America transfixed by Bobbitts' story: The magnetic banality of a marriage that ended in two trials is a legend for our times, writes Rupert Cornwell in Washington

ODDLY, the longer the trial goes on, The Deed itself (though never far from anyone's mind) seems somehow to matter less. Everyone knows what happened; the protagonists have already described the incident before, when John Wayne Bobbitt was tried last November and acquitted of marital rape. None the less, America is transfixed.

For three days this week, half a country (or at least of that portion of it with cable television) has been glued to the spectacle relayed from a county courthouse about 30 miles from Washington. Manassas, Virginia, hasn't commanded such attention since the Confederates handed a surprise beating to the Union armies, at the second battle of Bull Run in August 1862.

So to Part Two of the Bobbitt trial, as Lorena Bobbitt answers charges of malicious wounding for the maiming of her husband. This is a story of marital, not civil war, but in its tawdry way, scarcely less significant, as the New York Times, no less, notes in an editorial: 'Every era has its legend. If this were still the age of balladry, Lorena Bobbitt would have a ballad. Her crime - wicked and fascinating - speaks so eloquently of our time.'

Not since the televised Senate hearings over Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court nominee, and his accuser, Anita Hill, in October 1991 has the country been so transfixed by a personal story. The reasons go beyond the nature of the crime.

Like the earlier confrontation, the viewer must take sides. Who was worst done by: Lorena, the demure Catholic woman from Ecuador subjected, by her telling, to four years of brutality? Or her inarticulate Marine-turned-bouncer of a husband? A lout, perhaps, but a lout deserving of so dreadful a punishment as he received last 23 June?

Then there is the magnetic banality of the tale. The Bobbitts' marriage may have been made in hell. But it was lived in the soulless suburbs of Anywhere USA, a world of shopping malls, trips to Ocean City, Maryland (a US version of Blackpool), and monthly nightmares over how to make the minimum payment on the credit card.

Subtract the appalling denouement, and the petty domestic disputes which paved the way to global celebrity for the Bobbitts have echoes in every household. A fight over whether to buy a real or a plastic tree for Christmas 1990, troubles over visits by the in-laws, a squabble one Thanksgiving over whether to watch a football game or a holiday parade on television: this was what Ms Bobbitt recounted on Wednesday - to hold a superpower spellbound.

In terms of public interest, Manassas has eclipsed Bill Clinton in Europe. For Court TV, the Bobbitt trial has been a trophy to match Rodney King. CNN too has been giving gavel-to-gavel coverage, demoting the Partnership for Peace to footnote status. With commendable courage, CNN did interrupt Ms Bobbitt for 40 minutes to carry the Clinton-Kravchuk press conference live from Ukraine - the world's third largest nuclear power was after all giving up its weapons. Such though was viewers' wrath that five times the anchorman had to promise that not a minute of her testimony would be omitted. Nor was it.

Today Ms Bobbitt returns to the witness-box to give her version of events. America will tune in.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk