“Making a Murderer” and Narrativity in the True Crime Genre

In recent years, the True Crime film genre has been particularly tantalizing to the American public. Many companies and individuals have taken notice and have been “cashing in” on the genre’s popularity. As such, there has been a recent explosion in new material in the form of movies, TV shows, podcasts and even an entire television network called Investigation Discovery dedicated to the genre. True crime has indeed proven to equate to “big bucks” if carried out and produced properly. One such example arrived on digital streaming service Netflix in December 2015 titled, “Making a Murderer.” The documentary-style television series was met with extreme popularity by regular viewers and near universal acclaim by professional critics. In the aftermath, many seemed to accept the material in the documentary as “truth” and have called for the exoneration of the two principal characters, Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, via two separate petitions on Change.org and petitions.whitehouse.gov. Like Hayden White in his analysis of Richerus of Reims chronicle “History of France,” it is critical to acknowledge the agenda and biases of the filmmakers who produced the documentary series to make our own conclusions as to whether their particular interpretation of the court case is truthful and forthright.
In his dense article “The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality,” author Hayden White juxtaposes the Richerus chronicle against the earlier and more simple historical text “Annals of Saint Gall.” By doing so, White defines the Richerus chronicle as fashioned discourse, a form of rhetoric which emerges as a “function of the [authors] self-consciousness.” More simply, Richerus’ “History of France” contains the events that Richerus deems to be important, a subjective set of events that is later shown to stem from a desire to legitimize his patron, Gerbert, archbishop of Reims, during a struggle for power. By writing this chronicle, Richerus was establishing himself as an agent of this authoritarian group headed by Gerbert, which would most likely bring to Richerus numerous perks if Gerbert were to win this power struggle. Therefore, Richerus has not published an objective view of this particular time in history, but a subjective one that required the approval of his leader, archbishop Gerbert. So who do the producers of Making a Murderer answer to?
Although Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, the directors of “Making a Murderer,” claim to have set out as investigative journalists to offer an objective view of Avery and Dassey’s case, never having a position as to whether they are innocent or guilty – many critics have stated that the duo offer an extremely one-sided view of the case that wholeheartedly points to Avery and Dassey being framed by the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department. In the New Yorker article “Dead Certain” by Kathryn Schulz, it is explained how the two directors omitted many details of the trial that would paint Avery as a criminal and only illustrate those facts that strengthen their framing narrative. Because of this, Schulz believes that the two directors present a skewed and biased version of the story in her analysis of a “private investigative project…bound by no rules of procedure, answerable to nothing but ratings, shaped only by the ethics and aptitude of its makers.”

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1 Response to “Making a Murderer” and Narrativity in the True Crime Genre

  1. Olivia Henley says:

    Reading your blog post reminded me of when I watched “True Story” a little over a year ago with a group of friends. The movie is about a possible killer and he tells a convincing story about how he’s not the murderer, and there’s evidence that can go both ways. The viewer is left to decipher the truth for themselves, having seen both sides. My friends and I, to this day, don’t know which story to believe, which story was true or not true.

    We were left to decide, facts and story both given. In our own heads, we were judge and jury. However, you’re correct in your assertion that filmmakers and producers knowingly [or in some cases unknowingly] construct bias within the public forum.

    Today, we’re given the possibility to express history in a multitude of mediums, but who decides which side of history is right or wrong? Why should filmmakers be given the right, assuming they’re not proper historians, to push their ideals and their bias upon us simply because they have the means to do so? I like your questioning what is objective in history. It makes me wonder what, if anything, is presented to us purely factually and objectively in our daily lives.

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