Today’s cuppa: PG Tips tea
Some of the greatest psychodramas in U.S. history have come from high-profile court cases, such as the trials of Aaron Burr, accused Lincoln assassination co-conspirator Dr. Mudd, Sacco and Vanzetti, Al Capone, the Scottsboro Boys, John Scopes (a k a “The Scopes Monkey Trial”), the Rosenbergs, Charles Manson, and all of the various cases that contributed to civil-rights legislation.
Followed by the public in newspapers, newsreels and TV-news reports, most of these cases had large implications for jurisprudence and American culture.
Then, there are the criminal and civil trials of O.J. Simpson, which played out day-by-day on television in the mid-’90s for the American public, with viewers almost acting as super-jurors, privy to both the evidence presented and the commentary of a vast array of experts.
Of course, people watched. Simpson was a celebrity accused of the heinous murder of his beautiful wife, in a racially mixed marriage, in a swanky Los Angeles neighborhood, and the twists and turns of the case defied the conventions of fiction. Some contend the “not guilty” verdict in the criminal trial had a powerful and lasting impact on American race relations.
But shortly before the Simpson trial, there was the trial of Los Angeles police officers accused of beating motorist Rodney King. The lack of a conviction in that trial led to riots in parts of the city which left more than 50 dead.
Involved in one or more of these cases were shocking, brutal crimes, multiple deaths, cultural taboos, celebrity, racial prejudice or even treason.
And then there’s the Casey Anthony trial, closing arguments for which are going on as I type on this Fourth of July weekend. Covered at great length by both HLN and Fox News Channel, it has fascinated millions in the viewing public.
But Casey Anthony is not famous; she’s just an ordinary person in Central Florida. Race isn’t a factor, nor is wealth, implications for national security, or the culture at large.
(Photo, Casey Anthony | Getty Images North America)
It’s all about the mysterious death of Anthony’s toddler daughter, Caylee, and banal and horrific secrets which can lie behind the doors of American homes.
Why are we riveted? Murders happen every day; tragically, murders of children happen every day. Why do we care so much about Caylee Anthony and not about all these other children?
It’s likely that many other cases of dead children could rivet our attention equally, but the elements in the Casey Anthony trial are many of the same ones that pique our interest in fictional murder mysteries.
Casey Anthony is an attractive young woman (a disproportionate number of those are perpetrators and/or victims in TV crime shows); her daughter was cute and innocent.
Casey comes from a family that’s recognizable to many middle-class Americans, either looking a great deal like themselves or their neighbors.
The Anthonys aren’t career criminals or drug addicts or drug dealers or gang members or terrorists or bank robbers or gun runners. We’re not surprised when these people run into trouble with the law, but this family isn’t like that.
Yet, a child in the Anthonys’ care died, and whether it was an accident or murder or something in between, it was not natural. There is no quick or easy explanation for her death. She should not have died surrounded by her family on a quiet street.
Many mystery writers have set their crimes in unlikely places and among unlikely people — whether sleepy small towns or glittering high society — since the juxtaposition is jarring and unsettling.
On top of this, the Casey Anthony trial is taking place in Orlando, Fla., home to Disney World, the “happiest place on Earth.” Little children are supposed to have fun in Orlando, not wind up dead and dumped by the side of the road.
We can also contemplate the loss of potential in both the young mother and the child; the grief of the grandparents; the tragedy of a family forever fractured, whatever the verdict.
We should care as much about every missing and murdered child, but the fact is, we don’t. Was the kidnapped Lindbergh baby more valuable in the sight of God than any other baby? Nope.
There is no justice or equality in the choice of cases that grab the public attention, particularly in the age when trials are broadcast in their entirety.
While the Casey Anthony trial will not change the nation or the law appreciably, televised trials like this are not just voyeurism — although they are that, as well — it’s an opportunity to learn more about the law and challenge our assumptions about the sort of people that wind up in these predicaments.
This case, which has dragged on for years, will soon be over. Sadly, there will be another.
UPDATE WITH VIDEOS: There was a verdict earlier today. Click here for that (after you watch a video, use your Backspace button or arrow to return to this post to watch the others).
As mentioned above, HLN has carried the trial throughout, and legal commentator Nancy Grace had a powerful reaction to the verdict. Click here for that.
Fox News Channel has also tracked this case. Geraldo Rivera snagged an interview with defense attorneys Jose Baez and Cheney Mason. Click here for that.