1.Establishing your truth about what went down.
When someone says something terrible about one of your closest friends or family members, it hits you at your core. The vicarious pain is intense, and you don’t think twice about disputing whatever was said. If the victim of a vicious rumor is a member of your inner circle, it doesn’t really matter how much truth exists behind the claims being made. What matters is that someone you love is in trouble, and your gut guides you in defending their honor.
Why? Because we’re biologically programmed to identify with the people we hold dear. Studies have confirmed children as young as two showing a complex sense of obligation and loyalty to parents and caregivers in ethically ambiguous situations. Sure, there are multiple sides to every story, but your truth rests on the side of whomever you’re most loyal. It’s their perspective you understand innately. Their version of events you embrace. The dynamic of deciding your truth rests at the heart of this season of American Crime, as a mother’s protective maternal instinct kicks in, and she stands by her son’s claims in the face of public scandal.
2. Identifying the enemy.
When a fight breaks out between rivals in the hallway or on the field and a loved one’s involved, their enemy is automatically your enemy. Even in the chaos of a physical brawl, you can intuit who’s spitting venom or throwing punches from the other side. Whether a feud is rooted in racial, economic, or sexual tensions, you’re not shy about clarifying your stance. You stand proudly in defense of your longtime ally. It’s obvious who’s side you’re on, and who you have to fight against.
3. Evaluating the stakes.
As you walk down the street or the hallway, amidst swirling rumors about how far your friend went with so-and-so, or how your brother cheated on that test, you can literally feel the eyes on you. When you or a loved one are at the center of a scandal in any community, you’re vulnerable. Even if they’re ultimately acquitted, there’s no way to escape the impact of the negative spotlight entirely or the upsetting reality that everyone involved in a controversy stands to lose something.
No matter how passionately you believe you’re doing the right thing, there’s always a risk to standing up for someone or something you love, so it’s important to remain mindful of the stakes at all times. In this season of American Crime, the futures of several key characters under public fire might be compromised. A mother effectively accuses high school students of sexual assault; meanwhile, the headmaster must evaluate whether this mother is being overly dramatic and inflammatory. Even the other parents involved who stand by their children’s statements risk their community reputations, which is always a perilous dance. Each character is painfully aware of just how much they stand to lose if things don’t go their way.
4. Dismissing any doubts.
You want to be a diehard believer in your friends and family as much as you want to be a true super fan of your favorite sports team or band. You want to sit happily in the nosebleed seats of your family arena, cheering your loved ones on, one thousand percent certain in your conviction that your opponents are idiots and that you’re on the right team.
But then that tiny, nagging feeling of doubt creeps in, compromising your pure allegiance. Even the most ardent fans and strident supporters are susceptible to entertaining a few uncertainties. But they learn how to shake their hesitations and move forward regardless. Freud calls this Rationalization Defense: “the cognitive distortion of ‘the facts’ to make an event or an impulse less threatening.” It helps us hold our ground when there’s mounting uncertainty, but to what end? When more red flags come up, can you keep rationalizing and trust your friend or family member?
5. Seeking justice at all costs.
When someone you adore is the target of a nasty prank or online bullying, every bone in your body immediately aches for revenge. “What can I do to fix this?” is the question on repeat in the back of anyone’s mind when a loved one is slighted. You will stop at nothing to make things right—to clear the reputation of anyone you hold dear, and to send the message that you and your squad can’t be messed with.
This primal urge to make things right is what makes American Crime so addicting. It’s about a mom on a mission who will rectify the wrong done to her son. She will do whatever it takes. Because the bond between them transcends all else. Because she is on his side no matter what. And he deserves justice. (Or does he?)