“I don’t understand juries these days!” the entire Internet screams. “Don’t they watch Nancy Grace?” I was going to tune into Nancy Grace, but I just bought this television and I am afraid it will explode.
But who do these people think they are, the O.J. jurors?
Tried by a jury of our peers? Some of us are idiots! What if our peers are idiots too? What if they acquit the guilty? What if they convict the innocent?
Can’t we just try these things in the court of public opinion?
This is a case that has latched on to the popular consciousness the way ticks sometimes attach themselves to hikers — by the fleshy bits. And for months, it has refused to let go. Entire Web sites have sprung up dedicated to Bringing Caylee Anthony’s Killer (Casey, Obviously) To Justice.
Now the verdict’s in, and it’s O.J. all over again — the rare case where we felt certain we knew the answer, and it proved wrong. The jury found Casey Anthony not guilty on all counts but lying to law enforcement. And the world erupted in indignation.
After all, we know exactly as much as we need to pass judgment on Casey Anthony: We know that this is not how the CSI episode ends. We have not waited weeks and months to see her spend four years behind bars for lying to law enforcement. We came out baying for blood.
The simple act of staring at a thing long enough transforms it.
We’ve stared at Casey Anthony so long and so hard that she’s been forced to become a symbol of something. Is she a commentary on our attitude towards parenting? Or a statement about responsibility? An indictment of all foreign-language tattoos? Was this only captivating because she was easy to look at and Caylee Anthony was one of those perfect doe-eyed children who brought out the lurking grandmother in all of us?
“Why does this story captivate us?” we asked, frantically. There had to be something. Was this a Greek tragedy of sorts, the family devouring itself? That seemed too fulsome for the story in Orlando.
Finally we managed to reduce it to “We want justice for that beautiful little girl.” But questions still nagged. Why only the beautiful little girls? Other children die, and we do not rage outside the courtroom and set up dedicated Web sites. Perhaps it is better that we don’t. It would be too exhausting for society if we were to become this indignant every time a child dies. And much as we would like to imagine the opposite, children perish every day for cruel and unusual reasons.
Perhaps the simplest answer to why the story captivated is the dull tautological “It did because it did.” We talked about it because everyone was talking about it. It caught at something indefinable in the air.
Now Casey Anthony will be joining the dark second circle of malign celebrity, whipped about by strong winds from Mary Kay LeTourneau’s Hot For Teacher Club Nights to O.J. Simpson “If I Did It” book parties. It’s almost inevitable at this point. For every three indignant screams on Twitter expressing the desire to club her and bring “street justice” against her, there are several expressing the desire to go clubbing with her.
Justice? Injustice? It’s a show, and we didn’t like the ending.
And in a few weeks, we will forget. We scream now, but the noise is bound to fade — the wild rhetorical flailings of the show trial, the constant stream of cable commentary, the tears, the dull roar of the crowd as the lions slink away.