When Reading Between the Lines is Not Enough: Lessons from Media Coverage of a Domestic Violence Homicide-Suicide
Elizabeth L. MacDowell
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law
November 16, 2009
American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, Vol. 17, p. 269, 2009
UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-22
In October 2008, Karthik Rajaram murdered his wife, mother-in-law, sons and, ultimately, himself, in a wealthy Los Angeles suburb. This Article analyzes media reports about the deaths to illustrate the resilience of patriarchy and significant gaps in research and scholarship about domestic violence, and suggests a strategic approach to building counter-narratives about violence against women.
The Article is composed of five parts. Part I is the Introduction. Part II draws on narrative theory and critical media scholarship to lay the groundwork for analysis, and to show why media coverage of homicide-suicide is implicated in the production of dominant ideology.
Part III presents the Rajaram story as portrayed in the media to show that by departing from routine reporting styles, media coverage of the Rajaram case allowed a shadow story to emerge that illustrates new dimensions of hegemonic narrative and its role in rendering the stories of domestic violence victims less visible.
Part IV focuses on the complex narrative roles played by wealth, race and culture in obfuscating the systematic nature of violence against women. This Part shows why countering hegemonic narratives about domestic violence requires complicating categories including "class", "race" and "culture", in order to allow for a more nuanced intersectional analysis.
Part V elaborates on the importance of anti-essentialism by parsing out tensions between particularity and universality in domestic violence discourse and feminist theory. This Part concludes that, although deficiencies in feminist theory are not to blame for the media's a-structural representations of domestic violence, undermining hegemonic narrative requires analyzing women's experiences with greater particularity. This Part also considers the challenges involved for anti-domestic violence activists in engaging the media. Finally, Part V proposes that domestic violence death review teams are an important opportunity for activists to build a counter-hegemonic discourse geared toward eradicating domestic violence.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 32
Keywords: domestic violence, domestic violence homicide, domestic violence homicide-suicide, narrative, narrative theory, hegemony, hegemonic, counter-hegemonic, feminist theory, domestic violence death review, domestic violence fatality review, patriarchy, intersectionality
Date posted: January 23, 2009 ; Last revised: August 19, 2010