Don’t Worry, Everyone Is Still Making Money Off Of Casey Anthony
1:35 pm, January 23rd | by Sarah Devlin
This weekend I had the good fortune (misfortune?) to catch Rob Lowe in the Lifetime premiere of Prosecuting Casey Anthony, in which Lowe plays Jeff Ashton, the attorney who led the trial against Casey Anthony for the death of her daughter Caylee, a highly sensationalized affair that ended with Casey’s acquittal on both the murder and child abuse charges. This premiere has been in my Google calendar since Lifetime started airing promos with that music that is the Universal Trailer Signifier for “Sh*t Is Going To Pop Off.” You know what I’m talking about.
The first thing you should know about this movie is that it’s pretty solid, if you’re a fan of both Rob Lowe (who brings some Sam Seaborne realness to the proceedings) and extra-long episodes of Law and Order: SVU. It makes sense for the movie to focus on the prosecution, since the question on everyone’s mind when Anthony was acquitted was something along the lines of “Whaaaa?” But after watching I found that there was another, darker undercurrent to the movie, one that Lifetime frequently exploits — a fascination with women who kill their children.
There’s a lot of primal stuff going on in cases where mothers kill their own offspring: there’s something scary and disturbing about a nurturing figure who ends up being very violent; a mother, who is supposed to place her childrens’ well-being above her own, being the person who ends their lives. Casey Anthony brought up all those issues to the fore when she was on trial, which is certainly part of her fascination and appeal. Once she was acquitted and disappeared (but for a few extremely odd video diaries) most people ignored the verdict and continued to think…whatever they thought about her while the trial was going on.
But I was struck, watching Prosecuting Casey Anthony, by the total unwillingness on the part of those following the trial (and the people who made the movie) to investigate Casey Anthony’s motivations for her behavior beyond diagnosing her as “crazy.” Don’t we owe it to ourselves to ask what kind of brain chemistry and environment makes for a Casey Anthony? Or should we just keep othering her as an inhuman monster and continue to get mileage out of her story?
Although Prosecuting Casey Anthony emphasizes Ashton’s singleminded focus on Casey in the interest of bringing justice for daughter Caylee, the insanity of the media frenzy that surrounded the case, it seemed like an extension of the frenzy itself in its willingness to dismiss Casey Anthony as an unrepentant monster, rather than exploring what patterns might be at work lead women to commit infanticide. Perhaps it’s too much to ask for a Lifetime movie, but for someone at the center of such a firestorm Casey Anthony doesn’t get much of a voice at all, popping up in slow motion closeup shots, crying in court and muttering vague things to her parents on the phone from prison. Meanwhile, she’s an inexhaustible (if silent) source of fuel for outrage, speculation, and hand-wringing about What Went Wrong, without any accompanying investigation of how to prevent something similar from occurring in the future.
Everyone, it seems, has something to gain from Casey Anthony’s trial, and from dismissing her actions as an aberration, rather than something that happens more often in the United States than anywhere else. But why let that get in the way of a good story — instead, the framing device for the Lifetime movie is an interview with Jeff Ashton while he promotes his book Imperfect Justice, all about the Casey Anthony trial.