Violence and Women in L.A. Noire

I am on the homocide desk and for those of you new to my blog, I am writing about my game play in L.A. Noire. In a few weeks, I’ll be discussing Red Dead Redemption, a game I have finished but is closely related to L.A Noire. Of course, I am writing about these games, which requires that I replay certain missions (tough life, I know). Red Dead will be in less detail than Noire because I have to replay missions (one of which is the “ethnography missions”…I kid you not).

Harold McDougal is an ethnographer…he’s pretty damn awful

But first, I need to complete L.A. Noire…The first case I encounter on the homocide desk is called “The Red Lipstick Murder” (there really was a red lipstick killer in 1947 and the game riffs off of that case) and what a grisly scene. As always, the opening scene features the crime and the blood is flying. The next scene is Cole’s (my) promotion to homicide and I hook up with my new partner, the alcoholic misogynist, Rusty (Finbarr) Galloway.

At this point in the game, when Cole walks by “bystanders” outside or in the station, people whisper, “Hey!  That’s the cop from the papers” or “That’s the cop who caught all those criminals!” These declarations are reminiscent of playing as John Marston in Red Dead Redemption who eventually becomes famous in his ‘verse.

The victim in this case is Celine Henry, an alcoholic who is beaten with a tire iron, stomped to death and sodomized. The killer writes in lipstick on her body and the brutality of the crime is suggestive of the famous Black Dahlia murder, which was an incredibly brutal case of rape, torture, and murder. The violence in this game is brutal, not only due to the graphic nature of the violence but because you have to investigate (“touch”) the body.

Mid-case, we are introduced to another newspaper flashback (when you find a newspaper, you enter into a flashback that is relevant to the main plot line, which is still a mystery). In this one, we see Fontaine, who is clearly not an ethical doctor, trying to calm a patient down. This patient is on a payphone, with his back toward the camera, freaking out about committing arson and killing an entire family. The patient was clearly led to commit the crime by Fontaine as he screams into the phone, “you said no one would be in the house?!!?” Arson is a property crime and the final desk in the game is arson so….like Red Dead Redemption, a central part of the story line is all about property crimes or fractures in property and ownership, which are both central concepts in the “American Dream.”

back to homocide…In this first case of women being brutally tortured (and tracking what is clearly a serial killer comprises the entire homocide desk), Cole arrests, Alonzo Mendes, who appears guilty but Cole is clearly unconvinced of his guilt. In the next two cases, “The Golden Butterfly” and The Silk Stocking Murder,” each case has the same modus operandi, but in the case of “The Golden Butterfly,” the husband seems to be guilty. I realize how disturbing all of this violence against women is – the crimes are sexual and extremely violent. However, let’s think of this figuratively. In each case, a home is broken, the husband is suspected, the family is fractured and all seems lost. Women are iconic figures in the concept of the United States as an exceptional nation. If we consider John Gast’s famous painting of American Progress (1872), then we can see that white women are the guarantors of progress, purity and driving out the “savage” elements that “plague” the American landscape (check out the Indigenous peoples running away from “progress” in the lower left hand corner).

John Gast American Progress (1872)

It’s important to note that each of the women who are murdered are “flawed” in some way. Celine Henry was a drunk, Antonia Maldonado was also drunk (and raced); Mrs. Moller overspends…each of these women do not seem to perform their femininity “properly.”  The husbands are placed under suspicion and are also revealed to be wife beaters, on average.

So what is Cole’s role? To reveal the corruption at the heart of the American home?  Seems so…

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