The Laramie Project portrays the town of Laramie, Wyoming struggling with how the media’s portrayal of Matthew Shepard’s murder reflects or contradicts their own vision of their community. As the play opens, characters describe Laramie as a friendly, normal place. In the introduction, Sergeant Hing describes Laramie as "a good place to live," Rebecca Hilliker says that "you have the opportunity to be happy in your life here," and Jedidiah Schultz says that "Laramie is a beautiful town...[where] you can have your own identity." Since Matthew’s murder, however, media coverage has made Laramie nationally synonymous with a hate crime—as Jedidiah Schultz notes, Laramie is now "a town defined by an accident... a crime."
Many characters attribute what they see as Laramie’s excessively negative reputation to the onslaught of media coverage in the wake of Matthew's murder. Jon Peacock describes "hundreds of reporters...everywhere” and says that “the town is not used to that kind of exposure," emphasizing how unusual it is for Laramie to be put under a microscope. The presence of such intense media coverage is met with mixed and often resentful feelings on the part of the townspeople. Many believe that the coverage is invasive and interferes with the community's ability to deliver justice and heal. Tiffany Edwards, a local journalist, calls the out-of-town journalists "predators" and describes how reporters tried to talk to the judge of Matthew’s case while he was in the bathroom. Tiffany seems to imply that the journalists are harming the community, as they fail to respect the town’s privacy during a difficult time. Others in Laramie are primarily frustrated not by concerns about privacy, but by what they see as a biased portrayal of the town. Sergeant Hing calls the news stories "sensationalist" while Eileen Engen says the community was "more or less maligned" by the journalists. Sergeant Hing and Eileen Engen’s comments suggest that they are upset by the way that the journalism is focusing on Laramie’s troubles, rather than painting a more balanced picture.
Some characters, however, feel these news stories expose the discomfort they have felt in Laramie for a long time. Tiffany Edwards thinks that the media finally "made people accountable" to what happened to Matthew, forcing them to confront their own latent homophobia. Zubaida Ula remembers with frustration how, at the candlelight vigil, someone called for the citizens to show that "Laramie is not this kind of town." Zubaida sees people’s obsession with Laramie regaining a good reputation as misguided, since the community should instead focus inwardly on trying to change its culture of homophobia.
Though the characters’ opinions about the media are varied, the frequency with which they mention the media shows how much the press has affected the town, and particularly the extent to which negative news stories have forced residents of Laramie to look more closely at the cruelties and contradictions of their community. In this way, though the press can be biased, predatory, and frustrating, it also serves the purpose of not allowing Laramie residents to ignore or forget what happened. In part because of the negative news stories, The Laramie Project shows Laramie residents actively examining who they are and who they would like to be as a community.
Media and Community ThemeTracker
Media and Community Quotes in The Laramie Project
And I’m thinking, Lady, you’re just missing the point. You know, all you got to do is turn around, see the mountains, smell the air, listen to the birds, just take in what’s around you. And they were just—nothing but the story. I didn’t feel judged, I felt that they were stupid. They’re, they’re missing the point—they’re just missing the whole point.
And for us to be more or less maligned…That we’re not a good community and we are—the majority of people here are good people.
Look, I do think that, um, the media actually made people accountable. Because they made people think. Because people were sitting in their homes, like watching TV and listening to CNN and watching Dan Rather and going, “Jesus Christ, well that’s not how it is here.” Well how is it here?
You and the straight people of Laramie and Wyoming are guilty of the beating of Matthew Shepard just as the Germans who looked the other way are guilty of the deaths of the Jews, the Gypsies, and the homosexuals. You have taught your straight children to hate their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters—unless and until you acknowledge that Matt Shepard’s beating is not just a random occurrence, not just the work of a couple of random crazies, you have Matthew’s blood on your hands.
And someone got up there and said… c’mon guys, let’s show the world that Laramie is not this kind of a town, why did this happen here?... That’s a lie. Because it happened here. So how could it not be a town where this kind of thing happens?...And we have to mourn this and we have to be sad that we live in a town, a state, a country where shit like this happens. I mean, these are people trying to distance themselves from this crime. And we need to own this crime…We are like this.
I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney. However this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. Mr. McKinney, I am going to grant you life, as hard as it is for me to do so, because of Matthew… I give you life in the memory of one who no longer lives. May you have a long life and may you thank Matthew every day for it.