The Hot Car Death Meme: A Whole Lot of Chest Beating


“To the living, we owe our respect but to the dead, we owe only the truth.” –Voltaire
I’m going out of my typical realm here and writing about parenting…specifically memes targeting the parents of young children who die of heat stroke while trapped in cars.

I won’t be discussing hot car deaths in detail in this post. I will save my in-depth thoughts on this subject for another time. Rather, I want to discuss a particular meme, as well as the larger trend on social media and on “news” channels…where we talk much and say little, substitute memes and anecdotes for facts, and where virtue signaling is more important than possessing actual virtue. And it just so happens that memes around hot car deaths are the latest thing on my black list.

Here is the offending meme:

Atrocious spelling and grammar aside…

What the hell is the point of this post? Who is it targeting?

Think about it…the idea is to remind people that not everyone is fit to be a parent and a good indicator that you, too, are unfit is not being self-motivated to monitor your kids and needing reminders to do so. Okay, let’s pretend we all agree on this…what parent believes this about themselves? No one. What parent consciously thinks that they’re the kind of unfit parent that needs reminders? None. How many childless people are going to decide against having children ten years from now because they saw this meme on Facebook? Don’t make me laugh. How many parents whose children died this way thought ahead of time that they would become a statistic? Probably none of them. No one thinks it will happen to them…and that’s exactly the problem. In any case, this meme assumes that said unfit parents are already parents and already using reminders… so it’s a bit late for them to go back in time and not be a parent. As such, this meme is totally wasted on the unfit masses replicating their DNA.

Furthermore, how do we, as a society, monitor potential parents, decide who is unfit, and then prevent them from having, or being in the presence of, young children? Forget the legality or the (nonexistent) ethics of such a scheme. It would be literally impossible to enforce these standards. And even if we could achieve this society of ideal patents…there will still be the occasional hot car death because it’s not just unfit parents who experience this. Many if not most of these parents were considered average to exemplary parents, upstanding citizens, and with no evidence of prior abuse or neglect of a child. They would have passed a parental fitness test with flying colors and they still fucked up. Why? Again, the meme doesn’t seem to address these parents, and does not explain who is a fit parent and how to prevent unfit parents from having children.

What if this meme isn’t targeting the garden variety mediocre parent? What if this meme is targeting the truly negligent, or possibly intentionally homicidal, parents? This meme is even more wasted on this population. Negligent people, by definition, are not aware of risks, do not care about, or tend to minimize risks, and lack the ability or desire to plan to avoid these risks. They don’t think bad things happen to them and/or don’t care if bad things do happen. That’s…kinda what makes them negligent. If these people had the inclination to internalize the message in this meme and act on it…they wouldn’t be negligent. (Never mind that using reminders to help you remember your children proves exactly the opposite…that you’re aware of the risks, you’re humble enough to realize you could face those risks, and you CARE enough to learn the facts, accept help, and avoid those risks however you have to…regardless of how strangers on the internet feel about it. In other words, those parents AREN’T negligent at all…and chances are, their children will live, and THAT is our goal, not one-upmanship.) Anyway, I digress…and what about the homicidal parents? Well…I think it’s safe to say that if you’re disturbed enough to kill a child, especially in such an excruciating way…a Facebook meme isn’t going to change that.

So what’s this meme good for? Who is it targeting?

Honestly, I think it’s for the posters themselves. Death by automotive oven is a mundane, surprisingly common, yet horrible way to die that seems to affect all kinds of children and parents with no rhyme or reason. And honestly, secretly? I think it terrifies them. I think in their heart of hearts, they know they could be next but are too ashamed to admit it. So they obsessively follow, and write threatening, vitriolic comments on, stories regarding hot car deaths to distance themselves from the “bad” parents and virtue signal to the world that they are good parents and hopefully get positive feedback from other “good” parents. It’s not unlike a patient with OCD who engages in assurance-seeking behavior, or ridding themselves of obsessive thoughts of hurting their kids by compulsively reading and talking about other people’s children being hurt. Or a child with PTSD re-enacting their trauma through imaginative play. It’s a way to rationalize, to distance, to feel good…and I can see right through it.

I have pointed this out, too, many times on comment threads on Facebook, and always end with a warning. All parents think it can’t happen to them…until they check the backseat. The reaction I get is telling…they almost universally act the same way all guilty people act. They get defensive or they run. And they’re free to do so, but I guarantee you…however tough they act on Facebook, every time they step out of the car, my warning will be ringing in their ears.

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