Last week’s discussion on domestic abuse made me think about a particular pastime of mine. On a lazy day, I can often be found plopped on the couch, fanatically engulfed in a marathon of real life murder mysteries and unsolved missing persons stories on my favorite TV channel, Investigation Discovery. They play the same episodes constantly, and I’ll still drop everything to watch one I can practically recite. I even Google cases after I watch an episode from a few years ago to see if there have been any updates. I also get very into current cases, the kind of thing you read about in People or watch Nancy Grace shout about night after night. And I’ve noticed that the center of these stories, the distressed/missing/dead protagonist, usually fits a certain mold—she’s middle or upper class, and she’s white.
Chandra Levy. Laci Peterson. Yeardley Love. The list of these infamous white women goes on and on. The beautiful, tragic women we see on TV and read about in magazines are not the women we heard about in blues songs or saw in Donna Ferrato’s photos. Those stories almost never get media airtime. Why?
I would venture to say that it is more dramatic when domestic abuse, rape, and murder occurs in the world of rich white people. These things are not “supposed” to be a part of elite white culture. The blues music of the 1920s show that black people have a history of openly discussing the presence of domestic abuse. Perhaps this dialogue had the unintended effect of making these stories seem commonplace, or, even worse, expected. This type of acknowledgement does not seem to have been a part of white culture, especially among the upper class. Because stories of domestic abuse among high society are considered rare (even if they may not be), they are dramatic, emotional and interesting. In other words, they make good television.
While I do also love a nice episode of Law & Order, there is something about watching a true story unfold that trumps the scripted ones. My personal attraction to these Dateline and 48 Hours Mystery specials is because of their authenticity, not because of the shocking mix of glitz and crime. I could certainly get emotionally invested in the rape or murder of an impoverished black woman just like I do with the endless stream of white women whose stories I watch. I just never see or hear those other stories. What does it say about the media when an Auto-Tuned version of Antoine Dodson singing about his sister is the only recent example of a black woman’s attempted rape that got national attention?