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Legal Porn (No, not that.)

Different_media_same_topic

 

The New York Post prints a fair share of dumb articles, but three days ago they published a particularly dumb one which touches on something that I just recently watched, Netflix’s examination of the Steven Avery murder case, Making a Murderer. The headline goes: ‘Why Making a Murderer’ is Better than ‘Serial.’ The article, written by Sara Stewart, talks about both investigative pieces like they are entertainment, which to many they are, and she fails to recognize that it’s this same attitude towards both cases that lead to injustices. The cases began in the media, became legal porn, and many people are already too biased to hear any story that would contradict their biases.

Let me quickly counter Ms. Stewart’s five reasons and why they are at the very least moot and at the worst, serves to further harm the justice process.

1. We don’t know anything about the case (Steven Avery’s) already.
-The reason why people watch a documentary is to hopefully learn something new, not to confirm their biases. I’m hoping this was what both producers of Serial and Making a Murderer were trying to achieve. I believe most people know of Bowe Berghdal mostly through conservative talking points. This makes an examination of his case even more necessary.

2. Its (Making a Murderer’s) subject is more sympathetic.
-This is the type of laziness that leads to so much injustice. Ms. Stewart must not have heard of the Duke Lacrosse case. Rich, white students were accused of drugging and gang raping an African-American woman at a party. And from the very beginning, it was painted as an example of the excesses rich white men get away with and even as a hate crime. Nancy Grace filled hours of show condemning the accused. It was great legal porno. Unfortunately, the sympathetic victim turned out to be a liar.

Being swayed by sympathetic victims is one of the greatest traps people fall into. Ms. Stewart describes Steven Avery as being more sympathetic than Bowe Berghdal. But I would argue that it is exactly this sympathetic bias that got Steven Avery into bigger trouble. Isn’t the zeal for justice for Teresa Halbach a perfect example of the Missing White Woman Syndrome? The volunteers combing an area, the media coverage, the aggressive police action, etc.  It’s like whoever murdered Ms. Halbach took Criminology 101. She’s one of the most sympathetic victims of all.

3. Its (Making a Murderer’s) subject gives firsthand interviews.
-This is just silliness. Comparing the availability of both subjects in wildly different contexts is just dumb. I suppose Sarah Koenig could’ve just gone to Afghanistan to interview Bowe Berghdal while he escaped. Unfortunately we don’t live in such a fantastically ridiculous world.

4. There’s a wealth of archival footage available.
-Ms. Stewart seems to lament that there’s not enough footage of Bowe Berghdal as opposed to the court footage, local news, and police reports that’s available for Steve Avery’s case. I would argue that Ms. Koenig actually took some restraint in not using the wealth of material slamming Bowe Berghdal and essentially convicting him prior to being tried and his reasons for leaving examined.  But doing so would be extremely lazy and basically going through what everyone has already been exposed to. What Ms. Koenig is doing with the “unpopular” Bowe Berghdal might not be as good as “entertainment,” but entertainment is just one part of what Serial is trying to do. It is also trying to inform its audience.

5. It’s (Making a Murderer’s) literally easier to hear.
-Again with apples and oranges. One is a ten-part documentary which most people can and will binge-watch, while the other is an ongoing radio series. It’s the visual media versus the theater of the mind.

I don’t mean to write an examination of a dumb New York Post article, but my frustration from seeing the story is basically the same thing that frustrates me with many legal stories, and it’s something that I admittedly am quite guilty of as well: treating these cases like legal porn. It’s all drama. The characters are just mere characters, not real life people. People opine on whether Casey Anthony, Jodi Arias, or OJ Simpson are guilty or not, but what often gets lost are the web of people they are connected with. Steven Avery is portrayed as some sort of villain in 1985. No one would have guessed that it would later start a domino effect which lands his nephew in prison.  Bowe Berghdal is talked about simply as a deserter… but his issues regarding the military and how it treats its own troops is forgotten entirely. Lots of people become self-satisfied legal experts just watching legal drama on the sidelines, not realizing that it sometimes feeds into the injustice that is fueled by the media (Hello again, Nancy Grace).

Ms. Stewart writes as if she sees both Serial and Making a Murderer as entertainment pieces, which to most of the public they are, like numbers on a Nielsen ratings scale.  They really shouldn’t be, and we should stop talking about them as if they were. These people’s lives are not being ruined by the justice system simply for our entertainment. I would like to think there is more to them than that.

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