Making a Murderer: True Crime in Contemporary American Popular Culture
“Everybody’s fascinated with the notion that there is a cause and effect,” claims notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, quoted in the Netflix original, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019) – that we can “put our finger on it,” and reassuringly rationalise the genesis of the uniquely modern phenomenon of the American serial killer. But when there is “absolutely nothing” in the background of a serial murderer that would lead one to believe they were “capable of committing murder,” how do we begin to acclimatise ourselves to this violent defect of contemporary history? More challengingly, how do we bring depth to our collective portrait of what constitutes a murderer, so that we may then self-exempt our compulsion to look more closely at these perversely familiar figures?
Over the last 50 years, a plethora of books, magazines, film and television adaptations on the subject of true crime has captured – and held – the public imagination in a vice-like grip, ultimately achieving cult status in postwar-American society while furthermore granting the white male serial killer the kind of cultural capital usually awarded only to celebrities. With the enormous popularity of such series as Making a Murderer (2015) and Mindhunter (2017), however, it seems like now, more than ever, the uneasy question of why we continue to glorify killers by inserting them into mainstream media – and what exactly the appeal of this enduring genre and its mythologization of ultraviolent masculinities tells us about ‘who we are’ and the nature of American society itself – has acquired a new level of urgency, which, in turn, requires new depths of understanding. Likewise, with the growing Netflixisation of true crime, and the narrativization of true crime more broadly, now is the time to establish a study that evaluates the politics of the ever-increasing fine line between actual crime documentaries versus fictional shows that reference true crime.
Following the University of Edinburgh’s popular ‘True Crime’ workshop series, organised by Harriet Stilley and Victoria Madden and funded by the British Association for American Studies, we are delighted to announce the call for papers for ‘Making a Murderer: True Crime in Contemporary American Popular Culture.’ This special issue of the Edinburgh University Press Crime Fiction Studies journal capitalises on a recent swell of public interest in true crime narratives, offering informed analyses of the styles of violence, intimacy, sociality, and belief that constitute the abnormal normality of the world of true crime in the American cultural imagination. Specifically, this collection of essays will explore and evaluate the multiple, contested social and/or psychological significances of murderous crime in a range of discourses from the early twenty-first century, including – but not restricted to – film and television. In doing so, we seek to address a host of difficult moral, ethical, and social questions surrounding the study of true crime – questions that force us to confront both the cultural machinery of the genre as well as our role as consumers within this framework and yet, paradoxically, are often too easily ignored. We are thus asking for abstracts for this special issue that consider the correlations between recent true crime narratives and the broader culture within which they have become gravely significant in order to shed some more light on this important but often neglected area of study.
Possible topics for this special issue may include, but are in no way limited to:
- True Crime and Neflix (the narrativisation of true crime more broadly)
- True Crime as Contemporary Gothic Horror
- The Legacy of the White Male Serial Killer
- True Crime and Celebrity Culture
- Hypermasculine Violence and Female ‘Victimhood’
- The Female ‘Monster’ versus the Male ‘Icon’ (and the gender implications of this more broadly)
- Abnormality versus Normality (and conceptions of the American family)
- True Crime and Representations of Race
Abstracts of 400 words are due by 31st January 2021 and finished articles of 6500 words will be due in July 2021. This issue will be published in March 2022.
Please send abstracts and a biographical statement of 150 words to the editors Harriet Stilley and Victoria Madden at email@example.com. We welcome all questions and inquiries.