by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
March 11, 2009
'CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER'
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Eight years ago my curiosity was aroused when a beautiful, rich and famous actress - Winona Ryder - was arrested for shoplifting $6,000 worth of clothes and hair products from a Saks Fifth Avenue store in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Why? No reason. She didn't need the things she took; if she had, she easily could have paid for them. Almost a year later she was convicted and received three years of probation. Any theft of more than $5,000 theft constitutes a felony, yet she received probation as a first-time offender. All this took place three months after the infamous 9/11 events that shocked the entire nation, and at her trial a year later, well, kindness prevailed.
At the time, I wrote about Ms. Ryder and kleptomania in general. I told of other famous women arrested for the same crime. Movie star Hedy Lamarr, at a drug store in Florida in 1991, and Bess Myerson, Miss America of 1945, at a New Jersey shopping mall in 1988. The stories created splashy headlines in tabloids and mainstream media alike.
I called my piece "Klepto and Other Maniacs", and it was published in The American Reporter in November 2002. After that, it was added to my personal website and that was that.
The response I continue to get because I used the word kleptomania is curious to me. The Site Meter bug on my Website tells me who is visiting my site - no names or personal identifiers, but with details like the continent, browser-type, the number of miles from my location of the reader, their language, and the word or phrase they typed into the search engine - presuming they are not a search engine, dozens of which crawl every site every day. To date, there have been 8,748 "hits" ton my site and the overwhelming majority of searchers are looking for "kleptomaniac."
This could probably be called "collective curiosity." There are no regional, ethnic, racial or gender distinctions here. I can't discern the age of visitors, but I do know the hits pour in from Brazil, Madrid, the UK, India, Asia, and Australia … and every state in the United States, both from metropolitan and rural regions. Why?
There are no cases being splashed across headlines at this point in time and the seekers do not really want my article per se; they are looking for answers.
Are they wondering about themselves, or a friend or relative? "What makes him do that? He didn't need that belt he took off the rack." They might decide to research the issue by quietly delving into the subject on the Internet. Links will take them to sites dealing with kleptomania as a legal issue, or a psychological disorder, if it is one. Along the way, a link to my site is listed and I will get a passing glance.
I learned all about kleptomania when I ran a search eight years ago. Now I'm looking into the subject of curiosity. What is it? Why are people from all over the world, speaking different languages, raised in different cultures, so piqued by shoplifting? That affliction, and I do believe it is just that - is often attributable to an underlying mood disorder like depression or anxiety. Is it for the thrill, the exhilaration following the theft, relieving the tension leading up to it? The one true fact I gleaned from all the searching is that it is more prevalent among women than among men.
Curiosity can definitely be filed under our emotions. Curiosity is flexible. Instinct is always expressed in fixed ways. Curiosity is ageless and it's part of our makeup from infancy to old age. We know that curiosity killed the cat so it must also be attributable to other animal species. Scientific studies back that up.
We have names for how our collective curiosities manifest themselves: We "rubberneck" when we pass an accident on the highway. The law enforcement admonition that we "move along, now" falls on deaf ears as we fall into the "Car Crash Syndrome" or the "Trainwreck Syndrome." In the study of behavioral genetics these terms come from what the experts have determined is our "inability of passersby to ignore such accidents."
I will memorize that and quote it when a policeman says: "I told you to move along."
My own personal brush with what is probably an example of collective curiosity is when I put my tongue on a frosty wrought iron railing leading up the stairs to home. I had run the last block and I was exhilarated - so happy to be two steps away from warmth and safety.
When I tell this story - and I do to every child and grandchild - I manage to sound the guttural yet almost silent screams for help. The written word is not heard just imagined. I tried to stretch my arm up to the doorbell without success. Finally, I dropped my books, stopped my useless screams, and cupped my cold, gloved hands around my tongue affixed to the railing. I let my breath stream out but not away, puff, puff, puff - each one warmer than the last until I was finally free.
I ran into the house, loud cries this time. I thought Mama would give me warm Calico tea but she didn't. She kept shaking her head while she chipped away at the block of ice and had me suck on a piece of it. My tongue was swollen and I was trying to say: "Why?"
"That's the way you treat this," she said. "You know how I tell you never to put your frozen hands in warm water but cold instead? It's just the way you do it."
"Uh huh," I said in an unintelligible voice. But I was thinking it was even more curious than why I would put my tongue on a cold lead pipe. I had been warned. I knew better. Perhaps it's part of the earlier mentioned syndromes: an "inability of passersby to ignore such accidents." I mean, there was I, and there was a lead pipe - albeit an iron handrail.
Would I do it again? I'm curious about that because once or twice I've found myself biting my lower lip and walking away hurriedly.