The murder of British student Meredith Kercher is infamous worldwide – even inspiring upcoming blockbuster The Face of an Angel. Now, two individuals – Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito – have been found guilty of the student’s murder for the second time.
This article, however, is not concerned with the case for and against the defendants, but rather about why the media (and, as a consequence, we the public) were so fascinated by the Kercher story – or should that by the Knox story? From day one, it is she who has been at the centre of the media firestorm surrounding her friend’s death. Interestingly, Knox’s co-accused gets virtually no media attention. Is this purely because he is less vocal on the subject? This may be true – but it is also worth noting that no one is asking him the questions.
In a powerful interview for the Guardian, Knox seems almost incredulous about the fact that she has been targeted by the media to tell her story – and feels compelled to do so as a result. Why her and not someone else? The ‘foxy Knoxy’ rhetoric (a childhood nickname that took on vixen-like connotations when adopted by certain media outlets) seems the most blindingly apparent. Yes, the potential wrongful imprisonment, the appeals – they kept the papers selling, but from the case’s very outset, Knox’s physical appearance was a core feature.
The old stereotype of the femme fatale – commonly understood as a mysterious, seductive and ultimately dangerous woman – seems to have been applied to Knox in full force when anything surrounding the case was mentioned. It’s hardly surprising that producers lapped it up – the whole thing seemed like a script from a film already.
But why all this fuss; after all, it’s not the first time that a woman’s looks have become the story – from IMF leader Christine Lagarde’s style, to the Duchess of Cambridge’s post-baby body. Forget economics, royal accession or any other such nonsense – obviously how these ladies look is far more interesting. The focus on appearance rather than content is problematic enough in the two examples above, but takes on an even more disturbing element when it comes to the Kercher murder case. Are we really so inhumane that we place female beauty over an individual’s life? We would like to think not, but the media coverage to date has left room for doubt.
The frightening thing about this is the injustice done at all levels – irrespective of the guilt or innocence of Knox and Sollecito. What if Amanda Knox had been plainer? What if she had been male? Would that have changed the course of events following the murder? No one can know for sure, but there is a niggling little voice in the back of my head telling me that it probably would have. In today’s world, trial by media is a relatively (and largely unfortunate) common occurrence. But when the exhibits used to determine someone’s future are their physical attractiveness? That is a step too far.