Today, a jury in New York found Martha Stewart guilty on all four remaining charges against her (Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum threw out the most serious charge of securities fraud last week), and she will likely go to jail.
I saw this headline on MSNBC as I was getting my lunch in the dining hall at work, and I was surprised at how stunned I was by the news. First of all, I’d not expected the jury to return a verdict so quickly, and secondly, I had assumed that they would have dismissed all but a token count, and sent Martha home, head hung low, but a free woman, so that the rest of America could moan about the injustice of celebrity trials and how justice is more just for the rich and famous. People could have made much in cocktail party and late-night talk-show conversation about how the bitch didn’t get what she deserved. Someone would inevitably have made some fatuous comparison to O.J. Simpson’s questionable acquittal, and stories of the disgraced Martha trying to redeem herself by inviting neighbors to Sunday luncheons or showing up at parties rich with the stars of the publishing and television worlds would have kept lips flapping for at least as long as all of the pre-IMClone debacle Martha mini-scandals kept those of us in her anti-fan club entertained.
In fact, I think that would have been the more satisfactory outcome. The bitch did not, in fact, get what she deserved. And I, for one, don’t feel a smug satisfaction at her legal comeupance. In fact, I’m kind of sad for her. As much as I’ve never been inclined to like the woman, and have even had a somewhat dark fascination with collecting stories of her meanness and ill-tempered perfection, and as much as I do think the label of “bitch” probably applies to her, what I can’t help but think about is how she must be crumbling inside, thinking “My God. I’ve completely ruined everything.” And as much as I think she might well have been guilty, it would take some pretty hard evidence to convince me that she wasn’t convicted more for being a bitch than she was for any attempts to cover up an insider trading misdeed.
Those anti-fans I mentioned earlier, a group I’ll gladly align myself with, have been for years, both repelled and drawn to the strange, obsessive pursuit of domestic perfection that even a 1950s housewife couldn’t have maintained, and certainly a 2000’s single career woman hasn’t a prayer of even gaining a toehold on. But she is both, isn’t she? And that’s what’s infuriating. In some ways she’s both a professional and domestic bodhisattva, who’s achieved success as a media moghul and as a homemaker. And yet, she’s a single-woman homemaker. She might keep a superbly ordered home with lovely, inviting spaces, but it’s a sad shell of a home when the only family she comes home to at the end of the day are her perfectly groomed chow-chows and her eight pure-breed cats. She might throw an elegant party with an impressive spread of delectables on superb china, and yet, no one wants to come to her party.
No one wants to come to her party because of her reputation as a tyrant and unyielding taskmaster, it’s true. She left her beloved Turkey Hill estate in Westport, CT, largely because she felt lonely. The bitch got what she deserved when a new neighbor, upon finding Martha on their doorstep with a housewarming gift of fresh produce from her gardens and freshly laid eggs from her flock of well-manicured heirloom breed chickens, slammed the door in her face. She got what she deserved when the good people of Westport filled the entire “Letters” section of TheNew York Times Magazine one Sunday with “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” letters after she moved to her new Manhattan digs. I’m not so convinced, however, that she got what she deserved when a jury of people who we all know never thought Martha viewed as peers, convicted her of four felony charges that could land her in jail until after her 80th birthday.
And the reason I feel so bad for Martha. Really, it’s her mother. A stern, kind of controlling woman (at least that’s my impression of biographical accounts I’ve read and from watching the two of them in action on Martha’s show), I have this feeling that Martha is driven not a little by a desire to please the woman, a fruitless task I’m sure as well. I might be stretching a little her, but think about it. The stock sale that caused all this hoopla was over a few hundred thousand dollars worth of holdings. Big bank for average Josephines like me, yes, but really, probably a Saturday afternoon shopping trip to Talbots and the Coach store for Ms. Martha. Why risk so much over something that small? I can imagine, a tiny voice in her head, that she might not even have consciously registered, but which had a distinct Nutley accent, riding her for blowing more money than Martha’s father earned in a decade while they were starting out.
Of course, now, I’m sure that voice is loud, not in her head, and unrelenting about the mess Martha’s made of everything. She might not have had friends, or even friendly acquaintances before, but by any measure that her mother would have understood, Martha had it all. Now, she doesn’t even have a shoulder to cry on.