After months of a media circus surrounding the trial of Jodi Arias, the jury entered deliberations on Friday to come to a decision on her fate. As media coverage would have it, the trial has been nothing less than a “real-life soap opera,” with “fans,” “juicy details,” and a “star” (who happens to be a murderer.)
Nothing, it seems, is more profitable than the intersection of sex and violence. The case resembles an episode of Law and Order SVU more than the other way around, with an abusive relationship, X-rated phone sex recordings, and exciting twists along the way. The public loves it. People have been camping outside the courthouse all night for a chance to see the show in person. The media has featured round-the-clock coverage, including the HLN network that has a whole show dedicated to the case and consults mock juries on a stage near the courtroom. Lifetime already has a movie in the works.
There’s no question that Jodi murdered her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, who was found in a shower in 2008 shot in the head, with nearly 30 stab wounds and a slit throat. The question that remains is why explicit details of Alexander and Arias’ sex life are necessary for the defense or prosecution. The prosecution says Arias is a cold-blooded murderer. The defense says she was a victim of abuse. It’s unclear whose point it proves to play an hour-long phone-sex tape, or to have Arias testify for an unprecedented 18 days about her sex life.
Surely I’m not the only one reminded of the movie Chicago: “Would you please tell the audience — err, the jury — what happened?” says Billy Flynn, a savvy defense lawyer who knows the public just wants a sexy story to entertain them. The original play was written in 1926 as a satire of the seedy media sensationalism surrounding murder cases of the time. It looks like not much has changed since then except that media coverage is now amplified. Arias herself, who doesn’t have internet in prison, has been tweeting by proxy and now has over 45,000 followers. Her tweets are a mixture of advertising her artwork for sale, commentary on the trial and her life in prison, and quotes from inspirational figures.
“N. DisGrace has set back the cause of all women who have survived domestic violence. Her circus makes a mockery of something very serious,” tweeted Arias' account on May 7, presumably referring to Nancy Grace’s endless coverage of the trial. And she kind of has a point. The way the media and the public are treating this case, using a story of murder to entertain and titillate, makes criminals into celebrities. It desensitizes us to violence in our real lives and communities. Let’s hope Arias gets the verdict she deserves, and that few others are inspired to become celebrities through violence.