A friend of mine loves to recall her study abroad in the early Seventies. For part of her year overseas, she stayed with a family who lived close to Paris. Her studies were valuable, but what she remembers most and with most fondness is the time she spent with her host family. Every evening, for example, dinner was an event that she was invited — even expected — to attend. The whole family gathered around a well-prepared meal and spent time in conversation as each course slowly unfolded. While the rest of France was still reeling from “’68,” my friend was getting a sense of the old, bourgeois, traditional, family-centered France, enjoying the everyday pleasures of food, drink, and a warm, satisfying, and orderly home life. It was a formative experience for her and put her on the road to native fluency in the language, something that proved very useful to her in later life.
I couldn’t help thinking of this as I read of the dreadful events involving American student Amanda Knox, who had barely begun her year abroad in Perugia, Italy, when she was arrested for murder — a crime, along with related offenses, for which she has been convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison. According to the prosecution, on the night of Nov. 1, 2007, Amanda and her boyfriend of only a week or two, Italian student Raffaele Sollecito, together with Rudy Guédé, a kind of hanger-on in the university town, got together. They entered the flat Amada shared with a number of other female students, including Meredith Kercher, an English girl. The three surrounded Meredith in her bedroom and tried to force her into some kind of sex act. She resisted, and a violent struggle ensued in which her assailants mortally wounded her with knives and then left her to die. Sollecito and Guédé have also been sentenced to prison time, the first to 25 years, the second to 30, reduced to 16. Appeals are underway.
How different was Amanda’s situation from my friend’s. Instead of living with a family, Amanda lived with several other female students in an unsupervised situation in the second-floor apartment of a cottage. The picture we get from press coverage is of very little accountability and regularity in the students’ lives. There seemed to be a lot of partying, and even their part-time jobs centered around bars and discos. (Indeed, after the bloody deed, Rudy went home, washed up, dressed, and went out nightclubbing.) Amanda was free to stay overnight at Raffaele’s house, in which he evidently also lived without accountability or supervision. The young women who shared Amanda’s flat and the male students who lived on the floor below were free to bring anyone they wished into their apartments. There was plentiful use of drugs and alcohol. The night before the murder was Halloween, and all the students had been out celebrating. This seemed to continue into November 1, a holiday in Italy, a holy day, in fact, and the murder took place late that night, after what appears to have been a rather aimless day.
The whole thing is reminiscent of Mark Bauerlein’s point in his book, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30) – that in our culture today, young people are oriented mainly or even only toward each other and have no hierarchy in which to locate and organize themselves. Look at how many lives have been damaged by this act, principally and most horribly of course that of the victim, and then those of her family and friends, but also those of the perpetrators and their families and friends, and really those of all the people who lived in that house and had this awful thing happen in their own residence, including their discovery of Meredith’s brutalized body, during what should have been their blessed year of study in Perugia.
Amanda’s odd behavior after the murder; her giving fuzzy, conflicting reports of her actions; and falsely implicating an innocent black man, Patrick Lumumba (her boss at the bar she worked at), give rise to speculation about how much postmodernism has eroded the capacity for truth. But that could be the subject of another post.