Sober Up, Missus America

Warning: there are spoilers in the post if you have not played the game.

I know, I know, the title to this post seems misleading, but it really isn’t, so keep reading.

Let’s go through the murdered women you must examine on the Homocide Desk (a level in the game). You are after a serial killer who is loosely based on the “Black Dahlia” murder case and, in the end, it’s him: Elizabeth Short’s murderer. These cases also resemble the Red Lipstick murders, which were equally gruesome (fyi, be careful looking up these murders – you can be led to very gruesome photos.) If we group the victims together, a pattern becomes apparent:

Celine Henry – one of the first female aviators who fell on hard times after a glamorous life of partying with stars and dignitaries. She marries Jacob Henry, a working stiff who she physically abuses. She drinks heavily and flirts with other men at the La Bamba Club. Cole and Rusty find her badly beaten body and the coroner tells them she was brutally sodomized but no semen was found. The was stomped on repeatedly. We catch a suspect who has left the murder weapon on the floor in his apartment – clearly, this arrest was simply too easy and Cole notes this fact.

Deidre Moller – She is an exception to the rule of drink and promiscuous behaviour by the rest of the victims. She is in an abusive marriage. After her husband beats her, he buys her jewelry, which is stolen by the murderer.  She was beaten and strangled but not stomped. However, she was not drunk, which is likely why she was not crushed like a bug.

Antonia Maldonado – is the sole Latina of the victims. She was a devout catholic who married young and discovered too late that her husband was brash and abusive. Phelps and Galloway speculate that her husband drove her to drink, and so she was drunk when she was murdered. it’s not entirely clear if she was stomped to death, but she died “like the others” so we can presume so.

Theresa Taraldsen – loved to dance and drink, but she was a mom and a wife so….well, you know the rest. She is taken upon returning home after a night of carousing and brutally murdered.

Evelyn Summers – seems to be the only unmarried woman who had a career as a studio secretary (hence the name of the case, the “Studio Secretary Murder.”  It is interesting that she gets a title whereas the other women are known for the murder weapon or the trophy taken from them. Summers is a die-hard homeless alcoholic who lives in the back of a liquor store. She has a boyfriend, who is (surprise!) abusive and, yes, she is mutilated and stomped before being strangled.

Likely Theresa Maldonado but most of the victims look the same in death, which is odd.

In each case, the women were fighting with a husband or significant other, so their home lives were unhappy. Envisioned as conquests, the murderer takes a trophy from each of the victims, which he then uses to lead Phelps along. The killer leaves his name as Percy Bryce Shelley – the one and only – and uses excerpts from Prometheus Unbound to lead Phelps to his “lair.” The choice of Prometheus Unbound, Shelley’s great poetic/dramatic experiment is very interesting. The poem (if you can call it a poem) is didactic and meant to change the world through idealism. This is Phelps to a tee. He is convinced that by following his ideals, he can win, but the rules are pretty damn strict and he ultimately fails. Everyone fails in the American symbolic order because if they actually succeed no one will work themselves to death trying (see John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row for more on this idea)

He really is a failed frontiersman, there can be no doubt, but I touched on this fact in an earlier post. This post is all about the weirdness of this particular desk and boy howdy, is it disturbing, mainly because it articulates longstanding discourses of domesticity, sex, and nationhood.

On the spreadsheet of the nation, women have consistently operated in American literature and culture as metonymic substitutions for the nation, often appearing as part of a signifying chain of meaning that includes the American home and other signifiers of domesticity.This symbolic function is continued in a disturbing fashion as Phelps investigates each victim’s murder, who seem to be killed for transgressing their domestic spheres.  Each victim leaves behind a devastated husband, who is invariably accused of the crime – in other words, the family home is devastated by the loss of its central figure. This sentimental trope of the broken home has its roots in the formula of the American captivity narrative, an integral part of frontier fiction,  in which a white woman is captured by an enemy. In fictional portrayals of this formula, the rescuers often fail or are hindered and the game follows this long-standing tradition. As I said earlier, the majority of the victims were drunk at the time of their murders; therefore, the home was already broken and the petticoats of the middle-class are lifted to reveal debauchery, selfishness, and hedonism underneath.

White women have traditionally been the moral compass of the American home; they are the guarantors of cultural and racial superiority, but each of these women are represented as dissatisfied with their middle-class lifestyle, desiring to have and be more than what they are. Their “selfish” indulgences that left them (and their families) vulnerable to attack by evil reflect a nation that also imbibed on a high of easy credit and loans. These women are metonymic signifiers that stand in for the heady hedonism of the pre-collapse world, and as Phelps, the player must investigate the victims, explore their shortcomings, and then, like any frontiersman worth his salt, discover and eradicate the evil within the nation. True to the tradition of detective noir to uncover corruption rather than simply solve a mystery, the killer turns out to be a relation of one of the most wealthy and powerful families in L.A.; therefore, his identity remains a secret and his family, as members of the wealthy elite, are free to reshape the American home at will. These fallen women were at the mercy of a one percenter: the game not only teaches that there is no fighting back, but if these women had sobered up and lived by the edicts of their domestic duty, they would not have fallen, therefore, these women metonymically signify the fallen American middle class.

I’ll leave the last word to that wonderful, old curmudgeon….

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