Multiple Murders and the Media

Joanna Dennehy murdered three men and attempted to kill two others. She reacted to these acts in a way which would court inevitable media publicity. She helped manifest a narrative of violence that was not, despite its reality, realistic. It was an apparent reflection of what she understood as the media’s ideal approach to digestion and dissemination. The contrived declarations and provocative images resembled tropes from fiction. They would be desperately populist if they were for entertainment purposes.

Joseph Klapper (1960) suggested that mass communication acts as a reinforcement of predispositions rather than acting as a painter daubing over tabula rasa. In the case of multiple murderers a predisposition for such acts may very well exist but, as noted with the Dennehy case, the manner in which they display their criminality is often suited to a melodrama they’ve come to believe through the media and media entertainment. Dennehy may have always been inclined to become a murderer but her mode of killing, or rather the presentation, was heavily influenced by popular culture and the media’s desire for a satisfactory, albeit morbid, story-line.

In the event of any mass killing, voyeurism is not far behind. The media amplifies this human instinct. The implicit glorification of killers as deranged anti-heroes, with news items leading on the death toll and images of the killer in question projected to large audiences, is not overlooked by disturbed, self-mythologising individuals. Media practices may not create murderers. However, the saturation coverage of killers like Dennehy may very well create a milieu where multiple murders take place in a highly dramatised and mutually perpetuating manner. Innumerable references can be made to the widely-accessed new media which killers of the aforementioned ilk can utilise to propagate their performances.

To conclude, in a somewhat unsatisfactory manner, it is perhaps true the news media’s salivation towards the likes of Dennehy does in fact constitute her actions as for entertainment purposes. From what I can see, they certainly seem entertained.


Published by

Joseph Owen

PhD, Carl Schmitt, Modernism and Sovereignty at University of Southampton

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