Casey Anthony and Other Things I Don’t Care About

I have been only peripherally aware of the trial--and then only in the way that I'm aware of Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and reality TV.

I want to reflect just a moment on the opening clause in Doug Mataconis’ excellent post “Casey Anthony And Some Thoughts On The Criminal Justice System,” which I endorse in full: “The big news of the day is a subject that we haven’t talked about here at all at OTB.”

In a conversation over the weekend with my wife’s family, I was reminded again how unusual my interests are. They were discussing this case in some detail, including noting that some of their friends were DVRing the trial so they could watch every minute of it. Meanwhile, I have been only peripherally aware of the trial–and then only in the way that I’m aware of Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and reality TV; that is, one can scarcely avoid hearing about them.

As regular readers know, I consume almost no television news. But I spend several hours a day reading news and policy-related material online. Additionally, I follow over a thousand people on Twitter. And yet I don’t know that any of them mentioned the trial before today. (Granted, I most actively follow the 211 people on my ForeignPolicy list. But they tweet about all manner of trivia in addition to world news.)

There’s a whole category of news that goes by the name “human interest” that I simply don’t care about. It’s not that I’m a snob–although, in many ways I am. I follow professional and college football with rabid enthusiasm and that topic’s not inherently more highbrow. And, indeed, there’s no reason that an obsessive interest in day-to-day politics is any more laudable than interest in, say, mixed martial arts or celebrity gossip.

But I’m a policy wonk, interested in individual cases only to the extent that they shine a light on broader public policy problems. As Kevin Drum put it in an only tangentially related context, people like us are “hyperanalytical, maybe even slightly Aspergers-ish. We’re comfortable — too comfortable, probably — viewing the ebb and flow of human lives as an accounting exercise.”

As long as I can remember, I’ve simply found Real Crime stories annoying. People get murdered all the time and, absent some compelling personal connection, I see no reason why I should care about the ones that spark media interest than the others. As the old saying goes, “the plural of anecdote is not data.” Indeed, I get annoyed when emotional victims and survivors are trotted out in Congressional hearings and otherwise exploited to support pre-existing policy beliefs. A good rule of thumb that any law named after a dead child is poorly considered.

Additionally–and perhaps contradictorily–now that I’m a father of two young girls, I naturally personalize stories involving horrible things that happen to children. I was never drawn to “murder porn” before; now, it’s disturbing. So, unless the news actually provides a useful insight on how to protect my girls, I’ve really got no interest in the details.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Media,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. ponce says:

    Why write a post that basically declares you’re a snob, James?

  2. Mr. Prosser says:

    Your post sums up exactly why I read OTB and check it about 3 times a day. Keep it up.

  3. John says:

    You’re only “interested in individual cases only to the extent that they shine a light on broader public policy problems”

    Verdict: Not Guilty

    There you go James. Write away.

  4. Steve Verdon says:

    I say there James…can’t we have this ponce fellow ejected from the club. The fellow is a bloody nuisance and is so uncouth.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    I give ponce an up-vote, not because I agree with him but because he shouldn’t be hit for disagreeing.

    As for you, James, I completely agree on Casey Anthony and every similar sensational trial. If it doesn’t have some sort of philosophical resonance, if it doesn’t mean something, I’m generally not interested.

    But lay off Gaga. Gaga’s cool.

  6. ponce says:

    The fellow is a bloody nuisance and is so uncouth.

    James is the one who wrote:

    “It’s not that I’m a snob–although, in many ways I am.”

    Considering the links he runs in his sidebar (Young celebrity female shows her tits – come clink here and make me and my daughters some money!), I’d say James suffers from the usual Republican malady of lack of self-awareness.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    This post demonstrates that James really does care, really.

  8. Gustopher says:

    If “human interest” stories don’t interest you, have you considered that you might not be human?

  9. Ben Wolf says:

    I guess I’ll have to read Doug’s post, as I have no idea who the hell that person is in the photo. I haven’t watched television in years.

  10. Brett says:

    I’m in a similar position as James. I’ve never really been that interested in Crime News unless it specifically affects where I live. It’s not that I’m not interested in the subject of crime, since I’ve read and enjoyed books like Mark Kleiman’s When Brute Force Fails. But the visceral details of it, like who got murdered today, or the emotional testimonies at the trial, turn me off.

    The same goes for fiction. Most crime dramas (particularly Police Dramas and Procedurals) leave me cold.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Who ITF is Casey Anthony and why ITF should I care about him (or her)?????

  12. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: I’m not dissing Gaga; I just have only the vaguest idea who she is. Perry is setting records on the charts and it’s possible she’s simply fantastic; I just don’t listen to much radio these days and don’t know that I’ve heard her.

    @John: See Doug’s post. I haven’t followed the case anywhere near closely enough to know whether I’d have voted to convict her of murder, although I’ve gleaned enough to convict her of being a shitty parent. But it’s the state’s job to persuade a jury of her guilt, unanimously and beyond reasonable doubt; they did not meet that burden.

    @ponce: I’m perfectly self-aware on celebrity gossip. I launched Gone Hollywood because the BlogAds order page made clear that there was far more money in pop culture than politics and, really, how hard could it be? After a few months, I realized that I’m far more interested in owning a gossip site than pretending to care about it, so I hired a head writer.

    There are things about which I’m a snob; this isn’t one of them. As noted in the post above and a post linked to in this post, I don’t think being obsessively interested in public policy is more virtuous than being obsessively interested in pop culture, sports, reality TV, murder porn, or whathaveyou. I’m simply explaining why we haven’t posted on a subject that CNN thought worthy of an instant alert and most people thought far more newsworthy than 95% of what we post here.

  13. Nightrider says:

    While I’m on about the same channel as James, there one problem with his theory — one has to try to understand what interests and persuades the masses in order to better understand what those masses will do in the ballot box.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    I’m not dissing Gaga; I just have only the vaguest idea who she is.

    I’m afraid that’s not good enough, James. I feel you should join the little monsters and truly embrace Lady Gaga.

    I believe you need to learn the lyrics to BORN THIS WAY and be able to act out at least a rudimentary version of the choreography. I feel I speak for everyone here when I say that there should be a YouTube.

  15. ponce says:

    I’m simply explaining why we haven’t posted on a subject that CNN thought worthy of an instant alert and most people thought far more newsworthy than 95% of what we post here.

    I don’t recall a single comment asking why there weren’t more posts on the Casey Anthony thing on OTB .

  16. Trumwill says:

    I don’t recall a single comment asking why there weren’t more posts on the Casey Anthony thing on OTB .

    If they’d posted on it before now, I would at not have had to go find out who she was. I’d heard the name before, but thought that she was related to the Amanda Knox case, for some reason. Ergo, I blame OTB for my ignorance on this issue of apparent great importance (I brought it up over dinner and apparently I was the only ignoramous — thanks, James).

  17. Ben says:

    The public’s obsession with the trial could actually turn out to be important in an interesting way. Tens of millions of Americans are now perfectly aware that the state can try to kill you with no evidence.

    My sister, who had supported the death penalty her entire life, and still thinks Casey Anthony is probably guilty, seems genuinely changed by the whole situation. Perhaps she’s an outlier? I dunno. I hope not.

  18. sam says:

    I’m with James on this. Why get enmeshed in the trivia of the quotidian? That’s why in my family, I tackle all the big problems and make all the big decisions, such as, what to do about the debt crisis; how to deal with Libya; how fast should we withdraw from Afghanistan, etc. My wife makes all the little decisions, such as, where we live; what we eat; the kind of car we drive; what clothes I’m to wear, etc.

  19. ptfe says:

    I had a disturbing experience yesterday morning when my wife turned on the TV to watch the weather. Immediately after, they had a short “feature” on the Casey Anthony case — I was in the other room killing ants at the time and couldn’t turn off the TV. By the time I got back to it, the station had moved on to an in-depth report about some woman who disappeared in Indiana. It just made me scratch my head: there was apparently so much demand for the former case that whichever network it was had to fill the void they knew would appear once the verdict came in. Just…weird.

    Select statistics:

    – There were over 14,000 murders in the US in 2008.
    – 23 of the total occurred during felony rape;
    – 104 involved a “romantic triangle” (that’s official Census Bureau language);
    – 10 were poisonings;
    – 6 of the victims were ages 40-44 of unknown gender.

    In spite of the sheer number of people who disappear and/or are killed in this country every year, and the vast variety of circumstances under which those events occur, we somehow get “treated” to at least one over an extended period — it’s been going on for centuries. There are now millions of people who will recognize the name Casey Anthony and think she’s guilty, even though a jury was unconvinced. There are an almost equal number of people who will forget her name within 5 years.