The Casey Anthony case

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, July 6, 2011 23:34 EDT
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So, as I predicted, my stint at jury duty lasted exactly one day, though I didn't get bounced for interesting reasons (my number was too high to actually get interviewed, but it was clear listening to the line of questioning that there was no fucking way the lawyers involved would okay me for the jury, for reasons that aren't even that interesting but have nothing to do with politics).  It just so happened that the book I've been reading—and had lots of time to read today!—a marvelous book about crime by Bill James called Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence.  It's James's eccentric history of mostly American popular crime stories of the Black Dahlia/Sam Shephard variety, those one-off crimes or serial killers that capture the public's attention.  I also got a handful of tweets from crazed anti-feminists who have decided, with what evidence I don't know, that I'm some big time supporter of Casey Anthony, the woman acquitted for killing her toddler. I found this accusation interesting, since I have not a) said anything about Anthony b) haven't really been following the case at all c) wasn't entirely sure until the acquittal what she was accused of and d) had to look up the gender of her child to even know if it was a boy or a girl. (A daughter named Caylee, apparently.)  

Having been so accused, however, I did look at the case a little and discovered that it's one of those where I can totally see why everyone thinks she's guilty, and perhaps this is a good time to remind all the people out there who claim that many to most rape cases are just victims lying that there's a difference between an acquittal and an exoneration.  I agree that Anthony seems guilty, but it's just one of those things where the lack of evidence comes into play.  Maybe the term "Casey Anthony" should be mentioned every time some MRA suggests automatic charges for false reporting for the victim if an accused rapist isn't acquitted. MRAs do seem very interested in this case, so I don't imagine they'll forget soon. 

But reading the James book did get me to thinking about why this case blew up and so many others, including many other murdered children who are equally adorable to Caylee Anthony, go unheralded by the press.  James has a preliminary and predictive code as to what kind of cases will attract media attention, to which he assigns letters and number values, and he'd probably classify this one as an IMT 8 or 9, which stands for Innocent Victim Elements/Missing Persons Stories/Tabloid Elements, and the number is the amout of media attention this one sucks down on a 1 to 10 scale.  I do wish he'd been more specific, however, because I think that Tabloid Elements is too broad, and this case really propelled to the top of the heap because of the Slut Factor.  Many of the cases he documents that rocket to the top of the heap have female persons whose sexual choices were in conflict with the social norms of the time.  In this particular case, it appears that Casey is intriguing to the public not just because she's a likely murderer, but because she violates all sorts of standards about the proper sexual choices and behavior of someone who is a mother.  Like Scott Lemieux notes, the fact that she got a tattoo is, by reasonable standards, some irrelevant bullshit, but it looms large in a story that is, to most of the public, about how being a mother and being what society sees as a slut are mutually exclusive.  In fact, apparently so much so that a tattoo becomes evidence of murderous intent. 

Quite literally, the first thing I learned about Casey Anthony through osmosis is that the father of her murdered daughter is an unknown person.  I learned this before I learned about the duct tape around the baby's mouth or the lies that focused attention on her.  I knew more about her sexual habits than anything else.  Most of the coverage I'm seeing now still focuses heavily on her sexuality.  You know, I just struggle to see how being slutty is evidence for being murderous.  

Which isn't a defense of her, by the way.  The lies and the evasion and the refusal to report the girl missing strike me as the real evidence in play.  She seems like the likely candidate.  The acquittal is probably based on the fact that the prosecution failed to make the case, not on any real evidence of her innocence.  But I find it fascinating how much influence the "she's a slut" narrative has on the "she's guilty" narrative. 

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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