(The Root) — Last week George Zimmerman — found innocent of murder, but still the killer of teen Trayvon Martin — was pulled over by a police officer in Forney, Texas, east of Dallas.
In fact, the only detail of note was that Zimmerman was packing heat in the glove compartment (which he disclosed to the officer) and was going "nowhere in particular."
The officer's dashboard camera captured the nonincident, and the officer himself got away with snapping a cellphone picture of Zimmerman. Perhaps the officer couldn't help himself, since George Zimmerman is "famous." Not the kind of famous where you ask to be in the cellphone picture with him, but the infamous kind, where you sneak a picture that you can show your disbelieving friends later in a ghoulish conversation about celebrity, death and the continued life of George Zimmerman.
While, for many folks, the story of dead Florida teen Trayvon Martin and the man who killed him was one that people chose sides over and were passionate about, for many others it was another narrative played out in the press like reality TV. Even the court case was televised. So there was a spectacle about all of it. A story. And stories have endings.
A Hollywood ending would have meant that Zimmerman went to prison, never to be thought of again. But there was no Hollywood ending. He was found not guilty, and so now Zimmerman is famous — or, rather, infamous. But no one has any idea what to do with him or his infamy.
Regular, nonmurderous fame is typically good currency if you know what to do with it. Like Republican Tom DeLay going from smiling mugshot crook to Dancing With the Stars. Or this Sydney Leathers person who's turned some "sexts" between herself and New York City mayoral wannabe Anthony Weiner into a semilucrative porn-adjacent career. Maybe she'll go on Dancing With the Stars next.
That show is kind of a go-to place for fame that is less of the Angelina Jolie, Denzel Washington or Will Smith variety and more of the Bristol Palin quality. You know, the sort of fame where you're good enough to get a reality show, but not quite good enough to keep one. Not everyone can be the Kardashians or Shaunie O'Neal, after all.
But what do you do with infamy, that cousin of fame that has no real currency to cash in? When you are renowned, not by happy accident or from a Shakespearean downfall after reaching near-Caesar heights, but because you're a killer? Not a convicted murderer, but someone who killed someone, and everyone knows who you are and what you did, and all hold a judgment?
Zimmerman's lawyer quite famously himself said that Zimmerman would have to spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder. Zimmerman's brother, Robert, claims that the family has been inundated with threats, mostly online, and is living in a form of isolation out of fear:
"No one has really asked us to get into the psychological aspect of this," Zimmerman reportedly said. "You don't know if someone stops you in public and says, 'excuse me sir,' you don't know if you dropped your wallet or if someone recognizes you and wants to kill you."
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.