In week 9 we discussed crime. In the tutorial I remember the topic of Lindy Chamberlain coming up, and while the name didn’t actually ring any bells, the story did. I had heard the phrase ‘a dingo ate my baby’ a hundred times in popular culture, and I found it incredibly interesting that I would know of such a notorious Australian legal case but not who it was even about. This is the power of popular culture.
Azaria Chamberlain’s disappearance in 1980 became the most notorious, divisive and baffling legal drama in Australian history. Lindy, convicted of murdering her daughter, became the most hated person in Australia and the case proved to be one of the most watched trials of the Twentieth century in Australia. (Gelineau, 2012 & Geoconger, 2012).
So why was the extent of my knowledge ‘a dingo ate my baby’?
‘To the rest of the world, the case is largely known for its place in pop culture: countless books, an opera, the Meryl Streep movie “A Cry in the Dark,” and the sitcom Seinfeld’s spoof of Lindy’s cry’ (Gelineau, 2012). I grew up in an American-dominated culture; all the films and television shows I watched were set in the US and revolved around American social issues, which meant I failed to learn about issues in Australia. Despite this being aggravating and interesting, I decided to continue on looking past the Lindy Chamberlain case into crime’s representation in media and popular culture. I learn, in a roundabout way, about cases from my country through America, because western society is so fascinated with crime. Film, books, newspapers, magazines, television broadcasts, video games – the list of facets of popular culture which engage in crime is endless.
This post could go 100 different ways with this – from looking into mass media’s role in the construction of criminal justice, to popular culture and the belief that violence in pop culture is responsible for almost all crimes committed.
I won’t go into much detail due to the short amount of space, however it’s interesting to look at the role of mass media. Lindy Chamberlain was hated by all of Australia, believed to have murdered her daughter. However, did the majority of Australia believe this was the case due to extenuating evidence? No, the fact is she was considered guilty long before she was ever proven – and even then she was later cleared. “The public’s perception of victims, criminals, deviants, and law enforcement officials is largely determined by their portrayal in the mass media.” (Dowler, 2003). It’s interesting to wonder how much of Australia’s opinion on Lindy Chamberlain was warped by the media.
Dowler, K. 2003, ‘Media consumption and public attitudes toward crime and justice: The relationship between fear of crime, punitive attitudes, and perceived police effectiveness,’ Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, vol.10, no.2, pp.109-126.
Gelineau, K. 2012, ‘Australia asks again: Did a dingo really kill Lindy Chamberlain’s baby?’, Mass Live, The Republican,
Geoconger, 2012, ‘A ‘fair go’ for Lindy Chamberlain,’ Get Religion, Patheos,