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Sanctimonious scorn and reverse schadenfreude

by Dan Barton
July 07, 2011 03:40 PM | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
They wanted that bitch dead.

You know who I’m talking about. Casey Anthony. The one who got found by a jury of her peers not guilty of the murder of her daughter. As soon as the verdict dropped, you could hear the howls of outrage leap from millions of keyboards and smart phones throughout the land. How? HOW!?! How could it be possible that a jury, who had seen every excruciating moment of testimony from the trial and had likely spent every waking moment of their jury-hood weighing the evidence, be so wrong? After all, hadn’t every media outlet from that screw-faced meanie Nancy Grace to the Pennysaver been screaming for months and months that the narcissistic mom killed her kid because she wanted to go out and party more and that she manipulated her parents into saying all sorts of bizarre crap so she could get away with it? How? What the hell is wrong with people?

What, indeed. Look, I don’t know if Casey Anthony killed her daughter or not, and you know what? Neither do you, or your mom, or the people at the deli or your Facebook friends. Yet, so many of us went absolutely totally nuts when, in essence, something on TV didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to. (Maybe in today’s world, that’s the ultimate sin — not following the script, not wrapping it up neatly and according to expectations. After all, that can be the only explanation for movie and TV-show promos bellowing, “You won’t believe the twist at the end!” Need I say if you know it’s coming, it’s not a twist? I guess I do!)

What is it about being “right” that makes white-hot anger and scorn acceptable? Is it some kind of weird switch that gets flipped when we encounter someone who’s done something so horrible? There are certain circumstances when people feel justified to let it all out — every demon, devil, affliction, animus, bile, vitriol, meanness, sadism, cruelty and other cheap feeling the human soul contains and restrains. The rage, enhanced by that enabling conviction that we are Right, leaves the better angels of our nature bleeding in the alley, stabbed through the neck with ice picks. Take, for example, the carpet bombing and subsequent rape and pillage of Germany at the end of World War II. It was horrible — millions died in very nasty ways but few care because it was the Germans and they started it, so they got what they deserved, even the little kids and old people. Same thing with all those people in Georgia in the way of Sherman’s March. Right? Right?

In a way, it’s not about the victim at all — it’s not like a guilty verdict would have brought Kaylee Anthony back to life and it’s not like people lose it over the thousands of children they’ve never met (who don’t get on Nancy Grace) who die of abuse, neglect, malnutrition and war every day of every year. No, it’s about the mob-urge — the inhumane but all-too-human need to pick up the pitchfork and torch and get some payback, goddammit.

Justice is one thing and revenge another, and it’s always important to keep in mind that TV, the Internet and even (gasp!) newspapers are a filter, not the whole story. All too often, they tell you what they think will make them money. If it’s the truth, hooray. If it’s not, well, the checks still clear. Maybe that bitch deserved to die, but the people whose job it was to make that decision didn’t think so. So it goes.
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