The young woman who seems to have committed the most heinous and mystifying of all crimes — the murder of her own two-year-old daughter — rarely shows even a flicker of affect. Grave-pale and dead-eyed, she sits lumpily in court and listens as her astounding lies are recounted, and that lack of affect seems to have even changed the planes of her face — as if her brow and jawbones were being steadily blunted, so that by trial’s end she will no longer have any facial features left, just one solid block of white bone.
She watches herself on a laptop computer, which shows a videotape of her interrogation by Florida detectives, and keeps her poker-face intact as she sees herself effortlessly spin the most absurd of lying sagas.
Here’s how breathtaking a liar she was: for three years, she convinced her family — whom she lived with — that she was going out every day to a great job at Universal Studios in Orlando — a job that never existed. And when the police finally started closing in on her, she actually led them to Unversal, through the security gate (“I lost my badge”), and down the corridor to her non-existent office before finally stopping dead in her tracks and admitting, “I don’t work here.”
From there, her byzantine tale of kidnapping nannies and shadowy boyfriends began to crumble, though even now she proposes a transparently phony tale about her daughter accidentally drowning in the family pool: the lies don’t stop, they just morph into new lies when they’ve outlived their purpose, which is to buy one more day of lying.
I see the face of Casey Anthony in 95% of the politicians that surround her on cable news.
At a time when one out of four American children don’t even get enough food to eat, these Casey Anthonys on the national scene continue to stand there, dull-faced in the sunlight, and talk about how important the deficit is. When veterans are killing themselves in record numbers, they blandly inform us that it’s crucial to slash funding for veteran’s support: “Everyone’s going to have to take a haircut.” And while the growing despair of the working class turns into terror and outright panic, they drone on about the debt-ceiling.
Their speech cadence and thought patterns are so boring they actually become hypnotic.
Whether they’re standing in a New Hampshire farmyard or sitting in a network studio, there is no urgency, there is no truly righteous indignation, there is no awareness of the suffering out there. What does it say about the national mood that the only people who seem truly outraged — or who are willing to organize around their outrage — are the Tea Partiers?
In the Casey Anthony trial, there was one shocking and heartrending eruption of reality when the dead child’s grandmother was testifying. They played a 911 tape, a call the grandmother made when she could no longer deny the truth in her gut. She made the call after she’d picked up Casey’s car, which reeked with that unmistakable odor, telling the 911 operator: “It smells like there’s a dead body in the damn car!”
Watching the grandmother doubled over in the witness chair as she listened to the tape, reliving the horror that is every parent’s ultimate nightmare, was unbearable. But at least it provided a shock of recognition: this is what’s really happening. A child is really dead.
Children, veterans, the poor and the elderly are really dying. And many are dying because of decisions made in Washington and state capitols around the country. How can we learn to hear those daily 911 calls from all across America? When does the denial stop?
“It smells like there’s a dead body in the damn car!”
John Eskow is a writer and musician. He wrote or co-wrote the movies Air America, The Mask of Zorro, and Pink Cadillac, as well as the novel Smokestack Lightning.