ORLANDO, Fla.--Suburban Drive in Orlando winds its way gracefully through a neighborhood of solidly middle-class, single-family residences before it ends between an elementary school and a wide expanse of lush Florida greenery. It was near this terminus that the remains of Caylee Anthony were found months after her death, pointing the finger of suspicion at her mother, Casey Anthony, who has been found not guilty of first-degree murder.
Casey Anthony, who fantasized about connections with Universal Studios and Nickelodeon, has succeeded in a dream that eludes millions of her peers. She is famous, the veteran of a courtroom with electricity in the air on par with any world-class event.
Yet Anthony’s greatest challenges lie ahead, as she must come to terms with a life of celebrity that defeats many -- even those who have not earned it so bitterly.
The great American media machine of Hollywood films, TV, mass-market book publishing and promotion sees her as a recognizable, strong “brand” with a solid “platform” to generate millions in revenue. She may soon see herself surrounded by ambitious, unconventional, often unstable people who reap huge profits from misfortunes of others. Her Orlando friends, even those who indulged in glitzy club promotions, may seem quaint compared to her potential new company.
The United States, after all, has been riveted to the proceedings more reflectively than Americans followed the O.J. Simpson murder trial. People seem to have recognized elements of their own lives in the unfolding saga.
Both aging parents had to hold down jobs to afford the family’s lifestyle, hoping to provide their grown children with a measure of security, even as they kept up appearances and harbored secrets about the children’s unraveling lives.
They held a baby shower to welcome their grandchild, Caylee, whose father had “died in a traffic accident.” But they excluded their son, Lee, from the celebrations. Lee wept on the witness stand when he recalled the events, perhaps displaying more emotion than his exclusion alone would have warranted.
The parents welcomed all that Caylee’s mother told them about her imaginary employment at Universal Studios. They delighted when Casey told them of her promotion as an event coordinator, a position, she said, that enabled her to travel in style with Caylee and a nanny.
Casey invented another friend who worked for Nickelodeon. Parents so desperately want to believe their children’s success stories.
It is no accident that Casey’s fantasy life centered on Hollywood and commercial media. In these bleak times of unemployment and dwindling expectations, fantasies often involve the star-making machinery and the putatively enviable lives of its celebrities.
Hollywood’s glittering film premiers, sumptuous estates, club hopping and extravagant shopping sprees are relentlessly paraded before an American public that has to cope with boring jobs or grinding unemployment, daunting bills, unaffordable healthcare and tension-ridden family lives. In turn, the American public begins to fashion fantasies of its own, albeit not as robustly as Casey’s.
Casey’s circle of friends, who gathered at Fusion nightclub with its “shot girls” and “hard body contests,” provided her with real pleasures. The prosecution argued unsuccessfully that Caylee stood between Casey and her desire to indulge in this life childless and carefree. According to the prosecutors, she had gotten away with lying so long and so convincingly, she thought she could get away with murder as well.
The jury did not buy the argument, and merely convicted Casey Anthony of misleading law enforcement authorities.
American juries are instructed to convict on evidence. The remains of Caylee Anthony, after months of decomposition, left no fingerprints, degraded DNA and no other traceable elements that led to her mother beyond a reasonable doubt.
Testimony of witnesses directly involved in the case, including those of her parents, were highly unreliable. The husband and wife, tangled up in their own emotions and complications, offered conflicting accounts during the long course of depositions and the trial.
The not-guilty verdict does not make the death of Caylee Anthony any less of an American tragedy. It’s unlikely now that anyone will ever conclusively establish how this energetic, bright and winsome little girl died.
Casey Anthony’s life so far has shown that she is more impetuous than logical, more prone to fantasy than reality. To those who know little of the entertainment industry — and a news industry that increasingly resembles it — she may appear as someone ideally suited to step into the bright lights.
Yet those who know the hard core of Hollywood just beneath the tinsel would advise her to proceed cautiously. She may find it far more unforgiving than the justice system she has fought so successfully.
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