Part One of Dr. Phil was hearing Chris Watts’ “Second Confession” 4th hand [via law enforcement, the Rzuceks, then their lawyers] a few days before the official release thus giving Dr. Phil exclusive first bite at the cherry.
Part Two was hearing the Second Confession again, this time from Frank, while the cameras tried to capture the emotional responses of the family.
Let’s be clear, any time there is grief expressed in the context of true crime, it’s redeeming, it’s necessary and it’s meaningful. Grief is a genuine acknowledgement of loss. It’s how we come to terms with the loss of life, and the pain of losing someone that was loved and cared about. This message is one that matters most in true crime – that life is precious. Whether the victim or victim’s family expresses it, or the perpetrator, grief provides a moment of authentic humanity. Is that what we see on Dr. Phil?
Is that what this is?
Almost five minutes of the Dr. Phil show deals with a sentimental spiel worthy not of an adult, but of a small child. Not only did we see an infantile response to a triple homicide but the level of wish fulfillment that’s being made a spectacle of on national television [even reported on CNN] is extraordinary.
Sandi [that’s actually how Shan’ann spelled her mother’s name on Facebook, and how Sandi did] took viewers through around three or four fictional scenarios.
The first was that Sandi experienced a “visitation” from her daughter, telling her she was at peace, and she was sorry. If you were murdered, and your children murdered, and your husband had blamed you, and you were dead, robbed of everything, and all you were ever going to be, would you be at peace? Ever?
The second visitation was from Ceecee, who told Sandi what a great grandmother she was, and kissed her. The third was from Bella, telling Sandi, “I can go to Walt Disney World anytime I want.” The final scenario was that Shan’ann handed her mother the fully formed boy child, and everyone lived happily ever after.
Obviously by today, Niko would have been born, but at the time of the “visitation” he was the size of an orange. This illustrates just how desperate and unrealistic the wish fulfillment actually is. It not only ignores reality, it defies it.
Some may feel it’s in very bad taste to criticize these visitation experiences because they’re personal. Dr. Phil didn’t, and seemed to think it was all in the name of joyful and peaceful closure, and healing.
But such sentiment is the antithesis of true crime. We often see sentiment used in true crime by defendants, and by defense teams, to evoke sympathy. And it works. It worked and continues to work with Steven Avery. When you feel sorry for someone in the context of true crime you don’t think. What happened no longer matters.
I can assure you if Shan’ann could climb out of the dirt of the graveyard where she’s buried and speak for herself, and if Bella could, neither would be resigned to what had happened six months later, and what’s more, they’d resent others manufacturing words and scenarios that have nothing to do with their reality as it stands now, or as it did when their lives were snuffed out. Imagine yourself being murdered, yourself fighting for breath and then the world being told you were praying and died peacefully with no struggle.
In this day of mansplaining, whitesplaining, minimizing murder by having victims act out pleasant sounding fictions and aphorisms ought to have a meme too. It’s just in extremely poor taste to be euphemistic about the death, especially when the manner of death is homicide.
This crime took place for a combination of reasons, some that had to do directly with sentiment [Watts’ romantic, schmaltzy feelings towards his mistress] and some that had to do with the opposite. He was able to kill his family because he no longer felt “sentiment” towards his family. And so, trying to understand Watts’ motives through the prism of sentiment is a double-edged sword, except only one side of that sword cuts to the bone of this case.
What about the other side?
Sandi’s schmaltz was surprising after her tough testimony during the sentencing hearing. Out of everyone who spoke that day, perhaps not including Rourke, Sandi sounded the strongest, the most in control and the least sentimental.
Not here on Dr. Phil. Suddenly in the face of terrifying information [which probably isn’t accurate either], there’s this mythical barrier where the laws of the universe and nature simply don’t apply. Now everyone is resurrected and magically set right in the blink of an eye. Suddenly everyone is living happily ever after and on their way – apparently – to PleasureLand.
But how is that so different from the lives they were living on Earth? In fact just before their deaths, the children were playing on a playground in Myrtle Beach [while their father was floating off somewhere else], and around this same period they were on the beach for the first time ever. Frank was with them, but apparently not paying too much attention to trouble brewing in paradise right in front of him.
In a more general sense, the fairy tale scenarios of the Watts family promoted endlessly on Facebook [to make money], is exactly the same brand of magical thinking and wish fulfillment we see from Sandi. The urge to deny mortality is the root of untold evil in the world, which is why this crime happened, and why what Sandi is doing is absolutely not helpful.
Hiding from reality in fantasies does Chris Watts a huge favor, especially when the version he’s given is just another hastily assembled house of cards. Hiding in fantasies is the reason this crime happened, and the key to preventing it was waking up from these delusions.
How do we lie to ourselves? How does society lie to itself? Right here. Like this.
It’s so consistent, it’s a default setting. We are a society geared to lying to itself, not only collectively, but individually. We also actively lie to ourselves. And if you really want to talk about narcissism, talk about narcissism in the context of damaging magical thinking like this. Talk about handcrafting fairy tales and promoting fairy tale potions and powders, while your home is about tumble into a crater of debt. Talk about concocting fake fictions in order to feel better about the trauma tearing at the world, and your own heart.
More: Frankie Rzucek arrested in October 2015 for assaulting a two-year-old child