A 16-year-old Texan boy killed four people in a drunken car crash and claimed in court to be a victim of “affluenza”: the ignorant and unsustainable product of efforts to keep up with the Joneses. Affluenza affects people enthralled and sometimes blinded by the pursuit of more. This condition, symptomatic of a culture that holds financial success as one of the highest achievements possible, evidentially results in an afflicted individual’s lack of comprehension of the causes and effects of certain actions.
The boy, Ethan Couch, killed four pedestrians by veering off-road and then into a parked car, also having had two friends stowed away in the bed of his pickup truck. Both were severely injured. One is no longer able to move or speak because of a severe brain injury, and the other suffered from broken bones and other internal injuries. The court ruled that the boy attend a pricey rehabilitation center, funded by his own parents, and is to remain sober and off the road. If the boy had not been a product of a very wealthy family, he would have undoubtedly been sent to jail; likely tried as an adult. Because of his cushy upbringing, the boy seemingly never learned how to connect harmful behavior with its direct, harmful consequences. This example of affluenza is a blown-up version of the ignorance of affluent people. So, it sounds like affluenza affects people whose caretakers—most often their parents or perhaps nannies—failed to adequately explain and enforce systems of punishment that should have been inflicted for the
sake of helping the child understand the actual effects of their actions. When a child is in a position where they feel as much in control as their parent, they may be prone to believe that even if they do something wrong, they will still get almost all that they want. A child who draws all over their parents’ kitchen walls can be made to help clean up the mess themselves, or can have their Nintendo DS taken away from them, while they still have the option to go up into their room and play Xbox. When the idea of consequence is inconsequential in itself, such a problem as affluenza arises.
Interestingly, reports of Couch’s case claim that the teen had remained relatively unshaken by the event, such as a child who believes they’ll still get the better, if not best, of any situation no matter their actions. Three hours after the incident, the 16-year- old’s blood alcohol levels were three time as much as the legal limit. Even upon sobering up, Couch showed no remorse for his actions, he did not exhibit any personal need to repent. Will those afflicted by affluenza always be capable of buying their way around detrimental effects, or will affluenza be deemed a symptom of bad parenting, something counted as invalid in court? Any individual has the capacity to feel remorse for something they have done. This feeling is not always immediate. This initial affluenza is valid; the person did not deeply realize the repercussions of their actions. But after seeing the pain they have caused, any person is capable of accepting all that they have done and seeking help for themselves. The effects of affluenza cannot last a lifetime.