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Where’s Maddy?

June 4, 2007

Something strange is happening to our culture as appeals for the missing become more and more prevalent.

By now, just about everyone in the world has heard of Madeleine McCann. She’s a beautiful, middle class white child who went missing in Portugal in March. Maybe you’ve had an email in your inbox. Maybe you’ve been invited to join a Facebook group. Maybe you’ve seen the posters on the underground.

Maddy’s parents have done a brilliant job of keeping her profile high – the best chance of finding their child. Where other people might have given in to despair by now, gone home and let the police ‘do their job’, they have been in the media spotlight everyday, working the media – manipulating it, even – to keep the world focused on their child.

It’s admirable. Imagine if some one you cherished went missing: wouldn’t you want to do everything in your power to get them back? While there are signs of a media backlash against the Maddy story, this is just mean spirited. They cannot be faulted in any way for doing everything in their power to find their girl.

The case of Madeleine McCann is startling for the way it highlights inequality.

As Suspect Paki points out, what seems unfair is all the lost children who don’t have advocates as well-placed and media savvy as Maddy’s parents. What about the street kids that disappear in South Africa and Brazil? The children who get raped? The Palestinian kids targeted by Israeli snipers? The children deported from Britain in dawn raids?

They may not be as rich or beautiful, but they are all as precious as Maddy. If the media really want to make themselves useful they can focus on the rights of children, and run campaigns for less photogenic kids too.

Our culture is going through something strange regarding hostage taking and disappearance at the moment. There’s the BBC reporter Alan Johnson, kidnapped in Gaza. There’s the five Britons seized in Iraq, the British sailors taken hostage by Iran, as well as the countless Iraqis who disappear in Baghdad – once again pointing to the inequality of hostages. We never learn the names of the Iraqi disappeared.

Kidnap and disappearance – whether by terrorists, criminals or paedophiles – is clearly a major cultural phenomenon at the moment. Are there more kidnappings than before, or do we merely notice them more?

Maybe we notice it more because mobile phones, Facebook and other media have made it so much easier to find people and stay in touch. Disappearance seems like an affront to our ‘right’ to be in contact with everyone all the time, and losing some one in a connected world is twice as frightening.

Keep a close eye on your loved ones, and don’t rely on Facebook to keep friendships alive.

And if you do see Maddy, report it here.

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