Murdaugh, She Wrote

The Murdaugh murders.

Why in the name of JoBenet Ramsey does anyone beyond family, friends and Low Country denizens give a flying crap about this case?

Somebody asked this question of Neal Baer, ex-executive producer of Law and Order: Ad Nauseum. Here’s his answer:

We’re drawn to it. And I think what’s really interesting is that we also want justice. 

In this case, the victims are dead, but we still want to seek some kind of justice. These are cases of human behavior that go way, way, way to the nth degree that we don’t experience in our own lives every day. We’re drawn to these kinds of people and what makes them tick. What made them do it?

The thing about this chummy literary device of “we” is that it leaves a number of people cold. Me, for instance. I don’t give a crap about this pasty-faced, inbred Scots-Irish puffball of a William Faulkner tragic character and his one-more-genetic-step-toward hell offspring.

I’m trying to understand the fascination. Going back to the Greeks (and I suppose farther, but I’m no scholar on the subject), there has flowed a mighty river of bloody fictional and non-fictional accounts of murder and mayhem to slake our raw-meat-frenzied thirst. From Oedipus Rex to Law and Order: Here’s Another One, the scene is the same. Our libraries are oozing with it: McBethCrime and Punishment In Cold Blood … The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The walls at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are plastered with it: Double Indemnity … Gaslight … Psycho … The Silence of the Lambs … The Godfather.

And then there are the media-savaged trials. Dr. Sam Sheppard … Charles Manson … O.J. Simpson … the aforementioned JoBenet Ramsey … Gacy … Dahmer … Bundy … on and on.

So now this—a courtroom packed with murder lawyers and murder tourists, set in a small town of homes temporarily rented to murder journalists crawling all over each other to feed this tawdry, pathetic and not very original tale of drug abuse and ill-begotten power to a salivating, murder-ravenous public beast.

The pacifist in me is driven by all this to … WTF?

Neal Baer, in the quote above, began by saying it’s about justice. I suppose that’s good enough for some people, but the murders of white victims are fifty percent more likely to be solved than those of black victims, of which there are plenty in South Carolina. How much did the state spend on this case compared to the average? You don’t have to think very far to doubt this trial is anything about justice in America.

Then he made a mid-stream correction and said it’s about curiosity. That’s better. There is a voyeuristic pleasure in turning one’s curiosity to “these kinds” of people—to delving into thoughts and behaviors taken to the “nth degree”. But a little voyeurism stops short of the numbing violence of Halloween, Part All Over Again, or even the near-mindlessness of Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction. A little voyeurism titillates us. Takes us to the edge, where we get a peek. Safely.

Consider the classic sense of the word obscene. Off-scene. In a murder trial, the crime is related by the evidence and the witnesses. It is off-scene. Reproducing the crime is impossible. Portrayals to any realistic level are never done. The crime itself is obscene. Photographs are limited and guarded (well, they try). Can there be a safer environment to tiptoe up to the precipice of human behavior? In this way, a murder trial is like a Greek tragedy—the nasty bits delivered by messenger. (Google-it shout out to a work by an Aussie jurisprudence and theater scholar named Carolyn McKay, called Murder Ob/Scene: The Seen, Unseen and Ob/scene in Murder Trials.

But what made Greek tragedies so damn popular in the day, and murder trials now? Why so much enthusiasm? What is it about murder that lures us to the edge? With so many other available distractions, why obsess on this?

Why do so many choose to dance around the edges of murder? Is it a common need to continually test oneself? One’s capabilities? One’s capacity for violence?

It’s a little scary, so I’ll step back here.

2 responses to “Murdaugh, She Wrote”

  1. Methinks ye protesteth too much. Mankind’s fascination with murders, senseless as they may be, is in our DNA as much as an imperfect cell carries. I, too, hate the endless speculation and made-up intrigue in the name of storytelling. That storytelling runs deep in the passages and followers of most religions and preys upon the secular to see how bizarre they can portray it. Sells the papyrus, right?
    I detest these narratives as much as the next guy and generally refuse to watch much beyond the daily headline. I’m busy yelling at the Tuckwad for his doubled-down lies and soft-pedalling truly scary scenerios like the Jan 6 tapes to get worked up with another OJ trial or the like.


    1. I’m really asking questions and nothing more, here. Our time is measured, my old friend, and too valuable to waste on protesting (in case you hadn’t noticed, the reputation of our demographic well precedes us on that count, so we’re not going to get very far with it, anyway☺)


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