Monday, July 18, 2011

Casey Anthony, Motherhood and The Media

Over the past few weeks, there has been outrage across the country regarding the verdict in the trial of Casey Anthony. Accused of murdering her young daughter, among myriad other lesser charges, Anthony was found not guilty by a jury in Florida. People are calling this "the crime of the century," threatening death upon both Anthony and the jury members. The passion from both sides, but especially those who believe Anthony is truly guilty, is overwhelming. But it begs the question: what makes us think we know better than a sequestered jury and a judge? Who are we to judge this woman and this jury for their actions/inactions? Why do so many of us care so much?

I can't answer any of these questions easily, to be honest. And I can only answer them for myself, in my own opinion. I know that I, personally, do not care about Casey Anthony, her deceased child, or her verdict. It's none of my business. Maybe she murdered her daughter, maybe it was an accident. I don't care. I have no personal investment in the case. But this is what I do know: people tend to put their noses where they don't belong. There is absolutely no reason for the personal investment so many Americans have or had in this case. Anthony was accused of murdering her own child; it's not like there's a serial killer on the streets. She was given the maximum sentence for the crimes of which she was found guilty; how can we fault the system for that? The real problem is the portrayal of the case in the media, which is what it usually comes down to.

Casey Anthony was vilified from the beginning. Yes, she is absolutely guilty of lying. And she was imprisoned for it. But the aspect of this story that the media (and then its consumers) took and ran with was the identification of her as a "bad mother." It sort of sickens me to think of the country in which we live. With all of our forward motion and liberation, we are still such backwards thinkers. It is inconceivable of so many media consumers that a woman would want to give up a child, or continue to have a social life after giving birth, or murder/cover-up the murder of her child, or lie about her child's whereabouts, or whatever. We still think of women as all possessing a certain nurturing maternal instinct, and those women without it (or who choose to ignore it) are bad. Casey Anthony was painted as a "bad mother" because she went out to parties after giving birth to a daughter. Conservative news programs and commentators even used this as motive for her to have killed her child: she just wanted to be free of the burden of motherhood. But why shouldn't a mother continue to live her own life and have fun, even if she does happen to have a child at home? We as a society are still so concerned with "traditional values," but nowadays it begins to look like regression.

How often do you see or hear a woman judged for having a child and continuing to work? The stigma surrounding this is becoming less, I know, but the judgment is still there. We still expect women to take care of the child, giving up what life she had before to this new person. How is that fair?

How often are women who have chosen to abort a fetus judged for it? Constantly. They are vilified just as Casey Anthony was/is. They are portrayed as selfish or murderous. When did other people's lives become our business? Why do we care what others are doing with their bodies? What happened to all of this personal liberation that suposedly came out of the 1960s and 1970s? Our return to "traditional values" like the woman in the home with a gaggle of kids is not the type of thinking characteristic of a society that is moving into the future. Wishing death upon a woman who has expressed a desire to live her own life over living for her child is 100% regressive thinking.

This brings me back to my original, overarching question: why do we care so much? What personal investment do we have in the outcome of the Casey Anthony trial? I think we care because we're told to care. We have no personal investment in the trial, other than the time we've put into watching or reading the coverage. So we expect a payoff. It's like watching a television series. In fact, I'll use an example I think fits perfectly: AMC's The Killing. This series is based around the investigation into the murder of a seventeen year old girl in Seattle and the ripples it creates in the city. I watched each episode, expecting (as one would) to be told who killed this girl. But the perpetrator was never revealed, and won't be until next summer when the new season begins. I felt slighted, betrayed, angry. I invested thirteen hours of my life into this series, even as the quality of the writing and characterization tumbled, because I wanted to know who the killer was. This is, I'm assuming, how most people feel about the Casey Anthony verdict. The media shoved this case down consumers throats for years, forcing people to become invested in it, only to have the outcome be the opposite of what was expected. Of course one would be angry that our time, so precious in a fast-moving world, was wasted.

The key difference? It's not a television show. Casey Anthony is a real woman, not a character on a show that we can easily hate. She's real. This is her life being broadcast. This is her life being judged. This is her life being put on display. And when you look at this way, it's not the jury that betrayed us. It's we that betrayed one woman.


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