Jeremy Meeks’ mugshot, courtesy Stockton California Police Department
It was last June that the Stockton Police Department in California posted the mugshot of Jeremy Meeks to their Facebook page. The striking blue-eyed Meeks was arrested on felony weapon charges, but that didn’t stop his photo from earning 50,000 Facebook likes, 5,400 shares and 14,700 comments in just a couple days. The 30-year-old convicted felon was dubbed the “Hot Mugshot Guy” by media outlets and has been making headlines ever since, most recently for his new modeling contract.
The media’s support of Meeks reveals a greater problem: we have become immune to violence. The fashion industry has been guilty of glamorizing violent behavior through numerous editorials like Dolce & Gabbana’s gang rape ad, featuring a group of men staring and approaching a vulnerable woman, and Lanvin’s depictions of murder.
The high demand for Meeks by modeling agencies and entertainment companies, prove that the industry’s ideas towards criminality and violence need to change. Presenting a criminal as “the world’s hottest felon” worthy of a modeling contract is a dangerous message to be sending to consumers.
“It makes a statement about the overall climate of media violence. That we would be more likely to be attracted to somebody like this because we are numb to the real effects that kind of lifestyle has on our society,” says Tessa Jolls, the president of the Center For Media Literacy. “Our acceptance of violence has risen because we have become numb over the years. There is an attraction because in a way people are attracted to the things they might be afraid or have a realistic picture of.”
The mass media’s growing coverage of crime has become a major instrument in the way the public feels about violence. Like the case with Meeks, the media has been guilty of glamorizing the acts of criminals to attract an audience and ultimately gain a profit. Because people don’t know Meeks, they are able to create a desirable character from his image.
“In terms of media literacy and how this went viral and gained so much currency, when you stop to think about it, the media objectifies people,” says Jolls. “So we are not looking at the person we are looking at the image of the person and there is a huge difference because we don’t really know that person at all. That is true of whether it is Brad Pitt or Mr. Meeks.”
The alarming trend of sharing attractive people in mugshots has continued past Meeks. In November of last year, Sean Kory was named the newest “Hot Mugshot Guy” after attacking someone at a Halloween parade. In December, Alysa Bathrick became the “Cute Mugshot Girl” after being caught with a controlled substance with the intent to distribute.
“You think about something like Bonnie and Clyde and these representations that glamorizing and glorifying something that in reality is very different, “says Jolls. “The purpose behind many of these representations is to make money or to sell something.
Because people might not have experience with these types of people they might not have a realistic idea of what the lifestyle really is.”
Meeks was arrested during a mission called Operation Ceasefire by a multi-agency task force that included the Stockton PD Gang Violence Suppression Unit and the County Wide Gang Task Force, in addition to 10 other organizations including the FBI. Meeks was caught leaving a house, where a search warrant was present, and was found with a gun, ammunition and a small amount of marijuana.
But, that wasn’t his first run in with the law. Meeks has been arrested multiple times since 2002. According to the cops, he was a known member the Northside Crips gang. He previously served a two-year-sentence for grand theft of a person and identity theft in 2005. He was also found to be in court in Spokane, Washington, five different times.
Only a few weeks after his photo went viral, it was reported that Meeks had hired two Hollywood agents to handle his potential new career, one for entertainment and the other for modeling and endorsement deals.
“The picture of this man is not violent, it is just a picture, but all the life of someone associated with a background like that is probably tied in with violence and violence has been glorified and sold and commercialized worldwide,” says Jolls. “It is exportable, just like beauty is. So people make a lot of money from these things. Violence has had a huge impact on the society.”
“This is a clear sign of the impending apocalypse,” says Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Darren Kavinoky to FOX411. “It’s totally insane and it speaks poorly of where we are. We are so enamored with appearance and attractiveness that we are willing to totally disregard that we’re talking [about] somebody who is a criminal, someone who has a long rap sheet and a history of convictions. His current allegations involve weapons possession by somebody who society has deemed should not possess guns.”
One of the agents hired by Meeks was Gina Rodriguez, a former porn star who started GR Media firm, and has worked with reality stars like Teen Mom’s Farrah Abraham and “Octomom.” Rodriguez said last July that four production companies and three different modeling agencies were already interested in working with Meeks despite his conviction. She estimated that he could earn about $30,000 to $100,000 a month.
Rodriguez personally felt that since Meeks hadn’t harmed anyone, she was comfortable in representing him.
“If this was a different situation, like if someone was actually hurt or there was violence involved, I definitely would not be taking him on,” Rodriguez says to FOX411. “But we don’t know Jeremy’s full story yet, and I don’t feel like he got a fair break. I really don’t. If we can help him in any way with his future and help him turn his life around, that’s what I’m about.”
In February Meeks was sentenced to 27 months in prison. The federal court convicted him of being a felon in possession of a firearm. But, that didn’t stop White Cross Management from signing Meeks as their newest model in February. Meeks signed his contract from his jail cell.
“I saw Jeremy’s potential from the beginning; his opportunities are only continuing to grow and that is what primarily drove us to sign him to White Cross Management,” says his manager, Jim Jordan, via email. “The situation that Jeremy is in has received a lot of attention, and a lot of people are watching him and love him which has only reassured us that the world sees his potential and wants him to succeed as well.”
While there does appear to be an unusual amount of support for Meeks, not only have women been commenting on his Facebook photo offering money towards his bail, because “he’s too fine to be a criminal,” but he receives hundreds of pieces of fan mail every month.
There has been some backlash, with Rodriguez reporting that a week after taking him as a client she received 30 harassing phone calls and death threats.
A rep from her firm also stated that she hasn’t worked with Meeks since October. Even with the risks, White Cross says they will stand behind Meeks.
“Just like any other high profile story there are many opinions out there. Jeremy has received an overwhelming amount of support, and we want people to know that everybody deserves a second chance,” says Jordan. “Jeremy sees this as an opportunity to provide an amazing life for his wife and children and is not taking that responsibility lightly, he loves them dearly.”
Meeks said he hopes he can get out in November for good behavior. “I’m in a place where I will be able to provide for my family and really change my life,” Meeks says to ABC News from a Nevada prison. “I never thought that everyone in the world would recognize me for my looks, so I feel extremely blessed and very thankful.”
“We are thrilled to see Jeremy do great things with a rare opportunity and are so excited to watch his career grow,” says Jordan. “We love all the support he is receiving from around the world, and White Cross Management will continue to work hard for him everyday.”