A few weeks ago, a friend told me that I needed to watch the latest episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” a subversive sitcom known for its comic cynicism and selfish characters, because it was set at a waterpark.
I’m always up for humor, and waterpark humor sounded like a sure thing, so I went home and played the episode.
The show begins with its five main characters waiting in line for a waterpark to open. As they wait, they discuss their strategies for managing their day at the park. Two of them plan to hit every waterslide, something that would normally take three days, in just one. Two others say they’re going to ride their favorite slide as soon as the gates open because everyone knows that the water in a waterslide is only clean the first 10 minutes of operation after which a waterslide is simply a “urine-delivery system.”
So far, so good. Not hilarious but funny enough.
But then, one of them warns the gang, “Do not go near the pool drains no matter how good you think they might make you feel on your butt.” The others stare at him, appalled. He goes on to explain, “Those things’ll suck the intestines right out of you, like it did to that one kid back in ’96. She had to chew through her intestines just to get free.”
My jaw dropped. Did they really just joke about the horrific drain entrapment death of a child? And not only that but the disembowelment – one of the truly horrifying ways to die – of a child? I couldn’t believe it.
I remembered little 6-year-old Abbey Taylor. In 2007, she inadvertently sat on the drain of a kiddie pool. Its powerful suction ripped out her small intestines, and she collapsed on the pool deck. Though she survived the initial evisceration, she died nine months later as a result of her injuries. Abbey’s Hope, a non-profit dedicated to advocating for safer pools, was founded on her hope that no other child would suffer the way she did due to an unsafe pool.
Other cases of drain entrapment came to mind, most famously Virginia Graeme Baker back in 2002. As many of you know, she was the 7-year-old granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker III, who drowned as she was pinned to the drain of a backyard spa. Her mother struggled to pull her from the drain; it eventually took two strong men to pull her body out of the hot tub. Her tragic death sparked a federal law, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, which mandated the installation of safe drain covers and the installation of anti-entrapment devices, among other things.
Simply recalling the deaths of these children brings tears to my eyes.
Now, I know that we’re living in what I call the golden age of outrage. And I get it. There’s a lot of hand holding in the world and a lot of easily offended people. You might even say, “Well, I’ve watched it and I think you’re overreacting. It’s just a comedy. It’s just dark humor.”
That might be true, but we also live in a world where the leading cause of death for children aged 1-4 is drowning. And we, as an industry, desperately work together to amplify messages of water safety, all in an effort to change that tragically high statistic for the better. Living with this sobering reality means that drowning can never be a laughing matter.
Call me old-fashioned, but I believe there are lines that should never be crossed. Joking about a child’s death is definitely one of them. In this case, it’s only served to cheapen the legacy of water safety their deaths have inspired.
Here's the sitcom in question. What are your thoughts? Please comment below.