Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Hard Knox

Excuse me for thinking we are in a different century - one where witches are burnt.  The Italian retrial of Amanda Knox (who may or may not be guilty of a sex murder with a partner or two, or alone) has been facing eyebrow-raising praise and blame the last few days, on the basis of her looks.  Simple as that.  The prosecutor in the case has claimed that she is "diabolical" and that her fresh-faced innocence masks someone dedicated to drugs, drink and "lust", a modern female Dorian Gray.  Meanwhile, the defence claims she is like "Jessica Rabbit" - "not bad, just drawn that way".

Medieval, or simply Berlusconian, this may be - but also, in the age of Facebook, it speaks to a disturbing and eternal truth of the human condition: good-looking people are thought of differently.  Unfortunately, sexism comes with this.  Knox's eyebrows, heart-shaped face and full mouth, her clean-cut beauty, speak to certain fantasies surrounding all-American prettiness and decency, but, yes, in the age of Britney Spears, also the subversion of those values of seeming normalcy.  Indeed, it would be dishonest to deny that there is a tendency, in Japanese anime and American TV (Glee, Heroes) to play on the "cheerleader" image.  Nabokov explored this dichotomy well, how a certain sort of European perversion views American youth in a transgressive light; Freud harboured fantasies for American women; Ted Hughes remarked on Plath's "American legs"; and in Daisy Miller, we see the tragic downfall of another American ingenue in Italy, enmeshed in European passions.

All well and good - but should we really have to discuss how a defendant looks, in the 21st-century?  Anyone who thinks that a normal, even pleasant-looking person cannot be evil, has no familiarity with the history of serial killers; and the character Quasimodo of course shows us the reverse - the tender-hearted may be all-too-ugly on the surface.  The Knox trial needs to look deeper - to forensic and other evidence; motive; and opportunity.  The possibility that a young man or woman abroad might use drugs and engage in sex games is plausible.  So too, confusingly, is the possibility of innocence. Square one.
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