Anti-social media… July 24, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Crime, Culture, Social Policy, Uncategorized.
I’ve no particular interest in the Amanda Knox case. It appears both tragic, for all involved, and beyond any capacity for effective action by any but the Italian authorities. Which means that all comment appears superfluous, or at least vicarious. But what does interest me is the antagonism Knox herself has had heaped upon her.
For a taste of same just go to this thread here on Slate which discusses some of the relevant issues where the sheer vehemence of some is a sight to behold.
What’s most amazing is that they cannot possibly know. And it’s hard to understand the sheer rage directed against her.
An SBP piece from some months back noted that:
In Britain and Italy, much of the coverage seemed only tangentially related to the specifics of the case. Regardless of the outcome of the trial, it can seem as if she was condemned in the court of public opinion for two traits in particular: ‘weirdness’ and sexual assertiveness.
In relation to the first there is the sense that there is a generalised expectation of a ‘proper’ display of emotion in the aftermath of desperate events.
Much of that reaction lay less with the finer points of the evidence than with the widely-reported instances in which Knox seemed to act strangely shortly after Kercher was murdered.
The examples are legion: how she and Sollecito allegedly clowned around in the police station, she sitting on his lap and the two making faces at each other; suggestions that she turned cartwheels in the same police station; a conversation with one of Kercher’s friends in which the friend was quoted as saying: “I hope she didn’t suffer” and Knox allegedly replying: “How could she not? She got her [expletive] throat slit.”
In her book, Knox claims that the behaviour with Sollecito was the result of her shock at Kercher’s murder and her boyfriend’s attempt to ease her distress.
Moving beyond the specific one sees this in case after case where opprobrium is heaped upon families or individuals in families for supposedly lacking emotion. Given that we have seen deceitful floods of tears at press conferences from those who have been part of appalling crimes it is hard to seriously sustain the idea that that indicates anything one way or another. But it does suggest that – for women in particular – there remain concepts of propriety that are deeply deeply disenabling and that if there is a divergence from them the immediate assumption is of guilt.
I’ve met more than enough people in my time who have acted in good bad and plain old bizarre ways when faced with death (and ironically when relatives have died some of the oddest behaviours was from people unable – perhaps due to embarrassment – to actually even so much as ask how I or those around me were). I cannot imagine what it is like when faced with violent death, particularly murder and particularly when that occurs in one’s own domestic space. It’s not difficult to believe that a range of responses from the seemingly numb right through to outright mania are all possible and all would be – depending upon the individual – understandable.
Actually it raises the point that at one time Knox’s actions would have been regarded as a form of ‘hysteria’ (a loaded term at the best of times and one I don’t like for that reason) and therefore almost expected. Which only goes to prove that in some instances women whatever they do cannot come through such events without unreasonable criticism.
It’s also worth noting this, from Slate – again earlier in the year, which provides clues why people act in what others regard as atypical ways:
In the past decade, neurobiology has evolved to explain why victims respond in ways that make it seem like they could be lying, even when they’re not. Using imaging technology, scientists can identify which parts of the brain are activated when a person contemplates a traumatic memory such as sexual assault. The brain’s prefrontal cortex—which is key to decision-making and memory—often becomes temporarily impaired. The amygdala, known to encode emotional experiences, begins to dominate, triggering the release of stress hormones and helping to record particular fragments of sensory information. Victims can also experience tonic immobility—a sensation of being frozen in place—or a dissociative state. These types of withdrawal result from extreme fear yet often make it appear as if the victim did not resist the assault.
In relation to sexual assertiveness is part of this simply due to the following:
Knox, in her memoir and in the interviews accompanying its release, has been forthright about sex. She wrote that “I hadn’t sought out men because I was obsessed with sex, I was experimenting with my sexuality”. She added: “Casual sex was, for my generation, simply what you did.”
Those kinds of comments have produced some tut-tutting from somewhat unexpected quarters. An article last week in the New Yorker magazine, generally considered a bastion of US liberalism, pronounced such statements to be “a dispiriting account of prevailing mores”.
One can almost hear the finger wagging. One wonders though if it would be quite so censorious were it a man’s comment – indeed would it even be noted?
Though fair dues to the following:
That, in turn, brought other writers to Knox’s defence, at least as far as her sexuality is concerned. Feminist writer Jessica Grose complained in online magazine Slate that the person who had penned the New Yorker article was “primly upset that Knox wanted to have sex uncoupled from feelings” and noted: “Most women who have a few one-night stands don’t end up dead or embroiled in internationally publicised murder trials”.
And most most men neither.
Of course this isn’t entirely new, or in fact not at all knew. We saw aspects of this in relation to the O.J.Simpson case and so on. But social media perhaps allows for an immediacy of response.
I’ve often mentioned that one reason there is some credibility to my online activity despite using a pseudonym – not in the sense of I’m right or wrong, but that you know where I’m coming from and what my positions are likely to be – is that if I do comment people can refer back to a track record built up over the best part of a decade.
But I wonder can that also be problematic, that for some once they’ve made a statement however well or poorly thought through online they can be anchored to that and that it can define their responses subsequently. A sort of exaggeration of the ‘I’m never wrong and even if I am I’ll never admit to it’ effect in online debate. We’ve all been prey to that dynamic to a greater or lesser extent. Indeed it’s one of the great pities to me that certain people on here who took a divergent line from most of what is posted or commented on went over the top, because it is essential to have people who will point up errors or miscommunications.
And add to that emotional identifications which may or may not be appropriate given the proximity of those commenting to the events and it is easy to see how matters can veer sharply off the rails.
It appears, as ever, that the chaotic human responses – whether in terms of developing sexuality, or confusion in the aftermath of terrible events. The Slate article about new research in neuroscience which suggests reasons why there are divergent responses argues that those directly charged with looking after those who are victims of a range of crimes have to be retrained in respect of their perceptions, but in a way one would think that to some degree society more broadly needs retraining too.