Avenger

Nancy Grace basks in this sort of tripe, this Southern conflation of prayer, patriotism and the electric chair. Her rush to judgment against the Duke lacrosse team, for instance, was utterly middle-brow, utterly predictable, and yet surprizing to hear in a pop-cultural context.

Here was a line of argument that had originated in the the ivy-covered obscurantism of the faculty lounge. Any recent college student will recognize in it the familiar canards mouthed by career feminists and “queer-scholars,” who, not having to dumb it down for a cable audience, are free to throw around heavy academic sandbags like patriarchy and paradigm at every passing blur.

It is a spiteful, childish vision of the sexes, where all men are cavemen. Rapacious, exploitive, one handgun away from mayhem at any given moment.

This fantastical notion echoes the prurience of the “Traditional Family” crowd who imagine all men to be at the mercy of their sex drive. Men enslaved by their insatiable taste for pornography. Men, particularly, young boys, easily persuaded to, say, change their sexual orientation at the slightest touch. A gender doomed to sin, until they are tamed by wives, slowed by children.

The sexual paranoia darkens and is projected large in the Christian Right’s panic over gay men. Gay men are imagined to be always on the march, driven by inhuman sex drives, humping each other in one continuous orgy when they are not sabotaging wives and children with their satanic gay agenda. It is always gay men, not lesbians, who set off the loudest alarms. Without women to subdue them, Gay men are somehow double men, doubly wild, doubly dangerous.

A curious hallucination given what gay men actually look and sound like. There is running underneath all this a discomfit with sex. Gay men are conveniently Other and when imagined to be a magnification of the rawest male instincts can be used by sexphobes to vent a much larger distrust of human nature in general.

Bottom line, men are rapists. Women, victims. By definition.

The absence of DNA evidence in the case of the lacrosse players would prove a serious obstacle to the narrative. It crimped Nancy’s overarching presumption of innate male culpability. Still she soldiered on. The Duke Lacrosse case brimmed with too many inviting story hooks, too many Southern night sounds. Nancy’s usual toughmindedness deserted her.

It did not, however, desert her audience, who began to quarrel with her in instant text messages and call-ins to the show. Women who cried rape did not get to elude close scrutiny simply because women had been raped in the past and not been believed. Women were not born pure and truthful, while men devious and cruel, as the neo-Victorian ethic that Grace had bought into imagined.

Still the male-phobic invective against the Duke boys didn’t even hit a speedump. And with the on-air criticism of Grace came on-air defenders. The blunt absence of evidence seemed to accelerate belief, spurring the Nancy Grace faithful — and Nancy Grace herself — to make even more elaborate professions of faith.

“As a victim of violence myself,” Grace wrapped up one night, referring again to the murder of her fiancĂ©, “I know that this woman’s ordeal. Is. Just. Beginning. Just beginning, people! The defense will put her on trial, not their clients. Her behavior. Her life. And if the prosecution isn’t on its toes, those boys will buzz out of there scott free!”

As in fact they did. On the night of the verdict Nancy Grace was absent from the air. A substitute host announced the acquittal of the three students and the complete exoneration of all members of the Duke Lacrosse team.

2011 UpDate:

The three accused boys filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit against Durham County, the Durham County Police Department, Duke University, and lead prosecutor Mike Nifong, who they accused of engineering a police conspiracy against them to help win support for his election bid. In March 2011, the court ruled in the boys’ favor.
Prosecutor Nifong was taken off the case right before the verdict and subsequently disbarred for “fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation” during the trial. He was later found to have withheld evidence of multiple DNA semen traces, none of them from the Lacrosse team, that turned up in the victim’s rape kit.
In April 2011, the accuser, Crystal Gail Magnum, stabbed her boyfriend to death. She is currently awaiting trial in a Durham County prison.