Pretty in Pink or Shameless in Seattle?

4/2/2014

Last Friday an Italian court re-instated the conviction of American Amanda Knox and Italian Raffaele Sollecito for the savage killing of British student Meredit…h Kercher in 2007. In the British tabloids Amanda Knox, a sexually active twenty year old who smoked marijuana, has been painted as a drug-crazed, cold-hearted nymphomaniac. David Marriot, the PR consultant hired by the Knox family shortly after her arrest, re-branded her as an all-American ingénue, now shrilly defended by many in the US media and her ‘supporters’ online. Marriot’s hand can, perhaps, be seen in two interviews aired last week. The first was a 12 minute ‘exclusive’ from The Guardian. Dressed down and speaking in measured tones, Knox’s account of her alleged wrongful conviction was well-pitched to a liberal British audience. In the other 9 minute ‘exclusive’, for ABC’s Good Morning America, she was both dressed and made-up in shades of pastel pink and appeared to be on the verge of tears, her voice quivering throughout. Both interviews gave her a platform to protest her innocence, unchallenged by anything which could be described as journalism and without reference to the evidence against her.

‘Shameless in Seattle’, the Daily Mail headline screamed the next day. ‘Foxy Knoxy’s brazen TV charm offensive to escape extradition for murder of British student.’ The piece went on to share the important information that Knox ‘was pictured in a camel trench coat and turquoise hat as she arrived’ and ‘looked groomed and glamorous in studio make-up and her new short bob haircut.’In the USA about 88% of convicted murderers are men. Of the remaining 12%, 2.4% are women who kill other women. Amanda Knox, if she is a murderer, is unusual but not exceptional – yet she has been accorded the status of a celebrity. ‘She devil’, ‘ice-maiden’, ‘angel-faced killer’ – the lurid epithets used to describe her speak of a culture in which female youth and beauty have always been a cipher for feminine virtue (think Cinderella and her ugly sisters). But women are supposed to be tender, submissive, chaste and demure. Anything else is ‘unnatural’ and so there is an equally entrenched characterisation of female transgression as diabolical – and seductive. Women are either blameless or shameless, Madonnas or whores. Witness the comments posted under a youtube video about Knox:‘I have a deep mistrust of the nymphomaniac type Amanda Knox is. I feel frightened by what these disturbed women can do under the influence of their out of control sexual impulses . . . This is someone who openly gloated on her facebook about her sexual conquests and her never ending lust for men. What kind of whore is that??’‘Of course she’s a fucking whore and a filthy liar! You gotta be blind not to see that in her evil face […] She’s got the sexual appeal of an evil harlot.’ As someone interested in words I find Knox’s own use of language peculiar. Addressing the jury on the last day of her 2009 trial, for example, she said she feared “having the mask of a killer forced onto my skin.” A creative writing student, she had written stories about the drugging and raping of young women prior to Meredith Kercher’s death. As reported in De Spiegel, Rafael Sollecito also had ‘a penchant for violent pornography and horror films . . . but these things are perfectly normal.’ Knox and Sollecito both offered numerous and conflicting accounts of what they were doing on the night of the murder. More recently Knox has published what she may have hoped would be the definitive version. Represented by ‘the same Washington lawyer who brokered huge publishing deals for Tony Blair, Barack Obama and George W Bush’ she was paid a £2.5 million advance for a ‘memoir’, also available as an audio book which she narrates herself. None of this proves she is a murderer. It is evidence, rather, of our collective and apparently insatiable fascination with the ‘blameless’ and the ‘shameless’ when it comes to women, sex and violence; of a disturbing blurring between fantasy, cultural stereotyping, wishful thinking and reality; of a salacious media who, following the lead of the Italian judiciary, framed the story of a gruesome murder as a titillating tale of ‘a drug-fuelled sex game gone wrong,’ forgetting that a ‘game’ requires consent. For Meredith Kercher there can have been nothing remotely sexual about what happened. She was violently restrained (as evidenced by the fingerprints and bruises on her forearms and face) while another or other assailants stabbed her repeatedly and left her to bleed to death. Neither, sadly, was this terrifying ordeal unusual. Rather, it is typical of a chronic and widely unreported pattern of violence against women. According to journalist Nicholas Kristof, women between the age of 15 and 44 are more at risk of death or injury from violent personal attack than from car crashes, war, malaria and cancer combined.

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