George Zimmerman and the Price of Infamy

No matter what he does with the rest of his life, he will forever be remembered for one terrible act.

George Zimmerman at the closing arguments for his trial on July 12, 2013 (pool/Getty Images)
George Zimmerman at the closing arguments for his trial on July 12, 2013 (pool/Getty Images)

It’s hard to drum up pity for the infamous, however. George Zimmerman caused this nightmare scenario in the first place. He helped create a world in which it would be hard for him to find work, to find a place to live, to drive down a highway and have it not turn into national news.

And each reference to how Zimmerman lives — from apparently saving people in overturned vehicles to driving around Texas — is an ominous reminder of who does not live. But Zimmerman is not alone in this. He has lots of company to look to in order to get an idea of what the rest of his life will look like.

Will he be a Casey Anthony or an O.J. Simpson?

Both Anthony and Simpson insisted that they were innocent but were convicted in the court of public opinion. Anthony has spent her time since the trial largely in hiding, only occasionally emerging on YouTube to lament her new life and talk about new body piercings. (On the other hand, the judge from the trial is shopping around for his own show.) Simpson spent his time golfing, dating various women and being a tabloid mainstay until he decided to star in an armed robbery of his own memorabilia. He’s still in prison but made parole in late July.

Anthony has avoided the limelight, while Simpson couldn’t give it up. He attempted to capitalize on his infamy with appearances and interviews and even, at one point, wrote a book, If I Did It, in which he speculated about how he would have “done” the murders, which turned into a debacle of its own.

So will Zimmerman travel this great land racking up police stops and saving strangers? Will he try to write a book? Will he try to live his life with an awareness that he took someone else’s life? Will he retreat to the recesses of our society, only to be heard of in whispers? Or will he choose to live boldly, reveling in his found innocence and arguing that he shouldn’t have to live his life as a monk when the legal system came out on his side?

No matter which path he chooses, it’s likely that we’ll know all about it because Zimmerman is infamous. Therefore, whatever he does — no matter how ordinary or extraordinary — will be news by virtue of his celebrity. He can choose whether to be part of the show, the aggressive 24-hour news cycle, but he’ll never stop being the “star.” Because all Zimmerman stories fit the narrative of “Trayvon Martin is dead, but George Zimmerman lives.”

George Zimmerman drives. George Zimmerman carries a gun. George Zimmerman exists despite the lack of a prison sentence to keep him away from our prying eyes. Because, let’s face it, the media like to tell a nice, tight story with a real ending, and prison would have been a period on the end of a sentence, finalizing the whole ordeal. But he was found not guilty, so now the media must follow this thing until the story concludes.

Only, there is no real conclusion — other than this theater of the absurd in which we pretend that Zimmerman getting stopped for speeding is news because an infamous killer was there.

Danielle C. Belton is a freelance journalist and TV writer, founder of the blog and editor-at-large of Clutch magazine.