More than a century later, Borden still features in children’s jump rope rhymes (“Lizzie Borden took an axe/and gave her mother forty whacks…”), academic dissertations, award-winning documentaries, themed bed-and-breakfast retreats and a well-reviewed punk rock musical, “Lizzie Borden: A Musical Tragedy in Two Axe.” Most recently, HBO announced the development of a mini-series based around the lurid murder, starring Hollywood it-girl Chloe Sevigny, who apparently regards Borden as a “countercultural icon.”How did Patty Hearst cross the line from being a perfect girl-victim to an unforgivable girl-perpetrator? Around 9 pm on February 4th, 1974, the 19-year-old heiress to the Hearst family publishing fortune was kidnapped from her apartment in Berkeley, California, where she sat with her fiancé in her blue bathrobe. After ten weeks of captivity in the hands of the radical Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), Hearst was photographed participating in the armed robbery of a San Francisco bank; in a stunning turnaround, she appeared to have joined her captors as a self-proclaimed “urban guerilla.” Next came a sensational courtroom drama that many deemed “the trial of the century,” in which Hearst was found guilty of bank robbery despite pleas of having been brainwashed and sexually traumatized by the SLA.
Her case helped to popularize the psychological theory of “Stockholm syndrome,” sparking a national debate about its legitimacy as a legal defense. In Patty’s Got a Gun: Patricia Hearst in 1970s America, William Graebner, Hearst’s biographer, contends that the case also caught on because it provided audiences with a convenient symbol of what many Americans, particularly those on the right, feared most about 1970’s counterculture: “[F]eminism run amok, armed and sexualized; the pathology of left-wing politics; the arrogance of the moneyed elite; the coddling of criminals,” and so much more.The most recent contender for the category of femme fatale of the century, Casey Anthony, is still woefully fresh in the American consciousness. This past summer, the pert young single mom from Florida stood accused of killing her two-year-old daughter, Caylee. When Anthony was acquitted in early July, many pundits visibly seethed at their certitude that a villainous “tot mom” had escaped her rightful due, with cable news star Nancy Grace erupting in an impassioned anti-Anthony tantrum that went viral.