A Morbid Fascination

The My Favorite Murder Problem

There is a definite whiff of the Colosseum about the whole thing. But it’s easy to see how you could get swept along to these reactions—they provide the clarity and catharsis that the stories demand. But My Favorite Murder didn’t develop these vindictive tendencies in a vacuum. In fact, the show partakes in a long-standing relationship between the crime-story genre and modern law enforcement, in which the stories we tell about crime and how to stop it prop up a system that is often as much about maintaining fantasies of social order as it is about implementing real justice.

Popular crime stories, both fictional and not, bolstered an ideal that is still in place today, of a law-enforcement establishment made up of efficient, dispassionate, infallible investigators, quietly protecting us all from chaos by using science and cunning to see hidden but indisputable truths.

In a way, crime stories, true or otherwise, have always been about self-soothing. They provide reassurance that we live in a stable, knowable world. (Recall how frustrated people were with the ending of the first season of Serial, when the producers refused either to exonerate or condemn Adnan Syed, who had been convicted of killing his girlfriend but insisted that he was innocent.) It’s a genre whose satisfactions derive largely from the finality of the big reveal, and it’s not, consequently, particularly well equipped to deal with nuance, contradiction, and ambiguity.

I’m just as guilty of binging on these podcasts as anyone else, but where is the lie in any of this, honestly.