I didn’t have a huge investment in the fate of Amanda Knox, the 24-year-old American whose conviction for killing her roommate four years ago in Italy was overturned Monday. I was generally too put off and confused by the media circus surrounding the case to try to figure out the whole story.
Still, in the moments before the appeals decision was announced, I found myself on the edge of my seat, constantly refreshing my Internet browser until the word “acquit” flashed across the screen. Then I exhaled, a far bigger sigh of relief than I thought I had in me.
The new outcome doesn’t solve the mysteries surrounding Amanda Knox. There are so many strange things about the case, from the elaborate conspiracy theories of the prosecutor (satanic orgies!) to Knox’s erratic behavior, that it seems unlikely anyone will ever fit all the pieces together. But I think I have figured out why I was so relieved about the outcome of a situation I hadn’t thought about much to begin with. It’s because Knox embodies a certain American anxiety about venturing onto foreign soil. I was relieved for us all that she was coming home.
In other words, Knox is a poster child for staying put. She’s proof that the world outside our borders is so depraved that a simple junior year abroad can lead to a 26-year prison sentence.
Parochial as that sounds, it’s not far off from the sentiments directed at Knox by her fellow Americans, many of whom seemed to feel that, her guilt or innocence notwithstanding, she just shouldn’t have been in Italy in the first place. “Nobody in their right mind should ever visit that backward nation” went one particularly disheartening comment on a Los Angeles Times story about the case this week.
Though “backward” probably isn’t the adjective most people would apply to the country that brought us the Renaissance (not to mention Dante, Fellini and Prada), many of us, sadly, are at least a little receptive to this kind of paranoia. I know I am. I may not worry about being charged with murder in Tuscany, but I do have a long-standing, largely irrational fear of being thrown in a Third World prison or getting gravely sick or injured in some remote jungle. And considering Hollywood’s interest in this genre — two words: “Midnight Express” — I suspect I’m not alone.