The Jeremy Meeks Complex: How To Explain Why America Is Head-Over-Heels For A Criminal


Jeremy Meeks. By now, most of us know the name and have seen the mugshot. The virtual hysteria his photo launched has made the sexy felon a household name.

No doubt, his chiseled bone structure and piercing blue eyes have captured the hearts of women all across the country. Now, tie the mugshot to the natural fantasy of the "bad boy complex" and we have ourselves the newest man candy.

The Jeremy Meeks complex, while easy on the eyes, points to a rather large problem in society. Physical appearance dominates our perception of a person, and in this case, supersedes the crime with which he is being charged.

While it's innocent and fun that Jeremy Meeks' mugshot makes our hearts pitter-patter and our knees lock together, it reflects a dangerous trend that is too often portrayed in our everyday lives.

How we are perceived based on first impressions is not so much in our control. If we are rich, we can look the part and if we were born physically beautiful, we can use that to our advantage.

Bryan Stevenson gave a TED Talk in 2012 that targeted this exact idea:

We have a system of justice in the US that treats you much better if you are rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent. Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes, Stevenson said.

I am not making assumptions into Jeremy Meeks' financial status, but simply the idea of how our perceptions of someone’s appearance and means can cloud how we perceive his or her identity.

We saw this last year during the Aaron Hernandez news coverage. When a handsome, successful athlete is charged with multiple murders, it unsettles us.

The crimes, of course, are unnerving, but so is the idea that someone so handsome and successful could be capable of such atrocities, as if to say that our means and appearances carry some weight on the choices we make.

Even though we caution ourselves to "not judge a book by its cover," we continually do this during times in which it matters most. From our Tinder-obsessed fingers, to our name-brand-wearing feet, we sometimes unknowingly create lists of assumptions about people without even uttering a word.

We do it at the grocery store, at the bar, on social media and on public transit. It is a quality that, unless you are actively trying to break it, will likely affect how you perceive every person you encounter.

Though your perceptions may be accurate and harmless (like assuming someone is a runner based on the shoes on his or her feet), the habitual nature is what is of concern. If we look at Jeremy Meeks' mugshot and see his gorgeous face and let that hijack our opinions about his crime, it becomes an issue.

Annie Murphy Paul once wrote a fascinating article in Psychology Today, entitled "Judging by Appearances." In it, she wrote about the industry created around helping defendants "look the part" and humanize themselves to appeal to the jury perceptions. Paul wrote:

Although consultants often try to 'humanize' their clients, making them appear more appealing and accessible, they also seek a certain anonymity. The generic-looking defendant becomes a blank screen upon which jurors can project their own fears: that could be my neighbor, they may think, or that could be me.

This all plays into the notion that the words we say and the stories we tell can be washed away by how our peers perceive us.

In following the age-old advice, "You only get one chance at a first impression," we must pay attention to what formulates our first impressions. If we get down to the "why" of our impressions and understand how they are formulated, we can begin to see the whole person, not only the mask he or she wears.