Paul A. Ibbetson
The "barefoot" culture and the promotion of deviance
By Paul A. Ibbetson
July 16, 2010

CNN reports that police authorities in the Bahamas have captured 19-year-old Colton Harris-Moore, known by the media as the "Barefoot Bandit." This 19-year-old boy has been on the run from the law for more than two years for stealing cars, boats and even airplanes. Even his arrest ended in a dramatic fashion with a high-speed boat chase in the waters of Harbor Island. To some, the Barefoot Bandit is surely the stuff that great stories are made of. The question is whether or not this is a story worth repeating.

It is within the framing of stories such as the Barefoot Bandit that we see the moral condition of the country. Like the genetic makeup of any living being, it is from within that one can see the true nature of what is visible on the outside. Every society has the option to frame its heroes and villains, and what do our societal standards dictate when it comes to teenage felons like Harris-Moore? Juan McCartney and Mike Melia of the Associated Press say that Harris-Moore has built his reputation as a 21st-century folk hero. Of course thieves don't "build" as they have no time for such labors. They are too busy stealing what others have built. Even with the factual terminology in place, one cannot say that Harris-Moore even managed steal a reputation as a 21st-century folk hero. No, to be factual it must be said that this young man's celebrity status was a gift from the media, paid for by modern society. Unfortunately, even after the Barefoot Bandit's arrest, the debauchery over deviant behavior is just beginning.

Even now, legal defense funds are being constructed for high-profile lawyers to drain in what will be no doubt another circus trial, and all the while the dangerous criminal activities of a teenage boy will be lifted up in a Jesse James-like fashion. Do you smell TV and movie rights? If not, then your sniffer has gone bad. The fact that Harris-Moore most likely placed many innocent lives in danger with his crime spree had no effect on his over 60,000 Facebook fans, many of which appear to be cheering on his continued victimization of all who crossed his path.

The romanticizing of deviancy comes with a heavy price. The obvious outward signs of society's inner moral decay come with the copycat offenders that will emulate this barefoot buffoon to be the next Barefoot Bandit. Long after the media's exalted villain is forgotten, the aftershocks of rewarding deviant behavior are felt by society. I tell you this as a former police officer who went on countless copycat calls following the sensationalized media framing of the Columbine massacre, the effects of which have arguably not been mitigated by time.

If justice were to be served to humanity, then Colton Harris-Moore and his deviant ilk would be noted by the news only for the simple purposes of capture and containment. This would be as one would note a rabid animal on a city street where the fanfare is nothing more than the sound of the gathering of nets. When the capture had been completed, deviants of this nature would be catapulted into the vacuum of obscurity, a literal world of silent shame. Who would be rushing in line to be the next shunned nothing, the next punk nobody hears of or cares about? Probably not a lot of Facebook pages for that position. Instead of silent rejection of the deviant, the worst among us, or at least the ones that can catch the attention of the media by being bad for a long as possible, get to be barefoot folk heroes. With this societal mentality we guarantee more of the same activity.

© Paul A. Ibbetson


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Paul A. Ibbetson

Dr. Paul A. Ibbetson is a former Chief of Police of Cherryvale, Kansas, and member of the Montgomery County Drug Task Force. Paul received his Bachelor's and Master's degree in Criminal Justice at Wichita State University, and his PhD. in sociology at Kansas State University. Paul is the author of several books and is also the radio host of the Kansas Broadcasting Association's 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 award winning, Conscience of Kansas airing across the state. Visit his website at For interviews or questions, please contact


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