One of the central themes of my book, The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen, is how slyly gossip, stereotype, and novelistic invention can creep into the realm of “fact.” It can happen over centuries, as it did with Anne Boleyn, whose political enemies bequeathed to generations of historians, novelists, and film-makers a skanky schemer Anne who to this day has a fierce grip on pop culture. In 2013, it can happen overnight, as it did last night with Lifetime’s “Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret.”
Contrary to some expectations, I’m not going to complain here about the all-too-familiar archetype of the provocative sexual temptress that the movie, playing fast and loose with the facts, tailored Arias to conform to. This is Lifetime, after all, and skanky females are in vogue nowadays. So I won’t harp on the (invented from scratch) scene in which Jodi introduces herself to Travis as he takes a leak in the men’s room. Or her uninterruptedly slutty behavior throughout. What had me wanting to pitch The Book of Mormon (had I owned it) at the television screen was the movie’s conversion of Travis Alexander from an unabashed and often dominant partner in a mutually escalating sexual addiction (you don’t have to take Jodi’s word for it; just listen to the orgasm-accompanied tapes, which feature—among other things—Travis telling Jodi he’d like to take her into the woods, “tie you to a tree and put it in your ass”) to an earnest innocent who tried to resist the forbidden fruit but couldn’t help but succumb when it was thrust so provocatively in his face. I mean, what man could?
The writers of the film, Richard Blaney and Gregory Small (couldn’t they have found a female collaborator?) have tried to justify this conversion (as far-fetched to anyone who has actually followed the trial as Jodi’s “conversion” to Mormonism) as done out of respect for the feelings of Alexander’s family, who had already suffered not only the loss of Travis but having to listen to him arouse Jodi with his fantasies on the “sex tapes.” They were not going to repeat that torment! Their responsibility, Small has said, seemingly forgetting that he was writing a movie not concluding arguments at a trial, “was to speak for Travis.” As for Jodi, “We never really doubted that she was the bad guy” says Blaney.
Well yes, if by “bad guy” you mean “murderer.” But with a movie like this (“tucked handily,” writes People.com “between the May verdict for the murder trial and the July retrial in the life-or-death penalty phase”) now in the popular consciousness, it’s going to be hard to find a jury who don’t see Jodi as guilty, not only of a horrible murder, but the corruption of an innocent. “There is no doubt after viewing the film,” writes Sasha Brown-Worsham in Stir, “Travis Alexander was the victim in every sense of the word.” And by “every” she does mean sexual. Admitting “the film has Arias manipulating and twisting every turn so that Alexander had almost no choice but to succumb to her charms,” she concludes that “seeing it played out in this way did make me look at Arias differently.” I strongly suspect that she is far from the only one. Jodi is now inscribed not only in the book of famous murderesses, but also in the cultural catalogue of libidinous Eves, forcing that apple into poor Adam’s mouth.
People.com calls the film “dandy entertainment.” I call it media malpractice.