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Lorena

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Lorena TV Poster Image
Sensitive, mature docu-series digs into a '90s scandal.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

This documentary series' ultimate goal is laudable: to examine a case that was an international joke and bring dignity to the woman at its center. To get there, viewers have to be steeled to hear a lot of vulgar jokes (often at the expense of a woman who claims abuse and rape, and a man with a permanent, terrible injury) and see gory images (including Bobbitt's actual severed penis). It's strong stuff, and too much for all but mature viewers. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

As a woman who committed an atrocious assault, Lorena Bobbitt can hardly be considered a role model but emerges as thoughtful, relatable, and ultimately ill-treated both by her former husband and by the public. John Bobbitt, meanwhile, doesn't come off as sympathetically. One little-examined aspect of this case is how Lorena's broken English and stereotypes of "hot-blooded Latins" affected coverage and criminal proceedings. 

Violence

We don't see Lorena's crime, nor is it reenacted, but images of both John's bloody severed penis and John with the end of his penis cut off are ghastly, and shown multiple times. We also see bloody crime scene photos and hear vulgar and ghoulish jokes (Jeffrey Dahmer to Lorena: "You gonna eat that?") as well as descriptions of the injury and the surgery to reattach John's penis.  

Sex

Most of the sexual content and nudity in this document is connected to a crime, but we do see nude images of John with his penis severed, and the severed penis itself. We also hear about sex scandals and crimes of the 1990s: Anita Hill's sexual harassment accusations against Clarence Thomas, the Tailhook scandal, the William Kennedy Smith rape case. 

Language

Language is infrequent but includes "s--t," as well as words for penis: "dick," "ding-a-ling."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

John Bobbitt drinks out of a large cup while interviewed and seems to slur his words. Alcohol played a part in Lorena and John's actions, and is discussed as a contributing factor. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lorena is a four-part documentary series about a 1993 crime in which an enraged wife sliced off the end of her husband's penis and then threw it out of a car window. Photos of the actual severed penis and its completely nude owner before his reattachment surgery are shown multiple times, as are pools and splashes of blood in crime scene photos; the assault is described repeatedly as well, and often by smiling interviewees in joking terms. Footage from real news and TV talk shows of the 1990s illustrates that the case was a joke to most, and Lorena Bobbitt's claims of abuse and rape were not treated seriously. We also see news clips from other notable 1990s crimes and scandals: the Tailhook incident, Anita Hill's sexual harassment claims against (now) Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the William Kennedy Smith rape case, which may prompt viewers to search for more information on these incidents. Language is infrequent, but we hear "s--t" as well as words for "penis": "dick," "ding-a-ling." Alcohol played a part in the 1993 assault, and John Bobbitt seems to be impaired during his interview (and drinks from a large cup). Racism and sexism also played a part in the case; expect to hear about "hot-blooded Latins" and how Lorena's broken English affected public thinking about her. Ultimately, there's a lot of rough stuff in this series, but it may impact how viewers see a tumultuous time in America's history, and it's sensitive and thoughtful, not exploitative. 

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What's the story?

LORENA Bobbitt made worldwide headlines in 1993 when she severed husband John's penis with a kitchen knife, throwing it out a car window as she made her escape. But public sympathy for her husband John curdled somewhat once she accused him of abuse and rape, and he appeared on every tawdry TV and radio talk show that would have him. More than two decades later, this docu-series executive-produced by Jordan Peele digs into the Bobbitt case. Why was John so easily acquitted in court? Why were the couple endlessly mocked in news stories and even by people who knew them? What part did this case play in revving up a 24-hour news cycle, and in unmasking domestic abuse and marital rape? In four one-hour episodes, this documentary series asks -- and answers -- these and many more questions. 

Is it any good?

Taking a deep dive into a case that for most can be summed up in a mocking headline, this series emerges as a sensitive and fascinating historical document (that's far too mature for kids). The Bobbitt case fascinated the public, but interest quickly flagged once John took a tour of daytime talk shows and the Howard Stern radio show. He dutifully described the toll his wife's actions took on his life, starred in a couple of XXX movies, and faded out. Lorena, meanwhile, disappeared -- and few went looking for her. But a lingering question, summed up succinctly in this doc by one of the nurses who tended to a freshly wounded John, remained: Just what did John do to Lorena that spurred her to do something so extreme and horrible? 

John was, of course, acquitted in court of rape charges. But as we meet the law enforcement officers, doctors, lawyers, and jurists who worked on his case, it becomes a lot harder to dismiss Lorena's accusations of rape and abuse -- particularly since it's fairly clear that even the professionals who helped John recover seem to regard his case as justice served (and darkly comic). That last point is perhaps the most disturbing part of this series, putting aside for the moment the multiple times images of John's actual severed penis is shown: its talking heads, particularly the male ones, smile, laugh, and joke about the incident during their interviews. Is it nervous laughter? Or do they believe on some level that John ultimately reaped what he'd sown? That question lingers as the series nimbly links the Bobbitt case to others: the Navy Tailhook sexual abuse scandal, the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings, the William Kennedy Smith rape trial. By putting the Bobbitts in context, this series makes something more out of a faded scandal, demonstrating that Lorena Bobbitt never received her justice -- like so many other women in history. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the news presents information. Lorena features clips of TV news reports covering the events at the time. Does the news coverage seem biased or does it seem objective? Are events covered the same way they would be now? 

  • Jordan Peele is this show's executive producer. Why would this famous horror/movie maven be interested in this case? What does his participation bring to this show? 

  • Is this documentary too violent for kids to watch? What about teens? What specific images or language made you draw this conclusion? What's the impact of media violence on kids? 

TV details

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