When someone thinks another person is being unjustly or at least overly accused of wrong-doing, they may compensate with a defense of the accused that is excessive. In their minds they are righting an injustice or at least trying to get the judgment (by others) closer to a middle ground. It also strikes me as very possible there is something in the scenario or in the accused person that they relate to; maybe they too have felt what they thought was unjustly accused in the past and this situation could be seen as an indirect opportunity to right the wrong done to themselves, sort of by proxy. Extreme reactions, even if well-intended, usually have their roots in our own personal experience.
When I was a little girl my family watched the musical Oklahoma on TV. In the film, ranch-hand Jud is depicted as a brooding, disgruntled loner, the quintessential outsider living in a hovel on the grounds. He’s seen doing questionable things, including making a play for the virginal Laurey, almost forcing himself on her. In the movie’s penultimate scene, newly married Laurey and her husband Curly are atop a hay stack, having been marooned there without a ladder by rambunctious wedding guests. Jud, who has apparently gone from disgruntled to psychotic, sets fire to the haystack in an attempt to burn the young couple alive. I was horrified by the scene.
While watching the film, however – at least before this attempted homicide business – my father defended the Jud character! I was shocked by such a strange response; it was as if he was watching a different movie. He felt Jud was maltreated by the others. He wasn’t trying to impart any lesson to his children; rather, as was the norm, he was just reacting and I happened to be there. I already had a strong sense of right and wrong (which, by this example, it’s pretty clear I didn’t entirely get from my parents) and my opinion of the character didn’t change. Now I can articulate that growing up my father felt like an outsider who was judged by others, at least in part for his Italian ethnicity. In his mind I expect he saw himself in Jud and related to the character, the unpolished, marginalized outsider.
In fact, my father specifically continued to believe others harbored prejudice toward him and Italians far into his life. In reality it wasn’t so. Nobody called us “wops” or cared a whit that we were a half-Italian family and moreover, as a Northern Italian (fair skinned, blue-eyed), my father did not resemble the typical swarthy Sicilian stereotype people usually imagine when they think of an Italian man.
Leaving the Italian aspect out of it, by the time I was born and knew my father, he was long-married to a pretty wife, my mother, with several children, had a good, white collar profession and was established in the community and in our family’s church. His life did not resemble Jud’s at all. That he related to and defended this dark, unpleasant character who, so far as I could tell, brought most if not all of his troubles on himself, left me disturbed and baffled. In retrospect I consider it very revealing.