I’ve talked a bit about the style and content of the popular true crime comedy podcast, My Favorite Murder, launched in 2016 by Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff (see here, here, and here). The show is a significant milestone in the true crime economy. It re-circulates stories already established as true crime morbid worthy, and it performs a particular affective relationship with true crime through a “gossip” format that integrates humor, personal style and health tips, white feminist “you go girl” messages, and plenty of moralizing without structural analysis.
Writing for The New Republic in 2019, Andrea DenHoed explains the appeal of the podcast in terms of its isolation and re-manufacturing of the “id” of true crime culture. I would call this the appeal of a community identity built around the construction of a criminal or tragic other that establishes a kind of safe identity. But in doing so,
“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.” (DenHoed)
The show is postmodern in the sense of this re-circulation and parody of the original genre (true crime narratives), but it falls short of being truly “postmodernist” because it takes its white feminism too seriously. It skates between actual cultural commentary related to the “true crime” genre and fortification of cultural myths that use whiteness and femininity as a kind of shield: to poke fun, but not to rock the boat of the status quo.
This tension between critique and earnestness that is never quite resolved either way has led to similar tensions within the fan communities that rocketed the MFM podcast and hosts to rockstar level within the podcasting and true crime circles. On one hand, there are throngs of (mostly women, mostly white) fans who identify with Karen and Georgia and their relationship to crime narratives and a mainstream white feminist ethos. On the other hand, there are those true crime fans who flocked to the podcast because they care about social justice and were attracted to the hosts’ fresh perspectives on the genre, but who eventually became disappointed by Karen and Georgia’s recirculation, rather than critique, of common stereotypes (or cultural tropes) about marginalized communities, especially as they intersect with crime discourses and law enforcement traditions. And these different groups of fans did not have patience for the assumptions and expectations of each other.
It didn’t take long for those tensions to erupt in community splintering and high profile conflicts between the fans (who call themselves “Murderinos”) and the hosts themselves. At the end of the summer of 2018, things got so out of control for the hosts that they took the drastic measure of shutting down their “official” Facebook fan group. Kat Harding, for Indy Week soon after the shut-down of the Facebook group, recounts:
Several incidents precipitated Kilgariff and Hardstark’s decision to close the group. During its final week, a member shared a racist story that was approved by moderators and allowed to be posted. At the same time, official My Favorite Murder merchandise featuring tepees (wildly inappropriate, considering the disproportionate rate at which indigenous women all over the world are murdered) were discovered to still be on sale after MFM had promised to take them offline in late July. People of color and American Indians spent countless hours trying to explain why pointing out racism mattered. White fans, angry that their entertainment—murder—had been sullied with real-life problems begged people to get over it and move on. Admins started blocking people speaking up about racism in the group. Hardstark liked inflammatory comments from people on Instagram, called others “dummies,” blocked them, and deleted negative comments.
But shutting down that official Facebook group did not put an end to the online groups that come together to appreciate or critique the cultural discourse of the MFM podcast and true crime discourses in general.
There are dozens of MFM-themed groups on Facebook, from geographic/location-based subgroups to sub-themes, like “History-Loving Murderinos” or “Murderinos Who Like to Read,” to the reactionary “My Favorite My Favorite Murder Group,” which is an “anti-toxic” group that provides an alternative to the groups that are more willing to allow critical discussions of the podcast and related cultural representations of crime. In many ways, however, the sub-themes try to skirt the tensions altogether rather than align with a particular opinion about the podcast itself: many of these proliferating groups create community without even referencing the podcast anymore.
I decided to interview an admin of one of the many My Favorite Murder spin-off groups on Facebook to learn more about the motivations and the culture. This admin wished to remain anonymous because of the ongoing tensions within the online groups and the often toxic fan culture around the podcast. I am grateful they agreed to share these insights.
Q: How many MFM groups do you admin, and when did you start curating/managing these online groups?
I admin four groups centered around the podcast or podcast community, down from about 14 a few weeks ago. I left / closed up shop in a bunch because the “podcast community” has come to mean something totally different to me.
Q: What drew you to the MFM podcast in the first place?
A long standing interest in true crime and mysteries! One of the first books I ever owned as a kid was about missing people and strange cases. I remember one of the cases in my book was Natalie Wood and that one was always really interesting to me.
I was also fascinated by psychology and the flawed justice system. I had a long standing history of codependence, and I think I wanted to learn why. Driven here by a desire for justice, advocacy and a penchant for looking into the mysterious.
Q: Would you describe yourself as a fan? A critic? Some other role in the MFM community?
I no longer listen to MFM. I’m not a fan. I stopped listening in 2018, I think. I’m pretty sure that’s when the tipigate* dropped.
I’m a critic of everything. I am a big believer in thinking critically. I feel pretty comfortable that I can think critically about most of my favorite things and sleep well at night knowing who I am and what I support. Period.
[* Editor’s note: “tipigate” is a reference to the MFM merchandise controversy described above that contributed to the shutdown of the official Facebook group.]
Q: Was there a moment that shifted you from “fan” to your current role? Something that happened in the podcast, or the community around it?
Yes, the moment was tipigate plus the racism in the official Facebook group (which no longer exists). I had been skipping episodes for awhile, because I found myself side eyeing them more and more frequently in my short romance with the podcast
Then they created retro “camp” style merchandise that had a “tent” on it that was actually a tipi with the slogan—“stay sexy don’t get murdered.”
That was an obvious mess up on their part to me, given that they aren’t indigenous and indigenous people ARE murdered at higher rates than most, if not all, other groups. It hurt a lot of people.
Then within the next week or so, they had a big issue with racism and anti-Blackness in the official Facebook group they were responsible for. It was awful.
I waited to see how they would rectify it. And I couldn’t reconcile how they used that harm to launch the Fan Cult and further capitalize off of the pain they had caused through the merch and the official FB group. I just couldn’t enjoy it anymore.
But I think it’s important to note that it was the right decision. Since then, they’ve done the merch fail thing at least two or three more times, they’ve used ableist words at fans, been pro cop, made light of child sexual abuse and sent cease and desist letters to Etsy vendors they previously encouraged. Just to name a few—capitalism is a bad look on them.
Q: What is your goal for MFM-related groups you’re part of?
My coadmins have all been [filling the vacuum left by the collapse of the first official group] for years and it’s been a predictable and reliable, soft place to land when I needed support.
[Our group] attracts new listeners and former ones every day and in many regards is [one of the first MFM-related groups] on Facebook that people see. Our goals for the space haven’t changed. We stand for talking about intersections of crime, punishment and politics and raising marginalized voices in the discussion. We like thinking critically about the podcast. And even though many of the admins are former listeners, we still post episode recaps and try to foster a community to discuss the podcast that exists in the spirit of being equitable and fair.
My other groups have similar goals but are more niche and don’t usually discuss the podcast as a topic, more broadly we talk about true crime.
Q: What do you hope others get out of these groups?
Ahh, this is good. My spaces are anti-racist and intersectional. For white and white presenting folks, I hope people will sit back and show a desire to learn, to watch and get comfortable with discomfort and decentering whiteness.
For everyone, I want a space where we can talk about shared interests and the important intersections of race, class, ability, sexual orientation and gender knowing I have everyone’s back if anything exhausting starts to churn.
Q: The phrase “cancel culture” comes up a lot lately in the MFM online spaces — as with other online spaces now. Moderators in MFM-related Facebook Groups that tend toward the “critical” end of the MFM fandom spectrum often draw a distinction between “cancel culture” and “call out culture.” How do you define these phrases?
Cancel culture is a broad brush term that has to do, to me, with who we will support, usually financially, when it comes to our interests and who we won’t. Musicians, actors, politicians, podcast hosts—in a capitalist society the only recourse someone has if a person in a position of systemic power is causing harm is to retract their support and when you cancel someone you usually tell people about it.
Callout culture is different because it happens at every level of our subgroup culture. It’s supposed to be about raising awareness of -isms by publicly discussing someone’s misdeeds with the person who is being called out, and often in front of a group of peers. This is easy in the FB groups because it’s as simple as showing up and posting “X said Y, now I feel Z, so go get them.”
It’s become clear in the subgroup community that people misuse callouts, and specifically many loud folks, rife with privilege, like to weaponize the language of oppression against BIPOC, trans folks, NBPOC and other marginalized groups.
It happens every day in almost every interaction with white or white presenting leftists in this community that considers itself progressive—where despite our desire to lift up marginalized voices, white centering becomes an issue and words made for POC and marginalized groups are used against us.
[For example,] we’ve talked to death about how Karen Kilgariff said something [and that demonstrates that] “she could never be intersectional because it just cannibalizes the whole movement” (not a direct quote), and I don’t believe that’s true. But what I do see a lot in self proclaimed “intersectional” spaces, and especially those in the subgroups, is intersectionalism getting cannibalized by performative allyship. I do think there needs to be more recourse for that and more discernment for who does the calling out and why.
Q: What do you think is the cultural role of podcasts like MFM?
More and more, I come to the conclusion there is no ethical way to consume true crime entertainment, especially comedy, when those crimes are murdered and missing. I would like to see most of the murder/comedy stuff be a blip on the cultural map in a future where we all talk happily about how much we love ScamGoddess—and [people would ask,] MFM who?
Q: How does “crime” fit into what that podcast is about, or how does the podcast intersect with “crime” as a social and cultural topic? (including, perhaps, the cultural life the podcast has beyond the podcast itself)
I think MFM does a poor job of acknowledging the important cultural intersections of crime, justice and society. Not enough coverage of people of color, trans folks, LGBTQIAAP intersections, not enough *good* thorough, well researched coverage, period.
At one point, it seemed like mental health, shared anxiety around crime, was the cultural staple that brought the community together, but the podcast has been bad about casting stigma on people who are disabled, chronically ill or mental unhealthy, including things like med shaming in recent episodes.
Regardless, I feel like it did bring a community of leftists together. But with different goals, and not a ton of diversity, which left us in a position where POC have always had to fight for their voice, convictions and claim it with emotional labor. All and all, not great. But definitely has a life of its own.
Q: What (do you hope) is the future of the MFM facebook groups?
I hope I’m adminning with [my co-admins] when I’m 80. No, but really. We have a solid team. We support each other. And with the shift in mindset in how we position the group in the community, we have a renewed ability to focus on our group and make it what we want it to be.
We know that not everyone is going to appreciate us dropping the hammer and handing out mutes and boots. But we admin to keep the group safe. And we will keep doing that. And while people may think it’s harsh, especially if they are new to the community as a whole, or don’t partake in any of the other subgroups, we will also continue to make it the space it was designed to be—which isn’t a callout space, but one where true crime discussions happen—and we talk about the intersections they affect in a moderated way.