West Memphis Three: Internet campaign, Hollywood drove their release
The West Memphis Three, charged in the 1993 slayings of three Cub Scouts, were released Friday. Social media, the Internet, and Hollywood have helped raise critical questions about their convictions.
(Page 2 of 2)
Over the years, much has been written about the case, and HBO is finishing up the third in a series of documentary films titled “Paradise Lost.” The HBO series, along with books and websites, helped generate broad support from such celebrities as actor Johnny Depp, “Pearl Jam” front man Eddie Vedder, and country singer Natalie Maines of the “Dixie Chicks.”Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"This case is about the power of film and a main protagonist,” says Nancy Snow, professor of communications at California State University in Fullerton. “Without the 'Paradise Lost' series, you simply would not have the same level of celebrity cheerleading for justice. The main wrongly accused character, Damien Echols [the one defendant who had received a death sentence], has himself become a celebrity author and poet.”
Other observers say there’s a lesson here for investigative writers and broadcasters.
“I think this is actually the media at their best, shining a light on a situation in which the machinery of government apparently failed to do its job,” says Fordham University communications professor Paul Levinson, author of “New New Media.” “It asks the question – 'What other failures of the criminal system are out there?' – and provides the impetus that journalists should get on those cases and investigate them more fully.”
It's notable that Hollywood actors are spearheading the drive for social justice, including in the Memphis case, says Ben Agger, director of the Center for Theory at the University of Texas in Arlington.
“Many academics have become entrepreneurs oriented to getting grants that help public universities survive at an historical moment of massive disinvestment in higher education,” he says. “Ironically, this leaves Hollywood as the site of critical thinking and moral activism. This is a version of Hollywood that clashes with a People magazine portrayal of Hollywood simply as a celebrity culture, where the Kardashian wedding is foregrounded as weekly tabloid fodder.”
Staff writer Daniel B. Wood contributed to this report.