It’s been repeated ad nauseum by now: why didn’t Chris Watts just get divorced? Are we a society that permits divorce? Of course, I hear you say. Divorce is as common as muck [as they say in Australia].
How about divorcing your pregnant wife, taking responsibility and going bankrupt in the process? How does society – and the opposite sex – look on a potential partner who does the right thing, but is exposed as a worthless, no-good scoundrel in the process?
Is such a person allowed to go on with their lives, allowed to pursue some happily ever after, or is society wired to mire them in scandal, crushing obligation and reputational ruin? Shan’ann’s Facebook hovered like a giant guillotine over the Watts marriage [in the event of it unravelling]. The nuts meltdown on July 9th, where Watts’ mother was lambasted in public, was proof enough of this.
Many of us know of divorced couples who air their dirty laundry in public. It’s ugly, it’s damaging, everybody loses and it happens all the time.
Watts stood to lose a lot if he was honest – his home, his mistress, possibly even his job. In his mind, the risks of full disclosure outweighed the risks of triple homicide. That may be a damning indictment of him, but whether we accept it or not, and whether we like it or not, it’s also his damning indictment of the world we live in.
Who cares what Chris Watts thinks of society, right?
But it’s the same society that is now condemning an innocent bystander to the murders. Kessinger is innocent [yes, some people can’t abide those words side by side] in the strict sense that she didn’t directly destroy Watts’ family. It feels like heresy to say that, but to address the point more fully – in the history of cheaters and adulterers, how many have gotten away with adultery with zero repercussions?
In the history of human beings cheating on their partners, how many have cheated during a pregnancy, or during financial stress, or when the brood becomes too much to handle, with no blood being shed?
And how many of those encounters have led to triple murder? The answer is, almost none, but it did for Kessinger.
The court of public opinion can be just as effective, if not more so, at pronouncing judgment, and executing a sentence against perceived lawbreakers. Again, Kessinger hasn’t been put on trial, and at least in the eyes of the law, she’s not been found to be guilty of anything, not even obstruction of justice.
While Kessinger is clearly not blameless in this debacle, neither is it true that she was entirely to blame either.
If there is an argument that Kessinger losing her life [her home, her job, her married lover] is a kind of just desserts, there is, at the same time, a demonstration here for how society can destroy you if and when the tide turns. Just as it can destroy anything, including a song or anyone else when it makes up its mind.
So how about a thought experiment. Let’s imagine you [or I] are Nichol Kessinger. We’re her. We’re in her shoes. We’re the most hated woman in America. What do you do?
The first answer that comes to mind is that she [you/me] should have gone to the cops the moment she [you/me] learned Shan’ann and the kids were missing, and that the cops had been summoned. Let’s leave out the debate about whether or not she [you/me] knew about the pregnancy, or when she [you/me] might have known.
Our argument is that Kessinger [you/me] should have gone to the cops, and done so with full disclosure. No deleted messages. Just tell them what happened. Is that what you/me would do in similar circumstances? Wouldn’t that have made the public lynching even worse?
Whatever we may say in response to that, Kessinger thought it would, hence she stayed out of the spotlight and went underground for several months. When she did come out, she gave a carefully contrived interview with a defamation lawyer present, to a reputable media agency. She had to come out from the cold, because her part in the Watts case was days away from being confirmed for the first time at the sentencing hearing.
Kessinger’s story didn’t do much good. Her public lynching went ahead regardless.
So what would you have done, if you were her?
It’s a valid question, and one Kessinger is doubtlessly tormented with each day as she tries to begin a new life, with a new name, in some unknown place, while she considers her former life lost.
What can she do now?
Full disclosure now is no longer an option, because it runs counter to witness protection. So there probably aren’t any books in the pipeline like there was with Amber Frey.
So how about this. It may be that the cruel, vindictive society we are is no accident. A proper execution of justice, and disclosure, in this case, would have been in court, not in the media and social media. The reason that didn’t happen is sinister, and part of the way our lack of clarity on this case manifests, is through knee-jerk demonizing of Watts and Kessinger. But neither Watts nor Kessinger arose in a vacuum. They were once thought of fondly by their family, friends, colleagues and society, just as you are now.
Who cares what Chris Watts or Nichol Kessinger think of society. Who cares if they were both too scared – and remain too terrified – to take society into its confidence. Who cares! But it’s that fear of society that caused Watts and Kessinger to engage in a secret liaison, and when things went bad, to keep those secrets secret. We may wag our fingers at him and her, we may call them cowards, but we can only do that while we’re on the higher ground. What happens when we’re in their shoes?
This societal status quo reminds me of a famous scene in Kill Bill Volume Two that addresses the critique of a comic book hero on society. On us. Have a listen.
The operative part of Bill’s monologue is when he talks about heroes wearing costumes, and then Superman arriving on Earth already a hero, but donning a costume of human society as he sees it [as he sees us] to blend in as Clark Kent.
BILL: And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He’s weak. He’s unsure of himself. He’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.