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Law in Popular Culture

In the early 1990s, tabloid television began to make its mark. Whether due to genuine interest or simply schadenfreude, the human element of the legal battles the programming portrayed offered many a certain level of entertainment.

Domestic violence is never entertaining, though. However, like so many other criminal activities, the circumstances surrounding the crime can be outrageous to the point of being near unbelievable. The facts of Lorena and John Wayne Bobbitt s tale fit that bill, and their case took the world by storm.

Focus on the incident

I first noticed the new docuseries, Lorena, as I was perusing my Amazon Prime account. I decided to give the first of four episodes a chance, but I wasn t quite sure what to expect. I knew Jordan Peele produced the series, but I was hesitant as to whether his comedy-sketch background or more recent forays into suspense and horror would take center stage.

Due to the unique nature of the Bobbitt case, I wondered if the docu-series would take the incident seriously or fall back on the multitude of penis clich s and jokes at its disposal. Sure enough, the first episode began with individuals involved in the investigation discussing their recollection of the facts all the while trying to hide subtle smirks or outright laughs as they described a wife mutilating her husband s genitalia. About 30 minutes in, the episode began to take on a more appropriate tone.

The docuseries takes the viewer on a journey through the couple s background and their history of domestic violence, the night of the incident, and their lives following the conclusion of their criminal cases. A jury found John not guilty of marital sexual assault (rape). Likewise, a separate jury also found Lorena not guilty of malicious wounding by reason of temporary insanity.

Subsequent to their criminal trials, John and Lorena went down two different paths. Immediately following her acquittal, Lorena was committed to a maximum security psychiatric hospital for 45 days. After selling the rights to her story, she turned to a life of advocacy for victims of domestic violence. John, on the other hand, continued to chase the newfound stardom his predicament presented, only to wind up working as a stripper and pornographic actor before falling victim to a botched penis enlargement surgery, and finally more criminal charges, including other domestic violence cases.

A missed opportunity

My biggest complaint with Lorena is that it fails to address the specifics of battered woman syndrome in detail. Part of that could be due to the diagnosis fairly recent development. After all, the theory itself wasn t even introduced until the 1970s and did not gain widespread recognition until the 1980s. Sadly, that information is never relayed to the viewer, as the series doesn t present much history regarding battered woman syndrome and the research behind it.

The Bobbitt case raised the level of domestic violence awareness across the nation. Consequently, I felt the series wasted an excellent opportunity to further raise awareness while also educating the general public on a very real issue. However, even the last episode, which began with Lorena s verdict, failed to probe the status of the defense at that time of her trial and the progression of a credible legal theory based on a critical mental health issue.

Finally, toward the last half of the final episode, the docuseries discussed the Violence Against Women Act Joe Biden s baby and the development of domestic violence funding and support. However, even when the series attempted to focus on the issue, it was only sporadic. Regardless, the series did provide some discussion regarding the act s development and the political issues it encountered in the mid-1990s amid a change of guard in U.S. politics. Still, the treatment of the topic was scant. I understand if the production team wanted to focus on the era the incident occurred in, but the series would have received a great deal of context and credibility if it focused more on the issues that led not only to the incident but to Lorena s acquittal as well....