that it’s simple public intoxication. The worse their hair is messed up the better the chance it’s possession of a controlled substance. Bruises obviously tip off an assault. Watery or glazed eyes often are signs of weed. It’s truly a fun game, beats the hell out of “Apples to Apples” or “Pictionary” I assure you.

Jailbirds is on Twitter

The Arkansas Jailbirds/county jail intake website topic is an interesting one. It’s First Amendment rights versus right to privacy. I had a listener Otto say, “Yes, I have read Jailbirds. Yes, it’s tacky, but when a government starts locking up people and not letting the public know it is not a democracy anymore. Public domain protects everybody’s rights.” Another member of the Loyal and Royal, Sally, countered that saying, “If these are anyone that has been arrested, that doesn’t necessarily correlate to breaking the law. There are people arrested that have charges dropped due to not being guilty all the time. Food for thought: We have a little thing in this country called ‘guilty until proven innocent’. An arrest does not a conviction make.”

The more interesting aspect of it to me is the sheer guilty pleasure we, as a society, seem to take in reading about other people’s misfortune. As long as it’s not us! I mean, how many times have you gotten the text about someone who was in Jailbirds that you and the texter knew? How many times have you gotten the email with the link to the county jail intake of a Razorback athlete? I must have got the Matt Jones one like a dozen times. The Germans summed this phenomenon up with one word: Schadenfreude, which is pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.

And it’s not like the Jailbirds guys came up with this idea – the sheriff’s department did! They just took the idea of the website full of mug shots and put it in print! Imagine if the sheriff’s department had the foresight to actually do what Jailbirds did, and made people PAY to see the mug shots instead of just posting them for free! Seriously? The money from that could have paid for Fayetteville’s new Ferrari of a high school faster than any millage! Why am I just now figuring this out!? Why am I yelling!?

Anyway, nothing adds perspective to your life like reading Jailbirds. Sure, times are tight, but at least I’m not cooking meth! Man, can’t afford to get the car fixed, that sucks, but at least I didn’t get my FOURTH DWI! It’s almost as if Jailbirds has become a modern day version of The Scarlet Letter. Just don’t ask me which meth-head is Hester Prynne, and which DWI arrest is Dimsdale. Because that’s where the simile could lose some steam. Or is it metaphor? Either way people in the Jailbird’s are making Warhol’s off-hand comment look awfully on-point.

Jon Williams is a contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. He also hosts “The Jon Williams Show” mornings on Clear Channel’s 93.3 The Eagle and has lived in Northwest Arkansas for 20 years. Jon’s world revolves around his son Jack and wife Judy, and invites you to join the Loyal and Royal Army of his listeners on Facebook. For more of Jon’s contributions, visit his author page.