Thank you for your post, Leslie. I really enjoyed it. I also agree with your comments concerning true crime stories in general and The People vs. O.J. Simpson in particular.
When watching movies or TV programs based on real-life crimes, I have noticed the same things about these texts as you. First, I have noticed these texts take some liberties with the facts of those cases. I have also felt these texts have greater leeway to take these liberties because of their status as dramatizations. Ironically, this issue came up during a discussion in one of my classes about The People vs. O.J. Simpson. Many people in the class argued that because the series was a dramatization, it did not have the expectations of truth as did the documentaries on the subject. Thus, your response reminds me of other thoughts I and others have had on the subject.
I also agree with your thoughts about the portrayal of Marcia Clark in the limited series. I avidly watched The People vs. O.J. Simpson during its run on F/X. I also remember the original media coverage of the trial and of its principles, including Marcia Clark. I too noticed that the limited series represented more facets to her than was apparent during the original coverage.
On a final note, I am glad someone wrote about The People vs. O.J. Simpson. I wrote one of my final term papers on this program, so I enjoy seeing another person’s thoughts on the text.
Thanks for your post, George! It’s interesting to me that narratives such as Making a Murder and Serial are so popular at this historical moment, as I think it points to an anxiety keenly felt in today’s society. At a moment in which the public is poised to be especially distrustful of legal systems and the police in particular, narratives that put the justice system under scrutiny seem to carry an extra amount of weight.
Interesting post, Leslie. I especially like that you gesture toward the complicated relationship between public and private in true crime. In many ways, true crime feels like it wants to push past the public facades and facts to get to a certain private truth about who people really are and what really happened. Often that truth is unattainable. Fictionalized accounts of true crime, then, attempt to fill that gap, as you put forth. I think, though, that whether or not what is offered is “true” is up for debate. As true crime teaches us: can we ever -really- know who someone is?
Yes, I definitely agree that the conversation needs to shift. I was not intending to re-entrench it or assert that they were “less than.” Rather, I was just pointing to that discourse. I, too, will continue to look forward to more of the “inverted” true crime programs that you call for. I’ll be very interested in seeing how Kathie Durst’s story gets told. It’ll be telling to see how these stories are told and by whom.
Thanks for this discussion everyone. Staci, I wasn’t aware of the upcoming Lifetime movie about Kathie Durst. I will definitely watch it when it airs. I think the thoughts about “quality” tv are important, and very telling in terms of which stories get told, where they appear, and whether they are deemed “art” or “trash.” I would love to see the conversation shift a little though. Perhaps we should approach Lifetime and other cable channels, like Investigation Discovery, acknowledging their contributions to true crime storytelling without necessarily marking them as “less than.” As Leslie mentioned, I think questions of privacy are always an important part of these discussions. The Goldman family clearly wants to share Ronald’s story with audiences, but for other families, revisiting a family tragedy is likely not worth the pain. George brings up another aspect of framing, crime stories that focus on the mind of the perpetrator, which this OJ documentary certainly does. My original post stemmed from the fact that I am most interested in how true crime tells victims’ stories, rather than the other way around. In the case of OJ, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman, the added element of “celebrity” complicates this.
These comments make me think of the documentary, ‘The Imposter’ that also focuses on the perpetrator. Your post is very thought-provoking Amanda and I agree with you all that the victims stories are not treated in the same way, in that they don’t achieve the same level of prestige. It may be linked to the current fascination with the ‘criminal mind’. The continued popularity of serial killer narratives that have emerged since Hannibal Lecter points to this. I also agree with Leslie - that it is perhaps more acceptable to intrude on the private world of those who commit heinous crime.
I was very interested in your final point too, Leslie. Fictionalizing crime does seem to remove the stigma of true crime and allows viewers to root for the bad guys. Staci, I agree that there is a ‘guilty pleasure’ aspect of watching/enjoying true crime narratives. It seems to be connected to the moral dilemmas of making someone’s private life public - even when they are guilty. We are violating that right to privacy and the viewer becomes an onlooker. In reality we probably wouldn’t want to be seen hanging around a crime scene for a peek at the evidence, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t fascinated about what may be going on there. The general fascination with the macabre is a strong influence on the enjoyment of true crime in my opinion. True crime media allows us to be onlookers without being openly labeled as such!
That’s a great addition, Staci. As far as victim stories go, Lifetime and Hallmark seem to run the show. Unfortunately, these companies are not known for their quality…I wonder if victims do not receive the same treatment as criminals in these programs out of respect for their privacy? I know that often families of victims view these projects as an exploitation of an awful situation. Perhaps the reason why there are so many examples of shows focused on criminals is because it seems more acceptable to intrude on their lives after committing a heinous crime. I’m really not sure, but it’s something to think about.
Great post, Amanda! I, too, am interested in discourses of quality around these perpetrators (who are usually men). It’s notabe to see where the versions of the parallel texts are cropping up. For instance, Kathie Durst’s story is in the work at Lifetime ( http://deadline.com/2016/08/robert-durst-movie-in-works-lifetime-bettina... ). The stories of victims (who are often women) often crop up on channels that do not lend these stories the presitige associated with quality tv.
Thanks for your reply! I’m especially interested in your last remarks—those around the stigma related to enjoying crime entertainment. It’s exactly that sort of enjoyment that I want to unpack. When I teach true crime in my courses, we always talk about how “grimy” it feels to enjoy these crime narratives so much. Despite that griminess (and the stigma), people love to watch true crime. Whether or not they “like” or feel “sympathetic” toward the true crime bad guys, the process of watching is enjoyable. It’s that pleasure that I want to explore by putting true crime in conversation with antihero dramas. Regardless of whether or not the perpetrator/villain’s guilt is definitive, people still love their stories. I don’t think that enjoyment is contingent on innocence. In some ways, I feel like antihero dramas (and their related discourse of ‘quality’) are creating a situation in which it is okay to “root for the bad guys.” This condonation seems to extend to true crime stories when they, too, are couched within discourses of quality.