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Casey Anthony and the Ick Factor

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Since this is weird Florida week, I just have to say something about the Casey Anthony trial. For any people who live with their heads under rocks, Anthony is soon to be on trial in Orange County for the murder of her two-year-old daughter, Caylee, in June of 2008. If there’s any story that should bring tears to our eyes, it’s one of a mother killing her own child. Or a father, though we are more used to male violence.

This particular story, however, has come instead to feel close to slapstick or some kind of satirical humor. The list of the tawdry and bizarre episodes has gone on and on. There was the mustachioed bail bondsman swooping  in from California in his cowboy hat, and, now, some “mitigation expert” who divorced her husband to marry a death row inmate showing up as part of the defense team. There’s the medical examiner with her own TV show. There are the anguished but mouthy grandparents, and the trashy photos of Casey Anthony partying, even after her child was “missing.” Everyone involved seems to have hired not only lawyers, but also publicists and PR experts. The grandparents are seeking to trademark the phrase “Justice for Caylee” to prevent sales of souvenirs.

Ever coyly smiling, Casey Anthony comes across as a narcissistic villain. By now it’s well established that she was a thief, check kiter, and pathological liar, and her bad behavior has been thoroughly trotted out and labeled. “Monster” is a favorite. Recently, Anthony’s lawyer was overheard telling her she was behaving like a two-year-old. He had found, perhaps, the perfect insult. I wonder if she feared for her life since it seems she killed her daughter for merely being a two-year-old and in the way.

I know it’s a stretch, but the whole thing has seemed to me as sensationalist as much genre fiction and Lifetime TV. I can no longer feel much of anything about it because of… well, because of the ICK FACTOR. I don’t respond well to melodrama—its manipulations are usually so obvious that I end up just not believing in them. For some people, though, this level of melodrama seems to increase feelings—we have certainly seen an outpouring of tears, anger, threats, and disgust, as well as an alternate passion about Casey Anthony’s right to be “a mother with a social life.” That this latter seems to have involved the mother chloroforming her child and locking her in the trunk of the car doesn’t seem to get through to those people, and the fact that Casey herself, sociopathic personality and all, is a pathetic tragedy even if she killed her child doesn’t seem to get through to the angry ones.

As a writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about access to emotions—how to evoke them, how to depict them honestly rather than manipulatively. Whenever things start to fall into black and white categories, I know something has gone seriously wrong and moved into the land of lies. Maybe that’s why I find something suspicious, not only about Casey Anthony, but also about all the “outrage” and “grieving.” It has become mania, obsession, and posturing, and it doesn’t feel like genuine emotion to me. It feels manufactured. And the fascination with the tawdry details feels too much like Casey’s own participation in a drug-, alcohol-, sex-, tattoo- and fantasy-fueled escape from her own real life. That Casey Anthony thought that whoring around and getting blitzed constituted “the good life” (a tattoo she got after her child was dead) seems like an eerie parallel to people’s enthrallment with Twilight.

It all smacks of bad fiction. Unfortunately the death of this little girl is all too real. I try to remember that small, hard fact.

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