Murder, misrepresentation and pop culture

The 2015 documentary series “Making A Murderer” is one of multiple Netflix series following true crime stories. PHOTO/MARY SIRING

OU News Bureau

            The popularity of true crime stories marks a new era in pop culture, but it’s not without side effects.  

            It has been three years since the release of Serial, the investigative journalism podcast narrating the nonfiction story of the murder of Hae Min Lee and the conviction of Adnan Syed.

            Serial and other streamed stories like it marked the explosion of popularity in an old genre: true crime.

The investigative journalism podcast Serial has become pivotal in true crime documentary popularity. PHOTO/MARY SIRING

            “I think they’ve always been popular,” said Amanda Burgess-Proctor, an associate professor of criminal justice at Oakland University. “More so now that people have more ways to consume them, we have entire channels dedicated to true crime.”

            The fascination has been there for generations.

            In 1906, the murder of Stanford White by Henry Kendall Thaw was dubbed “The Trial of the Century.” In 1934, the entire state of California was in an uproar over Nellie May Madison’s sentence to death after the murder of her husband, Eric Madison.

            And these certainly aren’t the only early accounts of interest in true crime.

            True crime stories, until recently, were produced mainly as books from authors such as Ann Rule, or in the form of out of the ordinary television shows such as “America’s Most Wanted.”

            The ascension of Investigation Discovery into the network that viewers see today and the arrival of streaming networks such as Netflix and Hulu have brought a new way of delivering this genre which fans have a specific appetite for.

            “Crime is both familiar and distant at the same time,” Burgess-Proctor said. “Everyone understands the system and understands that there is murder, but most of us don’t have experience with someone who has been murdered or wrongfully accused of murder.”

            The rise of global communication and the accessibility of television streaming has highlighted that interest.

Ann Rule began a string a true crime novels in 1980 with “The Stranger Beside Me,” which followed serial killer Ted Bundy. PHOTO/MARY SIRING

            “It’s more of a morbid curiosity,” said Kirsten Gilbert, an avid fan of true crime documentaries and series. “I like seeing how they solve the crime and why it was committed in the first place and the motives.”

            What viewers like Gilbert now have is a plethora of multi-episode stories such as “Making A Murderer” and “The Keepers,” dozens of shows on ID specifying in any type of crime imaginable, and YouTube series like Buzzfeed Unsolved.

            With this uptick in popularity creates the issue of misrepresentation of criminal justice for students.

            “Most crime is much more mundane,” Burgess-Proctor said. “Without appropriate context, people assume that what they see on Investigation Discovery is representative of more crime.”

            Oakland University combats this by requiring internships and fieldwork because students enter classes with a skewed idea of the criminal justice program. Professors at OU have even begun showing these documentaries in their classes.

            “I really think that human beings have always been fascinated with deviance, so I don’t see that going away,” Burgess-Proctor said. “What I do hope is that the appetite for some of these critical minded, these more mechanical documentaries, will become more popular with criminal justice and law students because I think that there is some merit.”

            There is a positive impact for the average person, as well.

            “These stories would make people more aware,” Gilbert said. “One thing that true crime focuses on is unusual suspects. It goes with the idea that evil is everywhere and it can be in the most unlikely places.”


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Posted by on Oct 24 2017. Filed under Featured article, Oakland County. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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