Since the story broke, it has attracted a huge amount of media attention, rivaling the O.J. Simpson trial. But why this case, as opposed to others? The answer may be connected to our cultural standards of motherhood, the demise of soap operas and the viewers tuning in.
“It is getting our attention because it violates our mythology,” Sheri Parks, an American studies professor at the University of Maryland, said in a telephone interview. “We have a script for mothers. They’re supposed to care deeply for their children. They’re supposed to protect them from harm.” This case features a woman allegedly not following this script, and such stories attract media attention, Parks said.
Parks does not believe that the Anthony trial is an example of “missing white woman syndrome,” a term she’s credited with coining that refers to the idea that white women who suffer misfortune get the greatest amount of media attention.
The disappearance of soap operas may also be a reason for the attention given to this trial. Soaps served as “morality plays,” Parks said, and in their absence, entertainment-news shows have taken their place. These stories “set up the normative values of the culture,” she said.
This case — an attractive young mother from a seemingly good family allegedly commits a terrible crime against her child — fits all the requirements for a good story, a story that people want to see “played out in a way where justice is done,” Parks said. “It’s news as entertainment.”
So who’s watching the shows that have taken the place of soaps and are covering Anthony’s trial? Women.“There’s a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. To get the kind of viewer who might be interested in this, you show them a victim who’s like them,” said The Washington Post’s media reporter, Paul Farhi.