Kitty Genovese, American Icon

By Kathy M. Newman | September 1, 2006 | 0 comments

Kitty Genovese’s screams were ignored in 1964, but she has been embraced as a pop culture icon ever since.  Musicians, playwrights, and filmmakers have all found meaning in the story of her murder and its 38 witnesses.

“It’s a story about ordinary people in a horrible situation,” said playwright David Simpatico, whose opera The Screams of Kitty Genovese was featured in the New York Musical Theatre Festival last September. “Her story reminds us, in our current culture of fear, that we have to take care of each other.”

One of the first times Genovese’s murder appeared in popular culture was in Phil Ochs’s 1967 song, “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends.” In the first verse, he sang:

Look outside the window, there’s a woman
being grabbed / They’ve dragged her to the
bushes and now she’s being stabbed /
Maybe we should call the cops and try to
stop the pain / But Monopoly is so much
fun, I’d hate to blow the game /
And I’m sure it wouldn’t interest anybody /
Outside of a small circle of friends.

In 1975, CBS made a TV movie based on the murder, Death Scream, starring Raul Julia as the investigating detective. In the 1980s, Kitty’s murder was featured as the incident that inspired a vigilante superhero to fight crime in Alan Moore’s comic book series, Watchmen.

In the last year alone, there’s been a flurry of dramatic retellings of the story, including a play based on interviews with Kitty’s lesbian lover, 38 Witnessed Her Death, I Witnessed Her Love: The Lonely Secret of Mary Ann Zielonko. A group of Pittsburgh-area college students made a film about the murder, When Darkness Cries, and Kitty’s brother, Bill, is finishing a documentary about the people who have been touched by his sister’s death. Playwright David Simpatico said he spoke with Bill Genovese after the opening performance of The Screams of Kitty Genovese.

“I told [Bill] why I had to write this opera: because maybe after seeing this performance, the audience will be better armed, and they’ll think, ‘Oh, I’ve seen this situation before, I know what to do.’”

Tracker Pixel for Entry

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure

About The Author

Kathy M. Newman, Ph.D., is an associate professor of literary and cultural studies at Carnegie Mellon University, where she writes about radio, television, and contemporary media. Her first book, Radio Active: Advertising and Consumer Activism, was published by University of California Press in 2004.


Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

blog comments powered by Disqus



Greater Good Events

The Science of Burnout: What Is It, Why It Happens, and How to Avoid It
International House at UC Berkeley
April 29, 2017
6 CE Hours

The Science of Burnout: What Is It, Why It Happens, and How to Avoid It

A day-long semiar with GGSC Science Director Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., celebrated compassion teacher Joan Halifax, burnout expert Christina Maslach, Ph.D., and UCLA psychiatrist Elizabeth Bromley, M.D., Ph.D.


Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!


Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.


Greater Good Resources


Book of the Week

How Pleasure Works By Paul Bloom Bloom explores a broad range of human pleasures from food to sex to religion to music. Bloom argues that human pleasure is not purely an instinctive, superficial, sensory reaction; it has a hidden depth and complexity.

Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement