Entry from December 7, 2009

Why do you suppose it is that Europeans seem so much more interested than Americans in the fate of the American girl, Amanda Knox, just convicted of murder in Italy and sentenced to 26 years in prison? True, Miss Knox’s victim was her British room-mate, Meredith Kercher, but I don’t think that quite accounts for the extraordinary amount of play that the story has been given for days in the British media — not to mention the heavy coverage the case received during the pre-trial period — while it has rated only a few stories and little commentary in the American media. In particular, the punditry in Britain, particularly the distaff side of it, seem to have opinions about What It All Means. Olga Craig, in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph found the conviction of “Foxy Knoxy” rather disturbing.

Even Giuliano Mignini, the chief prosecutor, wavered over Knox’s motive during the trial, initially saying she had butchered Meredith during a violent sex game that had spiralled out of control, then claiming it was hatred and envy for her popular and somewhat strait-laced flatmate that prompted her attack. And in Britain, even the tabloid press has been restrained, stopping short of the “hang ’em high” headlines it usually reserves for women killers.

I myself don’t see any contradiction between these two hypothetical motives and I’m not sure I believe in those alleged “hang’em high” headlines. I’d like Ms Craig to show me one from the last twenty years or so. She also notes that “there is much division, too, over Knox’s true character. Was she the calculating, sexual deviant with a fetish for violent fornication that the prosecution portrayed? . . .Or is she a naive, somewhat unworldly fantasist whose desire to be centre stage in the first real drama of her life led her to be falsely accused?” The point seems to be that somehow it was not just Miss Knox but her sexuality that was on trial. That, too, seems to be the view of Ceri Radford in today’s Daily Telegraph, who asks

what if it had been a man standing in the dock, declared guilty of sexually assaulting Meredith Kercher, stabbing her to death and abandoning her partly clothed body in a pool of blood? In fact, it need not be an experiment — Raffaele Sollecito, Knox’s former lover, and Rudy Guede have also been convicted, prompting barely a whisper compared to the furore over Knox. Perhaps this is inevitable: without Knox, the case would have been stripped of the false glamour of the female killer. Dangerous women have always been ascribed a cartoonish, predatory sexual allure, from Chicago, that sparkly musical with its murderer heroines, to “erotic” girls-with-guns calendars.

I love the scare quotes around “erotic.” Either it is erotic or it isn’t, I would have thought. Ms Radford merely wishes to express her dissatisfaction that men — men! — quite often think it is. And yet, she notices,

for Knox”s supporters, the fact that she is a woman has played against her, rather than winning her sympathy. Some have compared the case to the Salem witch trials: they talk of sexual hysteria, and the crucifix decorating the courtroom. But it is hard to see Knox simply as the victim of a misogynistic plot: two of the female jurors wept as the sentence was read.

Libby Purves in The Times, on the other hand, dips a toe into very perilous waters by venturing to suggest that there might be some connection between the murder and sexual promiscuity among the young. Oh me, oh my!

One thing that grotesquely stands out is the common expression “sexually adventurous”. Knox’s supporters online use it with indignant defensiveness (hey, man, this is the Sex and the City generation! We’re no prudes!). Media deploy it with gloating prurience. . . Adventurous? Come off it! These people are not Sir Ranulph Fiennes or Captain Scott. They are just randy and needy, and afraid or incapable of love. They persuade themselves that the great gift of physical intimacy is as meaningless as a handshake, less significant than ping-pong. They think that it is OK to objectify other human beings as sex toys, and throw them away afterwards. . . A heartless recreational attitude to sex has become normalised, from drunken Saturday-night clubbers on the pull to fictional sophisticates on the telly. The “fling”, the mile-high grope on the plane, the strange head on the pillow are commonplaces of joke and memoir with no shame attached.

Of course she goes on to say — as you must have known she would — that she is glad, for the most part, for the liberalization of public attitudes about sex and wishes, in particular, that the Roman Catholic church could get past its primitive hangup on the link between it and procreation. “What is really sad though — see, even I jib at saying ‘wrong’ — is the idea of ‘adventurousness’: sex made ‘zipless’, gourmet, divorced from affection, understanding, wonder or hope. You clock a hot piece, pull, mate and discard with hardly a name-check. It rounds off the evening but blunts your humanity.”

Gee, ya think, Libby? And yet, even so unexceptionable a bit of moralizing as this would hardly be possible in the American media. That may be why we are so much more interested in Tiger Woods than in Amanda Knox, though the latter is the more unusual and even titillating case. That kind of moralizing, whether it is pro or con Tiger himself, is more to our taste because it arises out of moral self-satisfaction — at least for those of us who have fewer than half a dozen mistresses — rather than a genuine concern with the community’s standards and the likely consequences of their decline. The “Sex and the City” reference reminds us of how little moral soul-searching that series produced outside the right-wing media ghetto, if there. Less even than in “Sex and the City” itself, since in one episode the girls seriously considered the question, “Are we sluts?” It didn’t cause them much anxiety, it’s true, but it didn’t cause the rest of us any at all, apparently. How comes it that, in America at least, the harmlessness of sexual adventurousness is yet another example of “settled science”?

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