The first episode (in 2016) of the My Favorite Murder podcast drops many truths about the appeal of True Crime, especially for women.
I wasn’t following this podcast closely prior to this blog project, but I’ve been aware of it. I know it’s one of the most popular podcasts, period, never mind in the true crime category. I know that MFM listeners call themselves “murderinos.” I know that Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, the show’s popular hosts, consider themselves comedians, first, and that the podcast is a “humor” podcast. I know that Karen and Georgia identify as feminists (many folks have had opinions about this stance, which will merit a future post or three).
With that prior knowledge in mind, I want to take a closer look at how they engage with crime discourses, and how they influence, re-shape, and/or re-distribute those narratives.
Their first episode begins with this exchange:
Karen: I love this topic.
Georgia: I do too.
Karen: And that’s why we’re friends.
Georgia: We’ve talked about this for a long time, about True Crime and what our favorite ones are. […] That sounds creepy . . .
Karen: But that’s who we are.
Georgia: . . . And that’s fine.
This reassurance for each other that what they’re talking about is both “creepy” and “fine” is an important theme for this podcast series, even a thesis. They spend time in the first half of this first episode establishing their authentic and life-long interests in True Crime and justifying both that fascination and this podcast.
There is always a bit of fear and self-doubt lurking over their shoulders, almost palpable to me as I listen. Early in the podcast they address some of this fear:
Georgia: Dustin [the former podcast producer at Feral Audio, Dustin Marshall] brought up a great point that we might be inviting a murderer into our lives by doing this.
Karen: I mean but here’s the thing, and this is why I am so fascinated by this topic in general: we might already know a murderer.
Georgia: Oh my god! like probably.
Karen: Probably. And in that way where they’re [the murderer] just, in a very catlike, removed, Dexter way just observing all this with a kind of: ‘Oh, they think they’re smart. How sweet.’
Georgia: So I guess the disclaimer is: Please don’t kill us because we can’t do this podcast anymore [if you do].
Karen: And another part of that disclaimer could be partly like we kind of are fans [of you, secret murderer]. Not of murdering people . . .
Georgia: We’re your friends!
Karen: What it is: I think what you’re doing is wrong; I wish you’d stop it [you, secret murderer].
Georgia: But you probably do too!
Karen: We know [that because] we’ve seen the specials where you talk about wanting to stop and not being able to stop.
This exchange is so fascinating because, first, the white dude boss man (™) for their podcast platform — who will later have to shut down his podcast company and retreat from public life because of a public accusation that he emotionally abused his ex-girlfriend, Abby Weems — taunts them, pushes the button of their fears by suggesting that they are “inviting” someone to kill them by simply talking about violence (often against women) in a public forum. There is so much that points to gendered power games going on in that suggestion itself — the very word choice of “inviting” is an example of the gendered rhetoric around crime and personal violence that targets women. That it is somehow always the fault of the victim. The women who “ask for it.”
But then Georgia and Karen’s response is also quite telling. Just bringing this up suggests that this IS one of their fears. They are proceeding with this podcast in spite of, or because of, this fear of violence. They also declare that this is always their fear: we “probably” already know a murderer. “He” is probably already in their lives.
The admission of this fear is turned into humor, and back into their knowledge of the True Crime genre: we know you’re there, we’re fans, and we know, because we’ve studied you, too, that you probably want to stop. (Does this reassure them of something? And does articulating this information send the message to stalker types that they are stalking them right back?)
The quick spinning between being somewhat threatened by their producer-friend, to admitting their vulnerability, then re-appropriating that position to make a joke of both their vulnerability and their fascination with the source of their fears, is a journey to behold. That looping through points of fear, self-doubt, self-deprecating humor, and re-direction may be the narrative structure that holds their whole podcast series together, and it serves as a rough structure for each episode.
The self-doubt and self-deprecation shows up also in their engagement with the True Crime stories directly when they half-apologize, quite often, for not getting the facts right. “Correct us on our Facebook page,” they’ll start saying in an episode or so. But more telling is another refrain: “There are people listening who hate us right now.”
Does this (performance of) self-doubt work to absolve them of any responsibility to the victims and the various people associated with the crimes they discuss? Or is their most acutely felt responsibility in this project towards true crime fans, which might explain the apologies?
In this first episode, they joke about how the serial killer who “gets away with it” is a source of envy for them because, obviously, that person must have his shit together enough to, on one hand, cover up his crimes and evade authorities, and, on the other, not be bothered by the looming guilt. They joke about not even being able to get to the podcast recording session on time. And about crumbling inside over the thought of some unpaid parking tickets.
They go further, however, to not just transform their vulnerability into a comedic bit but to construct a theory that justifies their obsession with True Crime.
Georgia: I’m also like, anything could happen at any moment. [ . . .] I’m just like, ‘Tell me everything so I can avoid it!’
Karen: Yes. That’s what all this is, really. I just want to collect information and theories and stories so that I can be braced so that when I see [that one of the knives is missing from the knife block] I’m ready.
[. . .]
Georgia: I feel like, the law of physics is that the more you know about something the less likely it’s gonna happen to you.
Georgia: That’s got no bearing in science.
Karen: It’s not scientific, it’s spiritual. […] It’s the secret in reverse.
Georgia: My secret hope is to not get murdered.
This is a theory about the obsession with True Crime, especially for women, that seems to make a lot of sense. It’s part gossip (and “gossip” as a genre is really important to the shaping of the current boom in True Crime podcasts; for example, two women sharing scandalous stories and emotionally responding with sometimes shock, sometimes “I told you so” vibes, is a standard formula for podcasts) and part survival training.
But that recourse to fear is both real (women of various sex and race are targets of violence) and manufactured (white women needing protection from crime is a socially useful trope). And that is why this podcast has drawn both broad appreciation and pointed criticism.
I have some percolating theories about all this, which will hopefully be developed through other posts, but I also hope that we’ll (dear Reader) come up with some more, together, through this blog.
How do you read (i.e. understand) the set up or framework that Karen and Georgia provide for their podcast? Leave your hot tips in the comments, or Tweet at me.