Manitowoc County mustn’t know what hit it.
Making a Murderer is the 2015 Netflix-exclus… hang on, why am I telling you this ? You already know what it is. Everyone knows. At times, it feels like this is all anyone has wanted to talk about over the last couple of months.
So why is it such a big deal?
The most important thing here, and one that is lost in a lot of the “what does the success of Making a Murderer say about culture in blah blah blah”, is that it’s a really good programme. The subject matter is fascinating, obviously, but if I took my iPhone and tried to make a documentary about a real life crime I can safely bet it would be terrible. What we have here is an extraordinarily well made programme that knows exactly how to build a narrative and hit every one of the key points.
Considering this was filmed over 10 years, but the story goes from 1983 to pretty much the present day, it all feels pretty seamless. Much of what we see are police interviews and a court trial, with one-on-one interviews or phone calls peppered throughout to fill in the gaps. There is no narrator explaining what we are seeing, and yet it flows in such an informative yet exciting way that you kind of forget what you’re watching is real life.
But moreover, it has mostly taken off due to the shocking nature of the subject matter. I spent pretty much all of the 10 episodes sat mouth agape, struggling to process what I was watching. Words like “staggering” are generally used as a flippant adjective, but in this case it’s totally accurate. I was legitimately staggered by what I was seeing.
But beyond the entertainment value, it certainly raises some interesting questions. At its root, it feels like Making a Murderer is an analysis of “trial by media” and “presumption of innocence”. It’s certainly hard to argue that both of these things didn’t have an incredible impact on the case in question. As we progress through an age of technological oversaturation, while everyone becomes an expert on everything, it’s important to note that when we deal with criminals we are dealing with people’s lives.
In a way, it’s easy to dehumanise criminals. It’s what that label does. They are people separated from the rest of the law-abiding community, and the presumption tends to be that if someone is arrested (or certainly if they are in prison), they are guilty. How often do you see someone get arrested on the news and ponder their innocence? What this programme has done is remind people of the importance of a fair and honest trial. Even those accused of crimes are human beings, and it is our duty as a society to ensure we are getting it right.
As for Steven (and Brendan) in particular, I certainly hope their cases are properly and fairly revisited, and they get a fair trial, free both of the bias of the news reporting against Steven at the time, and the wave of support for him now. I don’t even know if that is possible, but that is his basic human right, regardless of whether he is actually a murderer.
And on top of this, it even managed to be somewhat funny (?). I couldn’t help but laugh at the confirmation of what an irredeemable piece of sh*t Ken Kratz turned out to be, and Steven’s parents might have been the most hilarious characters I’ve seen in a programme for a long time. I never knew I could laugh so hard at the word “cabbage”.
(As a quick, side tangent, there was one aspect of this programme I really, really did not care for, though. Given that there seems to be a fair amount of creative licence going on with what they added and left in – more on that in a moment – f*ck the filmmakers for including Theresa Halbach’s brothers and making them seem like villains too. These are real people dealing with the very real murder of their family member, and I can’t promise that I wouldn’t be hoping for a conviction as well if the police were insisting they had the right person. They should have been left out of it, period).
So, 600+ words and not a single mention yet for the question everyone seems to be asking: did he do it?
Honestly? It doesn’t matter.
Sure, it matters to Steven, his family, and the Halbachs. It matters to the criminal justice system as well. But to us as an audience? Nope. It’s entertainment.
You can’t argue it wasn’t intended that way. You can either look at the use of “real life thriller” as opposed to “documentary”, or the evidence they specifically chose to leave out (and I have no doubt that we didn’t see everything, otherwise the case simply wouldn’t exist. You might think he’s an untrustworthy piece of sh*t, but Ken Kratz has some thoughts on what was left out, for those interested), but it was definitely intended that way.
At the end of the day, it’s just a TV show. Sure it’s entertaining, and it without doubt raises some vital questions, but we shouldn’t be too rash in jumping to the support of someone based on 10 hours of an entertainment programme. Trial by media goes both ways.
What it does do is provide endless entertainment. There are few programmes I can remember watching with such amazement at this (Jessica Jones was probably the most recent comparison, but even then it wasn’t quite as shocking as this), and it’s well worth watching for entertainment value alone. Add in the moral questions that it asks, and it’s the definition of “must see”.
Just don’t put too much emphasis on the ethics of it.
Making a Murderer Rating: Tomatoes, pepper, asparagus, cucumbers… cabbage.
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