Love In a Time of True Crime
June 12, 2018 6:07 PM   Subscribe

When the chalk outline on the floor is around a woman, the heart of the crime is usually love. - Chelsea G. Summers explores love, trust, murder, survival and rehearsal, and the appeal of True Crime podcasts.
posted by Artw (25 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Please mark this as a Medium post. I just got paywalled.
posted by pxe2000 at 6:28 PM on June 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” - Margaret Atwood.

This is one of the most powerful and impactful statements in my life, and colors the interactions I have with my family, friends and co-workers who are women or women-to-be. If I want to be a good man as opposed to a Nice Guy, I really, really need to remember that. I don't always. I'm always thinking about the times I forgot in the moment, not remembering I'm not just chest-thrusting at another guy, but putting a woman in a bad spot, and internalizing how it will go better next time. I know I suck at it, but I am gonna do better, and am worlds better at it than I was before I was decked level by Atwood's quote.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:08 PM on June 12, 2018 [32 favorites]

Donald Glover illustrates that Atwood sentiment in a short bit. Gallows humor, but good for getting the message out.

As with fear of child abuse, it's important to remember that the call is usually coming from inside the house.
posted by es_de_bah at 9:16 PM on June 12, 2018 [10 favorites]

Love. Or entitlement. Or possessiveness. Or jealous destruction of the object of desire rather than see another possess it. Or rather than the object insisting on being a subject.

"Love" does mean a lot of things to people, it really does.
posted by away for regrooving at 12:14 AM on June 13, 2018 [10 favorites]

Gee, and here I thought it was misogyny.
posted by adamgreenfield at 5:45 AM on June 13, 2018 [25 favorites]

Terrible pullquote for the reasons given but the article looks at the ever growing popularity of true-crime among women. I must admit after some cajoling from a friend I have fallen down the My Favorite Murder hole, and while I don’t think I am per-se interested in the crimes themselves I really enjoy listening to women discussing the fears and expectations we have as we move in the world. There’s an aspect of whistling past the graveyard but also a giving of permission to “fuck politeness” and I’m going to get better at that. I spent a recent flight in gross, uncomfortable, skin-to-skin contact with a manspreader (and more importantly running internal conversations and simulations, berating myself for not doing something about it and penning askmes looking for a good phrasing) as I didn’t want “a scene”.
posted by Iteki at 7:29 AM on June 13, 2018 [11 favorites]

Erin Lee Carr, a true crime documentary director and producer, says, “A lot of the violence that happens in our society is against women or people of color, so it’s women practicing if this were to happen. There’s a part of all of us that’s like, ‘What would I do if I was in the alley? What would I do if I was put in that situation?’ I think it’s practice.”

Jesus Christ. I loathe true crime, and now I’m wondering if it’s because I mostly manage the threat of men by not dating them. Can’t do anything about the alley situation, but I’m pretty sure I’ve already seen enough stories about terrible things happening to women to practice for that.

But Jesus fucking Christ, we are not well.
posted by schadenfrau at 7:46 AM on June 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

I'm glad to hear that some women find true crime inspiring because it seems to me that there's an element of just-world fallacy in some true crime fandom. It reminds me of my time as an anti-violence against women educator back in the day, when people in the workshops I facilitated would want to dissect the hypothetical situations we discussed looking for the places where they would do something differently, or would have picked up on the red flags, or otherwise would have "known better". Phrases like "there's no 'right' way to be assaulted" and "there's no 'right' way to be in an abusive relationship" got a lot of use.

I don't care for true crime, myself -- I do have a friend who has a mental health focused true crime podcast that I subscribe to to support her, but I'm something like thirteen or fourteen episodes behind because it's presented in a very "this could happen to you" style and I don't always have the spoons for that.
posted by camyram at 7:55 AM on June 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

But above all, true crime, for all its guts and gore, imbues its female audience with a sense of power — and that power is knowledge.

My god. I don't think I've ever seen someone encapsulate the love I--and many of my friends--have for true crime so neatly just about ever. And yeah, this is often in my experience despite the framing of the true crime narrators--personally, the details of the crime are not really what I am here for. I'm the sort of person who is watching for warning signs, watching for cues that I see over and over in people who become abusive, who harm others, who think nothing of murdering for pleasure or profit. I'm watching for the warning signs, because that's one of the ways I pick up on what truly isn't healthy and what is.

Opting out of sleeping with men doesn't actually keep me safe. Maybe it's because the most emotionally abusive relationship I've ever had has been with my mother, but I love women while acknowledging that women are also perfectly capable of both abuse and harm. And it's not as if I can divest myself completely from men around me either, not in my career. Consuming and reading the stories of people who harm others helps me to devise a mental model of things to take seriously if I encounter them myself. Or at least, it provides the illusion of that mental modeling; who knows if I'm right?

(I also freely admit that true crime is a hella problematic genre and that it often fetishes violence against women, victim blaming, general uncomfortable levels of attention paid to the drama of serial killers, and a host of other deeply unpleasant things. I often shout at the narrator or loudly roll my eyes at the framing of the many documentary series I often have running in my house, either for myself or one of my roommates. I love it regardless, because I can often shake useful pieces of information away from the gasped horror of the narrators and construct my own understanding of what happened and how the human mind can become predatory. I read true crime for the same reason I obsessively read Dear Prudence: to feed my mental models of people, boundaries, and warning signs of interactions that will keep me safe as I negotiate a deeply fraught social climate.)
posted by sciatrix at 8:10 AM on June 13, 2018 [19 favorites]

I thought chalk outlines weren't used anymore? "True crime" my butt!
posted by Grither at 8:22 AM on June 13, 2018

I'm choosy about my true crime, but when it's done well, I do love it. I don't think it's a coincidence that I also have generalized anxiety (subclinical, but definitely a daily feature in my life). My Favorite Murder talks pretty frankly about the role of anxiety in fascination with true crime. (I don't like the super chatty nature of that podcast, but I do appreciate how honest they are.) It is definitely practice. If I'm going to be imagining these scenarios anyway, might as well go straight to the source.

Outside that context though, I'm also just fascinated by untruth and belief. Cults, con-artists, serial killers living undetected amongst us. The overlap in people who are interested in all those genres I think is probably a single circle. Women are raised to be trusting and polite and reminders that liars and manipulators are everywhere all the time looking for marks gives us permission to be untrusting and impolite.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:33 AM on June 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm glad to hear that some women find true crime inspiring because it seems to me that there's an element of just-world fallacy in some true crime fandom.

Some episodes of My Favorite Murder consist of reader anecdotes about terrible things that happened to the reader or the reader's family. This past week, Karen and Georgia read a story from someone who found herself in a very creepy situation and felt terrible about it because, as she said, she had already been listening to their podcast for a while. Shouldn't she have known better? But Karen and Georgia were very kind about it, judgment-free, and invited readers to share more stories about that. They can be caustic about their advice -- and frankly "stay out of the forest" is not life advice I want to follow -- but they place the blame squarely where it belongs, on the bastards.

What I like about true crime is mystery, particularly mysteries that were unsolved for a long time or never solved. I'm not interested in con artists, and I don't find glamor in serial killers, but I am very interested in the unknown. It hints at the circumstances of lives beyond imagining.

But I did find one piece of life advice from a true crime story that has stuck with me. It was in the case of a woman who died in a scuba diving "accident" on her honeymoon. None of her friends and family were terribly excited about her fiance, and one of them could tell that she didn't seem to be either. But the lady said, in a moment alone, "I'm just afraid that this might be it for me."

The lesson I took from that? Never fucking settle. Safety's not always in the solid place.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:42 AM on June 13, 2018 [12 favorites]

The male writers who followed in his footsteps, people like Gay Talese, James Ellroy, and Dominick Dunne, are all palpable presences in their true crime stories, too.

Gee, I can't imagine why that would be...
posted by elsietheeel at 10:56 AM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Our trust in men is as unearned as it is unreciprocated — yet it’s expected.

Ain't that the truth.

I am a true-crime fan. Always have been. Even as a kid I would scour the history magazine my parents bought weekly for tales of famous true crimes. One thing I've realised with true-crime podcasts is that I only like the ones done by women. I like the way women explore the layers, nuances and relationships exposed by true crime, plus their voices work better on my psyche. My fave at present is Australian True Crime Podcast featuring comedian and commentator, Meshel Laurie, and true-crime author, Emily Webb. This podcast not only explores the crimes themselves, but frequently interviews police officers and about their experiences of murder and mayhem.
posted by Thella at 2:36 PM on June 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

There's a lot of the just-world fallacy on the forums for true crime, along with a lot of performative anger. It makes me sad, because for me the appeal is in the messiness and true unknowableness of real-life mysteries when compared to the neatly-organised solutions and faux outrage of fictional crime. Looking for simple explanations seems to defeat the purpose, to me.

I guess I read true crime for the same reason some people love real-life action and adventure stories - it's about survival. How to survive in the wilderness is interesting but I do really want to know: how do we survive in a less-than-ideal society? So I too prefer the ones written by women or other marginalised folks. They usually bring a less knee-jerk response to the situation and some compassion for people who are living in difficult situations. And my interests also include cults and other dangerous groups or moments in history. I couldn't care less about organised crime though.

I find it hard to talk to other true crime fans who reflexively praise the police at all times. I don't see how you can pay attention to any of the well-known cases and come away with the idea that police are heroic. At best, which is rare, they're good folks doing what they can. Usually they're just Doing Their Job and make mistakes because they haven't been involved in complicated deaths or disappearances before. At worst, they are among the most awful criminals and rely on their authority to get away with it.
posted by harriet vane at 4:06 AM on June 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

Unlike love songs, unlike rom-coms, and unlike romance novels, true crime has no interest in telling us to trust men.

Another excellent quote from the article.
posted by harriet vane at 4:20 AM on June 14, 2018 [10 favorites]

Honestly, I bailed out about the time she got back around to considering her marriage, after paragraphs and paragraphs of subtextually comparing her husband to various murderers and rapists. I mean, possibly the guy did something that justified having his relationship eviscerated like this, does anyone want to spoil me on that? Because otherwise it seemed an incredibly creepy thing to do.
posted by tavella at 1:54 PM on June 14, 2018

He sounds perfectly nice from what she’s said of him elsewhere, TBH.

Possibly that’s a point?
posted by Artw at 2:26 PM on June 14, 2018

Well, then, publicly contemplating whether your husband is/is going to be a murderer/rapist/whatever is super creepy to me. I mean, maybe he thinks it's great and enthusiastically consented, but there sure isn't any setup for it in what I read.
posted by tavella at 2:32 PM on June 14, 2018

Well, then, publicly contemplating whether your husband is/is going to be a murderer/rapist/whatever is super creepy to me

It’s super creepy to everyone, including the women who have to do it because they are at significant risk of being murdered by men, especially by husbands

Is the point
posted by schadenfrau at 3:21 PM on June 14, 2018 [13 favorites]

Except he's not an abstract person, he's an actual human being who is going to have people he knows read it. Not to mention reading it himself. Frankly I'd be diving for the divorce button so damn fast. And before anyone asks, I find people who post intimate stuff about their relationships with their children without the children's consent to be creepy too.
posted by tavella at 3:30 PM on June 14, 2018

Pretty sure they are fine.
posted by Artw at 3:32 PM on June 14, 2018

Mod note: Folks, let's avoid going around in circles about the husband. Thanks.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:58 PM on June 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

There's a lot of the just-world fallacy on the forums for true crime, along with a lot of performative anger.

I really loved your entire comment, harriet, because this is also one of my most uncomfortable things about being a fan of true crime--especially in the shows and podcasts where I prefer to consume it. There's so much horror-schtick weight on the monstrous nature of the crimes, the gory details, the inner lives and justifications and monstrosity of killers, and it often makes me very very uncomfortable. The desire to neatly package these events and say "well, so-and-so was Just Plain Evil" is antithetical to why I enjoy the genre, but it seems to be what creators assume everyone is getting out of it. I would rather understand the whys and the hows without the emotional melodrama.

And I'm with you on the fetishization of law enforcement in some of them. Please. It's hard to pay attention to serial killers for five minutes without marveling on the incompetence and disinterest of some of the law enforcement teams faced with cases like that, particularly those killers who prey on "less dead" victims.
posted by sciatrix at 4:03 PM on June 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

Thinking about this some more, I think true crime has deepened my social justice warrior stance too. So often the cases solved quickest are those where the victims are white and rich. Nearly identical cases with poorer or blacker victims are plagued by lack of attention from police, lack of reporting from the media, and so on. It's unjust, and aligns with all the usual problems with sexism and racism in society. It's not something I would have believed until I started comparing the cases I was most interested in, as I was raised to trust authorities and that "we" were a fair and egalitarian society.

One of the worst Australian cases was the bodies-in the-barrels serial killings, often called Snowtown as that was where the perpetrators were caught. They'd killed 12 people over several years, but because all of the victims were part of a community with multi-generation unemployment, a high rate of domestic violence and mental illness, they were listed as missing and then forgotten about. It was only when the welfare fraud (victims' credentials used by the perpetrators) intersected with one missing person case that police started paying attention, and by that stage 11 people were dead. If the first victim, a young gay man who'd been kicked out of home at a young age by his family, had been more cared about then perhaps many lives could have been saved. It's not like these serial killers were very good at it, but that they chose people who were otherwise vulnerable. But if Clinton Tresize was considered important simply because he was a human being, we'd be a better society in so many other ways too. Unfortunately, it took money being lost for any resources to be given to the case.

Anyway, if any MeFites are on Websleuths or other true crime communities, MeMail me your usernames there as I'd love to chat about this more with like-minded folks. Or at least swap book recommendations!
posted by harriet vane at 3:05 AM on June 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

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