Casey Anthony, Facebook Outrage, and Missing White Woman Syndrome

When the Casey Anthony trial verdict was announced last week, my social media feeds blew up in heavily-punctuated outrage. My Facebook feed alone had a string of nearly one hundred status updates, all expressing shock, dismay, and anger at the outcome of the trial, most using a minimum of four exclamation points.  At work, the verdict was all anyone could talk about. Condemnation and righteous fury were all around me, and I was angry for an entirely different reason. Many reasons, actually:

Danieal Kelly

Mya Lyons

Christopher Barrios

Brisenia Flores (The ringleader behind the home invasion and double murder in the Flores case was convicted on July 1, 2011, four days before the Casey Anthony verdict. A search of CNN’s website shows that no story has been published regarding the case since February 2011.)

Where was the outrage for these cases? Where was the nonstop media coverage? The People cover stories? The evidence of anyone, anywhere, caring even a little? There are a number of explanations for the lack of outrage for those other cases, but most fall under the umbrella of Missing White Woman Syndrome. In the case of Casey Anthony, you had an adorable white child victim, and a young, attractive white mother accused of murdering her. Add one part Nancy Grace, a smattering of magazine covers, and a heaping portion of media sensationalism, and you have a recipe for a national spectacle.

Don’t misunderstand me. The death of Caylee Anthony was tragic, as is the death of any murder victim whose life is cut short through the violence, negligence, or cruelty of another human being. But the disproportionate collective giving of shits surrounding this case was infuriating to those who watch as cases involving minority victims fall by the wayside and are largely ignored by society as a whole.

It’s a little disconcerting to realize that most Americans can’t be bothered to care about any of the thousands of horrific things that happen across the U.S. or around the world unless the media chooses to cram it down their throats. Before the bombardment of outrage on my Facebook feed, most of these same “friends” had most recently posted on who was their favorite contestant on So You Think You Can Dance, or the thunderstorms passing through their area. Only a handful of people I interact with in that particular social medium ever post anything remotely political or current event-aware, and those people who do post links to news stories or status updates relating to social or political issues largely ignored the Anthony verdict. Those who did comment, for the most part, brought up Missing White Woman Syndrome, or commented on the sudden “activism” appearing on their newsfeed, questioning whether passive acts like turning on a porch light were in any way helpful to the “cause.” I brought up MWWS and media sensationalism in a conversation about the case, the verdict, and the reaction of the general public, and got this in response: “It sounds like you’d like to see more black children murdered and aired on Nancy Grace and Jane Velez Mitchell, for you to be satisfied, which is bizarre on this end.” Well, no.

What I would like is for all victims of violent crime to get equal coverage in the media, regardless of race or economic status. What I would like is for all of these people who think that posting an exclamation point-filled status update and flipping on their porch light (which, wouldn’t you turn it on at dark anyway?) is in any way activism to actually take some action and get involved in something that actually could make a difference. Volunteer at an abuse hotline. Donate to programs that deal with the issues of domestic violence. What I would like is for these people who are shrieking at the failure of our justice system to actually serve jury duty when they are called up. To vote for government officials who are trying to bring about change. To watch something other than Nancy Grace and read something other than Us Weekly and to educate themselves about what’s actually happening in the world around them. It’s sad to say, but I’m not optimistic. People will fall back into their regular routines until the next easily-sensationalized story comes up, and then they’ll be outraged all over again, as though nothing bad had happened in between. And I’ll continue on my crusade of trying to open people’s eyes, and I’ll probably fail, but I’ll keep trying. Because as far as I’m concerned, the only difference that turning my porch light on will ever make is attracting bugs, while I sit safely inside my house.


6 replies on “Casey Anthony, Facebook Outrage, and Missing White Woman Syndrome”

Yes, yes, yes.

I am constantly angered over MWWS. This might start to veer off topic, but it’s fresh on my mind and this article really resonated with me. Just today the body of a 21 year old woman (and mother of a young child) was found burning in Oakland near where I live. Where is the front page story and outrage? Instead Monica Rodas got sparse article(& later a 6-sentence follow-up identifying her name) along with derogatory comments from readers about how she must have been a prostitute working the streets of Oakland. All because she was a young women in Oakland; that automatically ascribes a certain image to people (hell, we later found she wasn’t even from Oakland!). Horrible, tragic and violent things unfortunately happen. It’s only when they happen to people of a certain race, class, background that it’s brought to our attention, and that is not okay.

Very true.

I admit to being one of the people who posted a shocked status (two, actually) after the verdict was read.

I’m also one of the people who posts tons of political and socially conscious stuff. To the point of annoying people.

I actually went most of the three years without following any details of the Casey Anthony case. I loathe Nancy Grace. I avoided anything involved with it at all costs and up until last week didn’t even realize the trial was nearing an end. One of my good friends suddenly started posting tweet after tweet after tweet and facebook status after facebook status about the trial and I could not avoid it. My husband was home between classes and he started watching the trial for lack of anything else on TV. Between the two of them I kept hearing about it, so I sat down and watched some. And I just happened to catch the verdict. After hearing some of the closing arguments etc I did find it shocking that she wasn’t found guilty. From what I had heard, it sounded like she was definitely guilty. And yeah, I fell into the circus for a minute. It only took me about half an hour though, to realize that I was getting a little too invested in the whole thing. So I pulled my head out of the sand, read some thought provoking opinions on the whole case, and then promptly stopped watching/reading anything else about it. I did not tune into the sentencing and have no idea when she gets out or anything like that. I managed to stay out of that mess for three years and in a moment of weakness/boredom, forgot myself and got caught up in the media circus. It’s kind of embarrassing actually. But it’s just proof that the media guides our every move…we believe what we’re told, we only see the things that are carrying out on our tv screen.

I was a little shocked at the fervor of some of the people who had been following this case…I almost deleted Roseanne Barr from my Twitter because she was starting to threaten violence towards the defense and generally becoming unhinged. My friend, who initially got me into the case, actually turned off her phone and didn’t talk to anyone for a whole day after the verdict. And people I never would’ve thought would follow the case all sent me invites to that stupid ‘porch light’ event.

Thank you. One thing people in my social networks were complaining about was that “OMG, she’s going to get a book deal/interview deal/whatever and make MONEY off of this.” Yeah, she is, because so many people seem to care so much, which is our fault, not hers or the legal system’s. If we just ignored Casey Anthony, no one would pay her to write or speak because there wouldn’t any profit in it.

As for the case itself, I didn’t pay enough attention to say if it was fair or not. But I will say that the court of public opinion has no right to trump the actual judicial system, which requires proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. From what I understand, the prosecution had a weak case, even if everyone felt in their hearts like she did it. I know that if I ever faced charges, I would want to be held to those same rules. We can’t pick who has rights and who doesn’t based on whether we like them or not.

I applauded our judicial system for doing the right thing. I attempted to explain that the jury made the best decision they could, given the information they were provided, and people flipped out at me in anger.
I was saddened, don’t get me wrong, to see that Casey Anthony’s violence / neglect would go relatively unpunished, but that’s what happens when the prosecution doesn’t present enough hard evidence.
I am a member of a forum group that started discussing this as well and most were shocked / dismayed / angry at the verdict and used many, many exclamation points. My response was also about all of the other children who are abused and neglected who never get any media coverage. I feel that if MSNBC, or Nancy Grace, or any of the other major media outlets focused on other stories than MWWS we would have a huge change in people’s perspectives, but it’s not going to happen. To take a quote from some movie…(sadly I can’t remember which one) “If it bleeds, it leads.” Evidently, they feel that missing, abused, or murdered, “poor black folk” wouldn’t sell as well.
It’s a sad reality that our main outlets for news and information are so biased. I had never heard anything about any of the other stories you linked to.

I think the reason why the Casey Anthony trial has been so attention grabbing to most of America is because it is a reflection of white panic. I was thinking about this the other day with the incessant coverage of both Jaycee Dugard and Anthony: its a shoot off on the virgin/whore dichotomy. Anthony is the collective fear of “badness” as thought by the majority of white folk – an irresponsible, “loose”, trashy mother ( and in America we hate a bad mother, but pay no attention to domestic violence and homicide statics of fathers/ step fathers / boyfriends). She represents everything antithetical to what a mom is supposed to be and what is stereotypically valued.
Contrast this with the Dugard situation where everyone keeps referring to Dugard as having it all “stolen” from her, being a sex slave ( I hate that term) having her innocence taken from her, everything connoting to her goodness ( I want to clarify that what happened to her is awful and in no way am I questioning her self, but questioning the way that the media is portraying her) . Again, its this sort of collective fear of innocence stolen. I don’t know if you saw the Diane Sawyer interview, but it felt to me that Dugard was put up high on this pedestal, where her status as a victim is somehow a bar set for how all survivors of rape of abuse or kidnapping are therefore supposed to act afterwards ( Sawyer said during the interview many times that Dugard is an example)
Now both incidents are tragic, but as media representations they are incredibly limiting and polarized, cashing in on white panic , meanwhile, thousands of other similar situations are happening without any sort of representation because of the victim’s race or gender. One only has to look at the recent Lauren Spierer case, where they found a body that might have been hers and there was a flourished rise in media attention and then when it turned out to be the body of a middle aged black woman who had been there for two weeks, all attention immediately dropped and there was no focus on who that woman was, how she died, what might have happened to her etc. It’s a value system that constantly reinforces racist norms by either exaggerating ( like Dateline’s story on campus date rape and speaking only to white woman whose attackers were only black men ) or total invisibility.

You are absolutely right. I think the coverage of the Casey Anthony trial was like a circus. It fed into to America’s thirst for dramatics. And yes, putting your porch light on for Casey, while touching, doesn’t do a damn thing to help all the other children who suffer the same tragedy she did.

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