Monday, January 25, 2016

In Our Lifetime Those Who Kill, or Making A Murderer on NetFlix

I don’t watch true crime in general.  In my view reality is scary enough as it is, and I prefer my monsters to be strictly supernatural.  And while I am happy to voice my admiration for a non-fiction novel like In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, I do have certain misgivings when it comes to these modern TV shows and documentaries that seem to revel in non-fiction murders and actual serial killers.  Crime becomes entertainment, and we as a public eagerly consume it, but in the back of my mind I wonder if it’s any different than watching a public execution.
So when a documentary series like  Making A Murderer comes around, written and directed over a decade by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, and I find myself compelled to watch and obsessed with the crime, my first question is not who’s guilty but rather why am I watching?  What’s my personal motivation here?  And how am I being manipulated?
The facts in the documentary are deceptively simple: Stephen Avery of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, served 18 years in jail for sexual assault before being exonerated by DNA evidence.  Then, two years after his release he’s arrested again for murder of Teresa Halbach, and sentenced to life in prison.  The documentary relates the tragic miscarriage of justice surrounding Stephen Avery’s first arrest and trial, and presents a compelling argument that the state went after him, perhaps to the point of framing him, for the subsequent murder.  I don’t feel the need to go into further detail because you’ve either watched this series and are looking for my analysis, or you haven’t watched it, and are considering it.  
Regardless of guilt or innocence I see three options for Stephen Avery:  He’s guilty, and he got what was coming to him.  Option two, he’s guilty and the cops can’t prove it, so they manufacture evidence.  And option three, the really terrifying one, is that Stephen Avery is innocent, and the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department framed him, in collusion with the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and his defense attorney.
Which brings up another interesting issue for me; we love vigilantes in our pop culture, the rogue cop who takes the law into his own hands because the system is so corrupt.  Batman does this all the time.  But when the state does this in actual reality, as was strongly implied by this documentary, there’s a massive public outcry.  Because who will they go after next?  If an innocent man goes to jail, twice, who’s next?  It could be you, it could be me.  That fear, that paranoia, keeps us watching, invests us in Stephen Avery’s story and sordid life and compels us throughout the entire series to demand answers and some sort of justice.
The agenda and narrative of the documentary also flips the paradigm and makes the victim’s family the bad guys, as if they’re the ones hounding this poor man like Jean Valjean in Les Mis.  But the truth of the matter is someone killed Teresa Halbach, and that fact gets lost in the rush to exonerate Steven Avery, or exposing the larger Manitowoc County conspiracy and the systemic flaws in American Criminal Justice system.
Making A Murderer is so tantalizing to us as viewers because there are no definitive answers or clear resolutions. So many questions are raised; why didn’t he crush the car?  Why did it take the police 7 searches to find a key in plain sight?  Where’s the blood splatter? 
We’re so used to complete stories in fiction, simply because we rarely get clear dramatic resolution in our non-fiction, everyday life.  Most of us have never been handcuffed and arrested, or put on trial, or seen the inside of a jail— in our personal lives.  However we’ve seen those scenes over and over again on TV and in movies.  We can recite our Miranda Rights, we know about courtroom procedure and DNA analysis and we bring that fictional experience, along with the expectation of a clear resolution, when we watch non-fiction true crime documentaries like this one. 
Making A Murderer  obscures this line between reality and entertainment,  presenting a non-fiction crime in a dramatic and cinematic way that only succeeds in confusing the viewer and whipping them into a paranoid frenzy.  But hey, it keeps us watching and complacent, rather than voting for social change and better representation.  And at the center of this a young lady was murdered, Stephen Avery and his hapless nephew Brenden Dassey rot in prison, we’re left wondering why.

my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.