Work of Art — Affluenza vs. povertenza

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By Art Trujillo

Just when you think you’ve heard it all, there comes a new excuse, a new diagnosis, a new cop-out. Anyone who’s followed the news recently probably has learned a new word: “affluenza.”

Give us a break, your honor! But first let me explain:

A 16-year-old boy, a Texas youth, drunk, with three times the presumed level of intoxication, loses control of his truck and plows into a group of pedestrians. In its wake, the massacre takes the lives of a woman, her daughter and two others.

The driver, Ethan Couch, received an underwhelming sentence of 10 years’ probation after confessing to having been intoxicated. His defense team came up with a term that explains everything. The drunk kid suffered from “affluenza,” which they defined as “a psychological malaise that affects young people who may come from families with money.”

Oh my, how conveeenient!

The surviving husband and father, Eric Boyles, said, “You look at 180 years of future life taken from the four individuals . . . . “ Boyles’ concern — quite justifiably — is that the indulged youth will be on probation for 10 years, part of which will be in a “country club” setting instead of a prison. He will not have to spend a single night in jail, even after surveillance video showed him and some friends stealing cases of beer, getting drunk and traveling 70 in a 40 zone. The victims had stopped by the side of the road to change a tire.

Ah, the perils facing people with opulent backgrounds!

Maybe the rest of us grew up in the wrong era and were subjected to the wrong influence (not to be confused with “affluence”). We were accountable for our actions and would never resort to that kind of defense. Look for rich kids’ parents and their attorneys to invoke that catch phrase in the future as they argue that the kids are victims of a lifestyle in which wealth brings privilege and where there are no consequences for bad behavior.

Couch’s quite-affluent dad has agreed to foot the half-million-dollar-a-year bill for the out-of-state rehabilitation facility.

Fittingly, the judge in the case, Jean Boyd, says she doesn’t plan to run for re-election.

In rapid response to the wrist slapping meted out to Ethan Couch, a contributor to a publication called “Our Legaci” satirically parsed the issue from the standpoint of someone extremely impoverished. The message broached the subject from a hypothetical case in which the assumption was that a Davontaye has committed the same crime as Ethan Couch, but this kid’s dirt-poor and a minority.

In part the message in “Our Legaci” read, “I know that Davontaye’s actions caused the deaths of four people. But please don’t give him life in prison. He suffers from Povertenza. You may not know about this condition, but Povertenza is an illness that people from impoverished socio-economic backgrounds have.”

On the theme of why kids from obscenely wealthy backgrounds often avoid stiff penalties, the writer of the “Povertenza” piece cites the inability to access high-quality education and employment. And it mentions Davontaye’s neighborhood, “which sees so much death and destruction” that the youth might suffer from post traumatic stress disorder in addition to “povertenza.”

Shocking it is that a pair of high-priced lawyers was able to conjure up such a term to describe Ethan’s condition.

Stranger yet is the fact that Judge Jean Boyd bought the defense’s diagnosis and terminology.

In no way can anyone argue that in the case of Ethan Couch, justice prevailed.

No, money prevailed.

• • •

There was once a politician whose defense for a DWI accident was what a doctor imaginatively called “the human brewery syndrome.” We can hear him now arguing his case as cops work to investigate: “Honest, Offisher, you shee, it wasn’t liquor that got me drunk; it was food. My gut does its own fermenting.”

And that kind of bodily chemistry ought to caution people against driving on a full stomach.

• • •

Editha Bartley, who writes the Optic’s Palabras Pintorescas column each Friday, ended last week’s column by saying she regretted running out of space and thus being unable to send me a recipe for fruit cake. As magnanimous as her intentions are, I believe I can do without the recipe — and the fruitcake as well.

You see, as I’ve tried to make clear, around the time of the Punic Wars, there was a fruitcake. Only one. That same cake has never been eaten, even though it has the staying power of an average Twinkie.

And that same cake circulates around the globe, each recipient gifting it to someone else. I figure that quite soon that cake will arrive at my house for Christmas. But I’m not salivating at all.

I’ll simply re-package the cake and send it off — somewhere.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com or art@rezio.net