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Another view of Kitty Genovese
March 28, 2014 11:31 AM   Subscribe


 
There was a good article/book review in The New Yorker recently, too.
posted by scody at 11:33 AM on March 28 [3 favorites]


This should shake-up the whole Psych 101 section on the bystander effect, for which the Genovese case is regularly used as the lead example.
posted by shivohum at 11:48 AM on March 28 [13 favorites]


Oh man, you guys, Rorschach is gonna FLIP when he finds out that he's been wearing Kitty Genovese's dress on his head for like NO REASON.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:49 AM on March 28 [36 favorites]


I was fascinated by this case, due to my youthful obsessions with murder, disaster, and accidents of all types, and a trip to visit the actual locations was the first road trip I took when I got my driver's license. As an angry, cynical young man, the original narrative suited my feeling that the world was an ugly place, full of ugly people, all in service to ugly things (not an entirely inexplicable view, in the midst of the Reagan years), and I took the tale as a reinforcement to my bitterness that the world was just not going to live up to my expectations.

As a grown-up with experience and wisdom and an understanding of nuance, and with the old story falling apart, it is still fascinating to me, because the story the recovered narrative tells isn't so harsh and cynical and reinforcing of our old puritanical self-digust. Things aren't so cut and dried now, and people maybe aren't so inherently wicked, and that's a good feeling, even when it comes at the expense of poor Kitty, all those years ago.
posted by sonascope at 11:56 AM on March 28 [6 favorites]




IIRC, there were also several people who were never mentioned in the original article, but who saw the struggle and kept watch from their windows until they thought Genovese was safely inside. They didn't know she had been stabbed. They didn't know her attacker was going to find his way inside the building to attack her again. They thought, with pretty good reason, that she was safe.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:58 AM on March 28 [2 favorites]


This article in some ways fits the narrative of sloppy policework in the context of the recently unearthed triple homicide case related to Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Swap marijuana for homosexuality and you see almost the same thing happening 50 years later.
posted by oceanjesse at 12:00 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


Swap marijuana for homosexuality

I am suddenly reminded of the film Half-Baked.

I'll show myself out.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:06 PM on March 28


What the CRAP? So the story was a self-serving morality tale told by, and for the benefit of, the of people who were in fact vigorously persecuting Genovese and her supposedly apathetic neighbors?

Oh, I guess I should have said "spoiler alert" there.
posted by edheil at 12:10 PM on March 28 [16 favorites]


God damn it, Harlan.
posted by Shepherd at 12:15 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


Inspiration for Harlan Ellison's disturbing short story, "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs."
posted by Chrysostom at 12:16 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


I agree with Shivohum - sometimes it takes a long time for new truths to percolate through the knowlosphere. See, this is why we shouldn't rely on stories, ever. Only lab data. Because stories are always political.
posted by rebent at 12:23 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


This should shake-up the whole Psych 101 section on the bystander effect, for which the Genovese case is regularly used as the lead example.

Well, that's the odd part. The bystander effect is very replicable under experimental conditions, meaning it's very likely real. It's just that the Kitty Genovese case in particular wasn't really an example.
posted by kewb at 12:23 PM on March 28 [21 favorites]


My own perspective here is that the two times I was a victim of violent crime, things went sort of similarly. I was attacked by a guy on my own porch (with my own 2x4!) in broad daylight, ran into the middle of the street with my skull bleeding profusely, and (oddly) the streets were deserted in every direction. Family members inside the house were already calling police, but I was concerned in the instance that he would come after me. I think that was just random chance, as around that time there was usually a lot more foot traffic and so on. The other time was getting mugged directly outside of the home of a neighbor and a tenant (shirttail relative) on my own rental property. I called out for both those people by first name, but while I was apparently making enough noise to be heard, neither of them heard my actual voice or words (or their names). I was able to call 911 on my cell phone after the guy left with my wallet.

I've also been, due to not unrelated drug/gang activity in the area, a pretty steady 911 reporter and I can say that it's very difficult to actually know what's happening in a chaotic night-time incident. Some noise? Is that a fight? Are two people rambunctiously wrestling or fixing to hurt each other? There was even an incident where a window was broken and blood was dripped down the sidewalk as someone left an address, but it was only months later that I learned there had actually been a rape there that night. As a result of these experiences I'm more understanding of the witnesses here as opposed to the narrative.
posted by dhartung at 12:36 PM on March 28 [6 favorites]


It's just that the Kitty Genovese case in particular wasn't really an example.

Indeed. The one person who "didn't want to get involved" had a well-founded fear of being in contact with the police which was conveniently removed from the story.
posted by tommasz at 12:37 PM on March 28


We studied this in my Criminal Justice Clinic at GULC, where everybody came in knowing the compelling famous story and then one by one we ripped down what was known to discover that the truth was basically, "of those who knew something was going on, almost all of them tried to help in some way while keeping themselves safe."
posted by Navelgazer at 12:37 PM on March 28 [8 favorites]


Indeed. The one person who "didn't want to get involved" had a well-founded fear of being in contact with the police which was conveniently removed from the story.

The story speculates on that and says it's a potential reason, but they don't really know why he didn't call the police. I'm sure being drunk probably didn't help the decision-making process, either. The 38 was certainly overstated by the sounds of it, but there's still the doorman as well, and also whichever neighbour supposedly "interevened" and scared off Moseley and left a raped, stabbed woman to figure it out on her own. There's still some disturbing indifference to this story.
posted by Hoopo at 12:47 PM on March 28 [5 favorites]


sigh. some days it seems like everything i knew growing up turned out to be bullshit.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 1:02 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


From the days when the New York Times was more like Fox News... well, it never changed THAT much.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:04 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


I live pretty much across the street from where Kitty Genovese was murdered, and love my neighborhood, and I'm glad that this is coming to light. Its too easy to just assume the worst of everyone.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 1:06 PM on March 28 [4 favorites]


This should shake-up the whole Psych 101 section on the bystander effect, for which the Genovese case is regularly used as the lead example.

In the intro psych class I took 16 years ago my teacher and textbooks were pretty clear the Genovese case was not an example of bystander effect and blown out of proportion by the media.
posted by schroedinger at 1:09 PM on March 28 [4 favorites]


Fascinating. That New Yorker article is much clearer than the New Inquiry one about the different views and where they come from.
posted by shemko at 1:13 PM on March 28


It's a shame, all these people watching the Kitty Genovese story being misreported and no one stepping in to do something about it.
posted by logicpunk at 1:28 PM on March 28 [37 favorites]


In the intro psych class I took 16 years ago my teacher and textbooks were pretty clear the Genovese case was not an example of bystander effect and blown out of proportion by the media.

This clarity was absent from my psych courses just 8 years ago.
posted by Jpfed at 1:34 PM on March 28 [5 favorites]


The larger story behind the event & how it influenced social psych is included in at least some instructor's guides, but isn't always spelled out in texts. At least some that I've noticed give a quick nod to Genovese (after all, it was the historical impetus) and then move on to more modern concrete examples. I could imagine if someone wasn't really into that area of psych and was coasting a little in that section, that they might miss the updated stuff. For social, there's a large repository online where we keep up with his sort of thing.
posted by bizzyb at 2:05 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


Oh man, you guys, Rorschach is gonna FLIP when he finds out that he's been wearing Kitty Genovese's dress on his head for like NO REASON.

Or he'll just have to admit what the real reason was all along.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:06 PM on March 28 [3 favorites]


Bess had been walking home when a flasher exposed himself to her; terrified, she ran all the way home. Then she caught a bad cold, and never recovered. To Rosenthal, the incident and the fatal illness were one. “A sexual pervert jumped out of the bushes and exposed himself to her,” Rosenthal said. “I still miss our darling Bess, and feel Bess was murdered by this criminal who took her life away, no less than the monster who killed Kitty Genovese.”

What is this I don't even

That's NOT HOW YOU GET A COLD
posted by dhartung at 2:12 PM on March 28 [9 favorites]


Fascinating. That New Yorker article is much clearer than the New Inquiry one about the different views and where they come from.

Seconded... it provided a much clearer picture, I thought.

Thanks very much for the post. Seriously illuminating.
posted by knownassociate at 2:23 PM on March 28


Immortalized in song.
posted by HuronBob at 2:33 PM on March 28


It is very weird to find out that something you were sure you had a good grasp on is something you truly knew nothing at all about.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:10 PM on March 28


We studied this in my Criminal Justice Clinic at GULC, where everybody came in knowing the compelling famous story and then one by one we ripped down what was known to discover that the truth was basically, "of those who knew something was going on, almost all of them tried to help in some way while keeping themselves safe."

Hmm, I unfortunately did not have the same experience. When my crim professor told our 1L class about it, we got the old NY Times version of the story. I knew a little bit about the newer research suggesting the truth was at least a bit more complicated, but didn't feel like bring it up in class because I didn't like that particular professor.
posted by skewed at 3:44 PM on March 28


"Swap marijuana for homosexuality"

Only on the weekend
posted by klangklangston at 7:01 PM on March 28 [10 favorites]


Metafilter: seems like everything i knew growing up turned out to be bullshit.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:54 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


Wow. Reading that makes me reconsider every piece of media I've ever consumed. Thank you for posting this.
posted by kyp at 10:47 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


In the intro psych class I took 16 years ago my teacher and textbooks were pretty clear the Genovese case was not an example of bystander effect and blown out of proportion by the media.

--- This clarity was absent from my psych courses just 8 years ago.


I'm telling you people! We had a pretty good grasp on issues of intersectionality and all of the -isms in the late '80's early 90's! (Okay, not everyone, but collectively and publically.)

In my psych class in, I don't know, 1989? We learned all of this - including the fact that she was a lesbian. And the take away wasn't "whew! The bystander effect isn't real" it was "holy shit! I never realized before how perilous it is to live as someone in a hated group (gay) where your neighbors are unwilling to get involved, and as a gay person, you can't trust the police, even to act as a witness to a crime. This is similar to women on our campus who get raped at a party and get reprimanded for drinking when you report it!"

I feel like, somewhere between monied interests changing the economic and political landscape, and the tech boom, everyone has been asleep these last 20 years. We always assume that our present day is so much more enlightened than 10, 20, 30 years ago and it's just not true (see Attack on Women's Reproductive Health, or Concentrations of Black Poverty 2014, or Attack on Voting Rights.) I call it the Myth of Progress.

And the issue of how people trust or don't trust the police and how it shapes life in a neighborhood? Stop-and-Frisk in NYC. While trying to "up their numbers" with stop-and-frisks and writing minor tickets, cops were refusing to even write down more severe crimes like assault and rape. Talking women out of filing a report. Telling a guy that his car being stolen was really just karma because he himself had served time in jail and outright refusing to take his report. There was a serial rapist in the neighborhood and none of the rapes were made reportable in a way that alerted other precincts -- as was the policy. This was 2010? 2011? and they're still trying to kill the stop-and-frisk policy in NYC, which is really just designed to give the appearance of effective policing, that crime stats are moving in the right direction.

Those 14 year old Black kids who get stopped and frisked over and over again, for no reason at all (or for sitting on their front stoops) they're going to be the victims of crimes or the witnesses to crimes one day, and they're not going to trust the police.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:43 AM on March 29 [22 favorites]


See, this is why we shouldn't rely on stories, ever. Only lab data. Because stories are always political.

The tens of thousands of rape kits waiting to be processed by labs would like to remind you that the presence or absence of lab data is also political, and the veracity of lab data is often in question.

All we have are stories. The real issue is Psychology, which demands that the stories be measurable and reducible so that we can explain and predict all human trajectories.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:54 AM on March 29 [6 favorites]


h'm, i've been a bystander myself (another worker at the psychiatric place was being beaten by an inmate (not a nasty person at all, but did attack people cos thought they were attacking him)) and i was just standing there rooted to the spot and all the other people were too - don't think it changes the bystander thing
posted by maiamaia at 7:41 AM on March 29


plus a Turkish friend saw 1) a man beaten up on a night bus to Heathrow who got off the driver let the people beating him up off too, he got back on (London buses have a rear exit and front entry door) three times finally driver drove off leaving them in dark in countryside 2) a man ask a gang of black men to stop harrassing a girl on the tube, he got his head kicked in until it got to the station where they ran off, she said she thought he was dead and she became a racist after this, and that Britain was terrible in Turkey you knew someone would step in and help you. (Having been groped and attacked and got no help in Istanbul and Paris on a metro platform, i don't believe that.) No, everyone's seen it in action, the person being bullied we didn't speak up and defend, the whole of Nazi germany for x's sake, most people too scared to speak out because other people would blindly follow the ideology. Case itself just a name/textbook example
posted by maiamaia at 7:47 AM on March 29


"the Genovese case had some tangible consequences. It helped in the push to establish 911 as an easy-to-remember national police emergency number; in 1964, the most reliable way to call the police in New York was to use the specific telephone number of each precinct, and caller response wasn’t always a high priority" (new yorker link at top)
does partly explain a lot - dunno about you, but we don't have a phonebook (subcontracting delivery people tend to dump the lot behind hedges) and i wasn't willing to pay £10 for one..
posted by maiamaia at 7:53 AM on March 29 [1 favorite]


I grew up across the street from where it happened (probably close to where Aversion Therapy is now.) We watched every year as the camera crews came to do their inevitable anniversary stories, and were told by them how Kew Gardens had stood by while it happened.

This was in contrast to the few times a bad actor tried to snatch a purse from one of our elderly neighbors -- those guys got caught and sat on until the police came by 10 to 12 of us every time it happened in our proximity. I think we felt, consciously or not, we had something to prove or refute.
posted by ltracey at 8:25 AM on March 29 [4 favorites]


I don't think I'd ever been aware of this story before, but I'm pretty sure it was referenced in the movie Focus, in which William H. Macy looks out his window at night to see a neighbour in his WASP-y Brooklyn neighbourhood sexually assaulting an Italian-looking woman, and does nothing. The woman later dies of her injuries.
posted by orange swan at 6:33 PM on March 29


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