Side Effects

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Amanda Knox and the Power of Projection

Many fantasies are driving responses to the Amanda Knox verdict

Like most of you, I'm sure, I've been stunned by the verdict against Amanda Knox in Perugia, Italy, and trying to gauge its accuracy. I've also been coming up with many questions about the trial and the Knox family's repeated statements of their daughter's innocence. As several commentators have pointed out, we seem to have watched not only two Amanda Knoxes on trial, but two different portraits of an American college student. Her closest friends insisted last night, on CNN, that Amanda is the least violent person they've ever met. The Italian media and prosecution insist, by contrast, that she's nothing short of a "she-devil," nymphomaniac, and a participant in satanic rites.

The guileless purity that Knox's family is insisting upon, somewhat frantically, in their daughter squares poorly with the Knox who's been cast by the Italian media as craven and vilely evil, partly because she had several affairs while abroad and partied a bit as an exchange student. (As if many of them don't.) Yet we do know that Knox was quite prepared to defame her boss, Patrick Lumumba, and falsely accuse him of murdering Kercher. Knox's family understandably prefers not to discuss that and other factors strongly counting against her.

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Extreme cultural prejudices are also getting tossed around, either supporting our judgment or creating havoc with our sense of justice. Knox's family has come close to smearing not only the entire judicial system in Italy, but also much of the nation's culture. As some have pointed out, they likely would be praising the very same system now if it had found their daughter innocent. Meanwhile, many Italians, though critical of weaknesses in their judicial system, nonetheless resent the speed with which Americans and much of the American media have cast aspersions on the lengthy deliberations of the Italian jury, partly because we select ours more systematically in the States. Yet we make wrongful convictions all the time, some of them resulting in the death penalty; and we sometimes do so on the basis of open-ended, and thus inconclusive, forensic evidence. As a culture, moreover, it seems we hardly think about the repercussions of doing so, much less discuss how such travesties could be brought to an end.

But this was a trial over the brutal murder of an English student, Meredith Kercher (21). Passions are obviously running high over the verdict, not least because Knox (22) ended up retracting her statement that she was actually very close to the scene of the crime, apparently trying to block out Meredith's screams in order to sleep while her roommate was horrifically stabbed and assaulted next door. My own sense is that the jury had enough evidence to go on to convict Knox, and that Knox would indeed have been convicted in this country on the basis of the same evidence. People often are.

What we are also witnessing, as we weigh the verdict and debate its merits (including its almost-certain appeal) is a form of projection that insists only one country could get it right, that only one nation has the judicial system capable of reaching the right verdict. That's patently false. As Americans we risk displaying the very polarities that some accuse the Italian media of exhibiting. Statements that Knox could never hurt a fly are about as convincing as pronouncements on her behavior based largely on her appearance. That said, we can't ignore her behavior, or her statements, or indeed her reaction to police questioning. All of that matters, especially when it's markedly out-of-character, as in her turning cartwheels in a police station when her boyfriend was being questioned about the murder.

www.christopherlane.org

Christopher Lane, Ph.D., teaches literature and intellectual history at Northwestern University and is the author of Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness. more...

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