Paradise Lost and found: Popular documentary, collective identification and participatory media culture

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The circulation and reception of HBO's award winning documentaries, Paradise Lost (Berlinger and Sinofsky, 1996) and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (Berlinger and Sinofsky, 2000), represent the beginning of an emerging form of democratic practice facilitated by documentary distribution and the Internet. Paradise Lost chronicles the legal case of three teenage boys convicted of murdering three other adolescent boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Although nothing was unusual about the broadcasting of the documentary, the public reception of the film was extraordinary. The Paradise Lost documentaries became a nexus around which audiences congregated as juror-citizens. The films successfully generated and sustained an activist media culture by unifying and politicizing viewers through viral online networking, public deliberation, and the creation of an instrumental counter-public that also utilized traditional modes of political agitation in the world before social media. This article will analyse the construction of the documentary texts, transcripts of interviews with activists, and the mainstream media circulation and analysis of a website devoted to the films, in an effort to qualify and ground the political potential of the genre in terms of larger civic sector conversations and the processes of social change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)233-248
Number of pages16
JournalStudies in Documentary Film
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Paradise Lost (1996)
  • Participatory media
  • Popular documentary
  • Publics
  • Rhetoric
  • Social change
  • Social movements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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