Did you follow the Amanda Knox appeal trial?
I didn't. I had heard of the situation after the first guilty verdict, and had wondered a little bit at the lack of concrete evidence linking Knox or her boyfriend to the crime, but other than that it wasn't a case I paid any attention to.
I'm often interested in high profile crime cases, an interest that comes from many places: my love of mystery fiction, my concern that too often people are convicted of crimes on rather flimsy evidence, my general, if deplorable, fascination with "celebrity" crime cases, and so on. But this one just didn't capture my interest, though I felt sorry both for the family of the victim and for anyone actually innocent caught up in the accusations (unless three people really did conspire to kill the victim, which never did seem all that likely to me), I just didn't follow the case all that much.
Which is why when yesterday's verdict of "not guilty" for Knox was announced, I had the opportunity to read various comments under the multiplicity of news articles without, for once, having formed strong opinions of my own; and from that perspective I was rather astonished by the fury with which people expressed their opinions about the case, the verdict, and Knox herself. One commenter would insist that Knox was an innocent girl caught up in a horrible nightmare; the next would insist with equal fervor that she was a monster who deserved to be jailed for life; and the conversation would quickly swirl out of control.
Had I followed the case and formed my own strong opinions, I'm sure I'd be just as swift to add them to the cacophony. But that realization made me pause--what, exactly, is with our level of passionate intensity about things we often know very little about, in reality?
The easy answer here is to blame the media. We're so conditioned to media messages, to advertising and marketing, to the fully-legal manipulation of our tastes, ideas, conclusions, etc. that we come to a story like the Knox case with preconceived notions; and whether we're going to see her as the injured innocent or the "she-devil" of a lurid murder case might, some would say, be a predetermined thing.
But I'm not sure that's the whole story. Couldn't it also be true that our tendency to form swift, somewhat illogical/irrational opinions on these sorts of things goes beyond such notions as media manipulation or confirmation bias, and says something deeper about our culture? Have we become, in effect, a culture that is easily subject to this new sort of "viral" experience, that turns seemingly ordinary people into a mob (not necessarily a flash mob, but a mob) at the slightest provocation?
I hope not, because that would probably have consequences reaching far beyond an unpleasant tendency to express loud and combative opinions about celebrity trials. But what do you think?