Gypsy Rose Blanchard and the big change in True Crime
There is a moment near the end of the 2017 documentary “Mommy Dead and Dearest” where Gypsy Rose Blanchard is filming her then-boyfriend Nicholas Godejohn as he lies naked on a hotel room bed. The day before, Godejohn had stabbed Gypsy's mother, Dee Dee Blanchard, to death. The murder was part of a plot the couple hatched to free Gypsy, then 23, from her mother so they could live together. In the short video, we hear Gypsy make a playful sexual comment amidst her abundant, distinctive giggles.
Dee Dee Blanchard mentally and physically abused and controlled her daughter for decades. Many believed this to be a case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy – a form of child abuse in which a caregiver can induce illness to attract public sympathy, care, concern and material gifts – and the saga captured collective interest,
The snippet is the first time we see it unfold through Gypsy's eyes, and the perspective serves as a glimpse of what would become one of the biggest shifts in true crime storytelling.
Such stories were once expressed through reenactments, dramatizations, and interviews with police officers, journalists, medical professionals, family, and friends. If there were primary sources, they were usually photographs of happy families or scans of gruesome crime scenes based on voice-over narration, exemplified by “20/20,” “Dateline,” “Snapped,” “Forensic Files” and Like there were shows. “48 hours.” Home video cameras, which became popular in the 1980s, certainly changed the true crime landscape, but those recordings were generally sparse and supplemental. In rare instances, audiences can hear directly from perpetrators or victims in interviews often conducted years after the fact.
We now have the scope of first-person digital footage, meaning that viewers, more than ever before, are exposed to the perspectives of those directly involved, often during the period when the crimes took place, reducing distance and The need for middlemen reduced. , The case of Gypsy Rose Blanchard illustrates the trajectory of this phenomenon. For example, their saga got the scripted treatment with the 2019 limited series “The Act” on Hulu, for which Patricia Arquette won an Emmy. But those looking for a definitive, clear-cut perspective on events now have options and direct channels, rendering that series almost an afterthought.
Undoubtedly, the rise of social media has accelerated this dynamic. Blanchard and Godejohn's relationship before the murder was almost exclusively online, and Facebook posts and text messages between them were used by prosecutors in court to convict them. Godejohn was sentenced to life imprisonment; Gypsy received 10 years, of which he served about seven years.
He was released on December 28, 2023, and the next day he posted a selfie with the caption “First selfie of independence” on Instagram, which has received over 6.5 million likes. Online, she is promoting her new Lifetime series, “The Prison Confessions of Gypsy Rose Blanchard.” “This documentary describes my quest to uncover hidden parts of my life that have never been revealed until now,” we hear him say from jail.
She has quickly become a social media celebrity, with over eight million Instagram followers and nearly 10 million on TikTok. Since her release, she has shared light-hearted videos, such as “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” on Broadway, with her husband, Ryan Anderson (she married while he was in prison in 2022), and more serious videos. , like a video in which she explains Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
The impact of technology on modern criminal investigation has become fundamental in many documentaries of recent years.
In the two-part HBO documentary “I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter” (2019), the story is told largely through thousands of text messages exchanged between two teenagers, Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy III. It is told from. 2012 to 2014. Text messages revealed the exact moment of Roy's suicide. Selfie videos posted online by Roy are also shown. Carter spent nearly a year in prison for his role in her death. As I wrote last year, the documentary (by Erin Lee Carr, who also directed “Mommy Dead and Dearest”) left me “spinning in circles, spinning ideas about responsibility, coercion, and the vague limits of technology.” “Happened” left.
One of the most high-profile murder trials in the United States in recent years – the trial of disgraced lawyer Alex Murdaugh, who shot and killed his wife, Maggie, and son Paul in 2021 – finally ended with a man imprisoned before the murders. Rested on a shocking recording. The video, on Paul's phone, placed the patriarch at the crime scene, sealing his fate: two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.
That footage was used, along with copious smartphone videos, to bring audiences into the Murdaughs' world in documentaries like Netflix's two-season run. “The Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal,” This would have been unimaginable not long ago.
But perhaps no recent offering reflects this shift quite like the HBO documentary “Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God.” The members of the Love Has Won group live-streamed their days and nights; He filmed and posted countless hours of sermons and online manifestos on YouTube and Instagram Live. The majority of the three-episode series consists of this footage, and in turn the audience watches Amy Carlson, who called herself “Mother God”, slowly deteriorate over the course of months from the perspective of the people who worship her. Went.
It's a vantage point that's so disturbing and haunting, it blurs the line between storytelling and voyeurism. As the group films his corpse, which they carry across several state routes, and camp with him along the way, we also see all of that through the eyes of the devotees. Many followers continue to promote his teachings online.
It was clear in the comments on Blanchard's Instagram this month that many people were uncomfortable with the reemergence of her presence on social media. Some people found it strange that she would participate so heavily and publicly so soon after her release. Others thought it was wrong for Godejohn to celebrate his freedom while he was serving a life sentence.
One of the biggest criticisms of the true crime genre is that horrors are being repurposed as guilty-pleasure entertainment, allowing audiences to get close to terrible things – but not too close. And perhaps the best defense of true crime is that it allows audiences to safely process the scary underbelly of our world. It's a strange dance between knowledge, observation and entertainment.
Either way, the fourth wall is cracking, and perhaps the discomfort it causes has been there for a long time.