Ethan Couch, famous for his claims of suffering from “affluenza,” was sentenced to nearly two years in jail on April 13. To most Americans, Couch’s sentence of 720 days is nonsensical, considering his actions resulted in the loss of four lives. However, the mere fact that Couch was sentenced may be the first step toward fixing one of America’s biggest social problems: entitlement.
Oxford Dictionary defines entitlement as “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.” If one views the entitled as a social group, Couch – at least prior to being sentenced – could be viewed as the group’s figurehead. In using the affluenza defense, he came to embody the entitlement we see so regularly among Americans of multiple generations.
According to psychological researchers like assistant professor Paul K. Piff, who published findings from in-depth studies into entitlement and narcissism in 2014 in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the growing sense of entitlement in America began with members of higher classes, such as Couch. Today, I believe, thanks to social media, reality television, and the cult of celebrity, that sense has infiltrated the lower classes. Today, young Americans from the lower- and middle-classes are bombarded with images of wealth and power. The prevalence of these images has created a false sense of reality and a series of expectations based on lives most will never live.
— Nick Grant (@ManicGrant) October 10, 2015
With this sense of entitlement comes a disregard for authority and law, as demonstrated by Couch and glorified by celebrities. An excellent example of a celebrity who has repeatedly shown this type of disregard is Paris Hilton. Hilton was arrested for driving under the influence in 2006, which was followed by a probation violation in 2007, for which she was sentenced to 45 days in jail. Since that incident, she has faced drug charges twice, including after a 2010 arrest in Las Vegas. According to the Las Vegas Sun, she pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, releasing her from the original felony charge, which resulted in her being sentenced to probation.
Returning to Couch, he was originally sentenced in 2013 in a Texas juvenile court. At that time, he was sentenced to 10 years probation, which included bans on alcohol, drug consumption, and driving, along with the requirement of in-patient therapy. Couch’s affluenza defense was introduced to the court by psychologist G. Dick Miller, who explained to the court that Couch did not possess the ability to tie his actions to possible consequences because of his upbringing.
“Instead of the golden rule, which was do unto others as you would have them do unto you, [Couch] was taught we have the gold, we make the rules at the Couch household.”
In December 2015, ignoring the fact that being sentenced to probation denied him the right to international travel, Couch fled to Mexico with his mother to avoid arrest on a warrant for violation of probation that had been issued after a video of him drinking alcohol surfaced. The two were arrested in Puerto Vallarta, and Couch was flown back to the United States in late January to await a hearing. On February 19, Couch’s first hearing was held, which determined his case would be transferred to an adult court and his probation would continue through 2024. This hearing resulted in an adult court having jurisdiction over his probation violation hearing, which in turn resulted in Couch being sentenced to 720 days in jail.
If the Americans suffering from a false sense of entitlement take note of the fact that Couch has been sentenced to jail time, the result of his hearing will hopefully be eye-opening. In fact, Couch’s sentencing should serve as a signal that affluence does not make one above the law, nor does entitlement exist in the eyes of the law.
In order to stop the spread of entitlement and its companion, narcissism, society must stop allowing wealth to circumvent justice, while also stopping the cult of celebrity from influencing the average American’s concept of reality. Unfortunately, the fact that Couch has been sentenced to jail time is only a first small step toward ending the culture of entitlement that is endangering every aspect of our society.
[Photo by LM Otero/AP Images]