2016 is the year of the amateur sleuth. Yes, true crime is the biggest global hit these days with shows such as The Jinx, Serial and now Making a Murderer dominating our collective imaginations and ensuring most of us are moonlighting as detectives, attorneys, and protesters bombarding The Innocence Project with petitions.
The formulas for creating such a show are simple: find a murder case, one with multiple plot twists and turns; spend up to a decade filming or interviewing those involved; broadcast it via podcasting, Netflix or HBO and subsequently get the case reopened after millions of people tune in and get outraged. See, easy.
What these series all play on is the disparity between our crusading quest for the truth in a case and our lack of ability to actually get it. The truth doesn’t exist. What exists are the facts of the case and how they’re portrayed by the prosecution, the defence, the media, and the makers of the shows. Each of those players has an agenda, each elucidates, muddies and contributes to the whole picture that the public then consumes.
(Should we even be consuming these ‘Murdertainments’ at all? But that’s a whole other debate.)
The reason these shows are not just emotionally exploitative – which they are – is that each of them has served as an insight and, at times, an indictment of the American capitalist justice system which affords defendants a defence commensurate with their bank accounts. The scales of justice tilt the way of dollars.
Steven Avery, the accused in the present media circus, will soon slip from our social media feeds into the alcoves of our popular collective memories. While his case crawls through the legal system he will become a footnote. Not convinced? When is the last time you read something about Adnan Syed, Serial‘s protagonist, and his case?
For the moment though true crime seems the cultural zeitgeist, so watch Making a Murderer before someone spoils it for you at the water cooler.
While Twitter and Facebook are dominated by the above, it’s not the only cultural happenings over the last fortnight and Dispatches #3 focuses on music: there was a big reunion and also some excellent new music to start 2016.
What to investigate?
Making A Murderer Extras
If you’ve already seen it, here are things to keep you from going completely cold turkey from the Avery junk-yard.
Plea Bargaining is a huge part of the American justice system these days, and it had a major effect on the case. Here is a longread from a US Federal Court Judge on how the bargaining system is designed to ensure convictions.
The figures in the above piece are alarming. Of the 2.2 million Americans in jail 2 million are there because of plea bargains. Even if we go with the lowest estimate of 1% (the higher range of the statistics is 8%), then 20,000 people are in jail for crimes which they pleaded guilty to but did not in fact commit. The reason why the accused take a plea bargain and plead guilty is dealt with in the article.
There is also this New Yorker piece which deals with the question, ‘Do police interrogation techniques produce false confessions?’
Lastly, Radio Lab’s ‘Are you sure?‘ episode hears Penny Bernstein, a rape victim from 1985 who features in the Making a Murderer series, telling of her horrific ordeal. She discusses her experience and what has happened in the decades since then. Stream this segment at this link (*spoiler alert*).
What to listen to?
LCD Soundsystem Reunion
Just five years after their ‘Shut Up and Play the Hits‘ documentary brought the curtain down on some of the finest pop music of the noughties, LCD Soundsystem are back.
On Christmas Day they released their first new music in five years with this Christmas lament. Days later they were announced as headliners for Coachella and the internet went into a frenzy.
Tributes poured in from all over, my favourite was ‘Murphy’s Law‘ by Una Mullally. The band were hardly inactive during the interim. Take just three examples: Nancy Whang did the Juan McClean Project; Al Doyle made music with Hot Chip; and James Murphy did my favourite musical thing from 2015, Despacio, which was an unprecedented sonic experience that toured festivals in the Summer of 2015. This clip is for the sound geeks:
We’ll leave the last words about the reunion to James Murphy, the hipster doyen and high-priest of aloofness, who left this idiosyncratic note on the band’s website to clear up the rife speculation. The note promises a new album and a European tour and even those fans who flew to Madison Square Garden for the final gig in 2011 – thus cementing their cultural cachet for life – must be able to find some happiness in this news.
David Bowie – Blackstar
A new Bowie album is always an event. His last record, called The Next Day, released in 2013, ended a ten year hiatus and was excellent. It only took three years for him to follow that up and the album is released on the day of his 69th birthday.
Stream Blackstar via Spotify:
Maeve Brennan’s Christmas Eve – Read by Roddy Doyle – New Yorker Fiction Podcast
Maeve Brennan’s birthday was January 6th, fittingly on Nollaig na mBan. To mark this I’ve chosen a reading of her story Christmas Eve by Roddy Doyle. During the podcast he tells us of his personal connection to Brennan, who was a first cousin of his mother.
Gilles Peterson – Worldwide Show – BBC Radio 6
Gilles Peterson’s first show of 2016 is a great place to get your new music fix. His three hour weekly show is a better crate-digger than Spotify’s ‘Discover Weekly’ algorithm; it’s pure audio vitamin gold connecting the musical dots for all those interested in soul, jazz, hip-hop, house, Latin, electronica and beyond. Listen here and via this link you can get all subsequent shows.
Banter podcast – Neil Strauss Interview
Jim Carroll interviews the only person I’ve heard who talks faster than the Banter host himself. Neil Strauss, journalist turned pickup artist, is a quick-witted guest who gives an insight into the process of writing a misogynist book which he tries to justify though admits he wouldn’t write it again today.
The author of the bestseller The Game and now The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships talks about masculinity in crisis and personal shame while telling his story of redemption in this interesting hour long discussion.
What to read?
We Don’t Know What We’re Doing – Thomas Morris, The Irish Times January Book Club Choice
The blog will soon be talking with Thomas Morris who’s new collection of short stories is the IT book club selection for January. The stories are set mainly in the town of Caerphilly in South Wales, where the author was born. They’re poignant and witty tales of inertia amongst the populace of this slumbering Valley town.
At this link you can read the one story which isn’t set in Caerphilly from the collection which involves a stag trip to Dublin for a group of Welsh lads – All the Boys. I can testify that this story is best heard in a thick Welsh accent while in a tent in a field at a festival with a hangover.
What to go to?
James Joyce’s The Dead – Read by Aidan Gillen with music by Fergal Murray – Smock Alley Theatre €15-€25 until Saturday.
Completely sold out for the five day run and with a huge waiting list, you’ll have to use all your nous to get into this one.
In saying that, a reading of Joyce’s ‘The Dead’ – arguably the greatest short story ever written – by our top television actor with a musical accompaniment, will be special. Beg, borrow and steal, call in your 2016 favours now to get a seat.
This’ll be full of theatre and Joyce aficionados, and if you’re one of them you can wave to me in the returns queue from now until Saturday when it finishes.
Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me – by Frank McGuinness – Mill Theatre, €10/€12 12th – 16th Jan
Today the fourth episode of the new series of Serial (listen here) is out. This year the focus is on America’s only prisoner of war (POW) from Afghanistan, Bowe Berghdal, and the five years he spent in captivity with the Taliban. A similar theme is explored by the Sundrive Players in this production of Frank McGuinness’s play, which is a meditation on captivity and the experience of a hostage.
It runs for five nights in Dundrum’s Mill Theatre.
What to watch?
Tribute to The Wire
Director and animator Elliot Lim pays tribute to one of TV’s greatest shows in this video:
To finish we’ll celebrate this week’s Nollaig na mBan with a poster of great Irish writers done by Martin Doyle and designed by Dearbhla Kelly:
Here’s the Irish Writers poster PDF where you can read the text in full – credit The Irish Times.