Jodi Arias Verdict: Why America is Hooked On This Trial


On May 8, 2013 after only 15 hours of deliberation, a jury convicted 32-year-old Jodi Arias of the gruesome murder of her ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander. The jurors ruled that Arias was guilty of first-degree murder, after allegedly shooting Alexander in the head, slitting his throat, and stabbing him an estimated 29 times. While the murder was a truly ghastly and ugly affair, what is almost as intriguing as the motive itself is the public's apparent obsession over Arias's crime. According to a study conducted by Media Bistro, the ratings for the CNN-affiliated cable channel HLN (which covered the trial almost non-stop) grew over +100% in the afternoon hours (from 3-6), and roughly 43% in total viewership from the months of March to April. Looking at these numbers, one is forced to ask how the trial could possibly attract such great numbers of people.

To put it bluntly, the Jodi Arias case is paradigmatic of the sort of crime-trial-porn that has grown increasingly popular in the last few years. Affairs like the Jodi Arias trial, like the Casey Anthony verdict that preceded only months before, contain the sort of ingredients that inspire intrigue in the hearts and minds of viewers around the world: sex, scandal, deception, and violence.  It's the same reason why shows such as NCIS and Criminal Minds continue to turn out high ratings week after week: America has an obsession with macabre crimes and the beautiful people who are entangled in them.

To suggest that sex appeal has no place in the trial proceedings is to ignore the obvious. As cynical as it may sound, networks like HLN would make no money broadcasting cases involving 50-year-old, balding defendants with beer-bellies. One of the notable features of the Jodi Arias trial was the apparent importance of the abundant sex life of Arias and Alexander. Testifying for a total of 18 days, Jodi Arias went into intricate details regarding her strange sex life with Travis Alexander. At one point in the trial, with the intent to portray her as a sexual deviant, the defense presented a recording of a 40-minute-long conversation between Arias and the victim in which they had graphic phone sex. This sort of explicit content (usually reserved for shows on HBO — I'm looking at you, Game of Thrones) wildly attracted viewers and even made a presence on a variety of national news outlets.

It's easy to wonder why America developed such an obsession with the Jodi Arias trial. While incredibly tragic and horrible, the Jodi Arias-Travis Alexander affair makes virtually no impact on the daily lives of the average United States citizen ... as opposed to the ongoing war in Afghanistan which has a real and lasting impact of the lives of civilians in the Middle East and in the U.S., yet is apparently lacking in the same sort of  "sexiness." Nevertheless, as long as the public continues to give the media the ratings they so grovel for, they will continue to provide us with newer and more shocking JodiAriases to gain our attention.